Long before Blazing Saddles, another movie was already out there poking fun at the Western genre.
- One of John Wayne’s most famous movies is Rio Bravo, and a parody version of the film was released ten years after the original.
- That parody movie is Support Your Local Sheriff, and the team that made it never acknowledged it as a parody. As a result, critics and audiences of the time didn’t seem to notice.
- Support Your Local Sheriff, starring James Garner, is now free to stream without signup on YouTube.
While parody movies first became a big deal with the release of Airplane! in 1980, parody has been a part of the movie business since the earliest days and Charlie Chaplin. Long before Blazing Saddles, another movie was already out there poking fun at the Western genre. It’s called Support Your Local Sheriff and it’s now free to stream on YouTube.
What’s special about 1969’s Support Your Local Sheriff, besides the hilarious performance of iconic actor James Garner, is the filmmaker’s historic failure to admit the movie is a parody. But if you’ve seen it, then you know that, in fact, it is a direct parody of the hit 1959 John Wayne movie Rio Bravo.
Directed by Burt Kennedy, Support Your Local Sheriff looks like a standard Hollywood-era Western set in the 19th-century American frontier, but it comes with a twist of humor that subverts the expected Western tropes.
A Man On His Way To Australia
Support Your Local Sheriff follows James Garner as Jason McCullough, a skilled but extremely nonchalant gunslinger. McCullough takes the job of sheriff in a lawless gold rush town, only temporarily as a method to earn money on his way to Australia. Shortly after, he arrests Joe Danby for murder, imprisoning him in a makeshift jail without bars.
The plot centers on McCullough’s attempts to maintain law and order in the town while also dealing with the Danby family, who are determined to break Joe out of jail. McCullough uses his wit and resourcefulness to keep Joe behind bars, improvising by using red paint to mark the absent jail bars and fooling the prisoner. He also navigates a romantic subplot with Prudy Perkins, the mayor’s daughter.
Support Your Local Sheriff Subverts Western Tropes
The origins of Support Your Local Sheriff can be traced back to a Hollywood era where Westerns were a cultural staple. Burt Kennedy, already known for his work in the genre, took the helm.
However, the movie distinguishes itself through its unique tone, intentionally blending classic Western elements with comedy. The script by William Bowers deviates from the traditional narrative structure to bring humor into scenarios traditionally portrayed as grim or action-packed.
The production was a modest affair with an estimated budget of $750,000. Adjusting for inflation, that means in modern terms, they only spent around $5.4 million to make it.
That might not sound like much compared to modern Hollywood budgets, but at the time, it was a typical figure for a mid-level budgeted Western.
Despite its limited financial resources, Support Your Local Sheriff never cut corners on authenticity. Costume design, set pieces, and props were carefully curated to fit the period setting, allowing the comedy to flourish against an authentic backdrop.
How Support Your Local Sheriff Parodies Rio Bravo
The presence of Walter Brennan in both films does more than just lend star power; it draws an almost unavoidable line between Support Your Local Sheriff and Rio Bravo. In Rio Bravo Brennan plays a comedic hero called Stumpy. In Support Your Local Sheriff, he takes on a villain role as the befuddled leader of the Danby family.
But beyond the casting overlap, the narrative structure bears striking similarities. Both movies feature a villain named Joe whose imprisonment forms the crux of the plot. In both cases, the outlaw’s family is hell-bent on breaking him out, thereby becoming a central obstacle for the law enforcement figures at the heart of each film.
The parallels don’t stop at general themes; they extend to the very fibers of both stories. James Garner’s comedically nonchalant performance seems to be subtly mocking John Wayne’s easygoing style.
The heroes are all modeled after Rio Bravo’s characters. Like Dean Martin’s Dude in Rio Bravo, James Garner’s deputy Jake (played by Jack Elam), becomes his deputy only reluctantly after backing Garner’s McCullough in a gunfight.
Jake is an obvious and intentionally comedic amalgam of The Dude and Stumpy from Rio Bravo. Like The Dude, Brennan’s character spent a lot of time shoveling horse manure and isn’t respected by the town, but is also quietly a helluva good gunfighter.
The baffling part is that despite these conspicuous parallels, there’s scant discussion acknowledging Support Your Local Sheriff as a parody or homage to Rio Bravo. Why?
One reason might be the timing of the films. With a decade between them and the rapid evolution of cinema, audiences may not have been as inclined to connect the dots in a world without the internet.
Additionally, director Burt Kennedy his team never openly marketed their film as a parody and, somehow, no one ever asked them about it. That left viewers to see it as a standalone comedy-Western, making the fact that it’s a parody of another movie almost another joke within the joke.
One Of James Garner’s First Big Hits
The film was received warmly both by audiences and critics alike. It managed to rake in over $5 million domestically, exceeding expectations for a comedy-Western. In modern terms, it made around $36 million when adjusted for inflation.
Back then, that was enough to knock previous box office champ The Love Bug off the top spot and earn it two weeks as the number one movie in America.
While the reviews acknowledged the film’s lighthearted tone, they also highlighted its ability to pay homage to classic Westerns, though somehow, no one seemed to notice its similarities to Rio Bravo.
Whether you’ve seen Rio Bravo or not, Support Your Local Sheriff is one of the funniest parody movies ever made. And you don’t have to go anywhere to watch it. It’s available to stream directly from this page, below…