Wandering cowboy Harry Holland (Kirk Douglas) rescues a runaway stagecoach carrying stage actress Bess (Alexandra Bastedo) on his way to Bell Town. There Harry beats rich scumbag Reggie Bell (Derek McGrath) in a poker game only to be prevented from collecting his winnings from the bank. In a shootout Harry unintentionally kills the local sheriff. Injured he barricades himself in a hotel room with Bess as his 'hostage' while the townsfolk debate what to do. Jittery deputy Wally Blodgett (Graham Jarvis) promptly heads down to Mexico and brings back former sheriff Sam Starret (James Coburn) who, although over-the-hill and a drunk, remains the one man able to match Harry Holland in a showdown.
Co-produced by Kirk Douglas' own Bryna company, Draw! is a warm and wistful sunset western showcasing two Hollywood greats whose charisma remained undimmed by age. Stanley Mann's engaging screenplay harks back to the one-man-against-an-unjust-world stories familiar from Douglas' classic westerns, most notably Lonely Are the Brave (1962). While Harry is a decent and honorable fellow trying to live down his past as an outlaw, the townsfolk are portrayed as petty and vindictive. Aside from a few notable exceptions the citizens of Bell Town use the pretext of 'civilization' to justify their own prejudice and thirst for blood and spectacle. Typical of a post-Sixties western, Draw! laments the passing of a certain generosity of spirit along with the old west and eulogizes honorable men like Harry and Sam. In the past each man had a chance to kill the other but, for reasons neither is willing to admit, could never bring themselves to do so. Now the townsfolk seem dead set on goading them into a showdown that seems inevitable.
Opening with rousing stagecoach chase undoubtedly included so the impressively athletic Douglas could show he could still cut it in the action hero game (his gun-twirling trickery is also undeniably cool), the film eventually settles into a more pedestrian drama. Cinematographer Laszlo George captures some beautiful scenic vistas but the plot is largely confined to interiors. Director Steven Hilliard Stern interweaves Harry bonding with Bess who gives him a glimpse of the happy domestic life he could have had and Wally's struggle to sneak Sam past Mexican bandidos and sober him up in time for a gunfight. Stern's eclectic directing career encompassed the black comedy I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? (1975), psychological sports drama Running (1979) with Kirk's boy Michael Douglas, infamous Disney film The Devil and Max Devlin (1981) where Bill Cosby quite appropriately in retrospect portrayed Satan, anti-Dungeons & Dragons drama Mazes and Monsters (1982) featuring a young Tom Hanks and racy Phoebe Cates romance Baby Sister (1983). He seems to have been drawn to stories about loners going against the more oppressive aspects of mainstream society, as further evidenced in his Tangerine Dream-scored The Park Is Mine (1986) with Tommy Lee Jones as a crazed Vietnam war veteran and Black Fox (1993) an interesting interracial western that paired Christopher Reeve and Tony Todd. Stern's ability to juggle varying tones serves Draw! particularly well.
Although Draw! mines a lot of humour from Wally's increasingly frantic efforts to manoeuvre a drunk and delirious Sam into action, Stern wisely avoids slipping into outright spoof antics a la Douglas' past comedy western Cactus Jack (1979) a.k.a. The Villain. Mann's script mines a subtler vein of wry social satire. Its humour is never at the expense of an otherwise suspenseful narrative laced with poignant character interplay. Coburn's Sam Starret, first seen caught in a delirious haze haunted by the memory of the many men he has killed, is a gentler variation on his role in Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973). Emphasizing the mutual respect that underlines Starret and Holland's circumstantial rivalry the story builds to a satisfying payoff that harks back to Harry's early declaration that the most important thing in life is in whom one puts their trust.