It arrived in the post today! What did? The new gun that Zachariah (John Rubinstein) ordered, that's what, and he can't wait to try it out and get the hang of it, firing off bullets in the desert until he feels his aim is good enough. Finally satisfied, he mounts his horse and heads off to see his best friend, the blacksmith Matthew (Don Johnson), to show off his new acquisition and he turns out to be as excited as Zachariah is, heading out to the middle of nowhere with him to try it out for himself. They are both agreed that this means Zachariah is headed for some kind of status in life - but is a gunslinger what he really wants to be?
This was billed as "The First Electric Western", not meaning some kind of science fiction hybird with the venerable genre, but the fact that every so often someone starts playing an electric guitar, for this is in its way a musical of sorts. Or at least that's how it starts out, and very promising it looks to, or rather sounds as the country rock and acid rock played by the likes of Country Joe and the Fish and The James Gang is pretty foot-tapping stuff, brightening up what you expect to be a worthy and earnest drama. Sadly, this doesn't last, and earnest is precisely what it ends up being, making it utterly of its time.
The film was evidently intended to feed your head as well as your ears, if you see what I mean, and certain members of the audience who have been into spritual enlightenment may well recognise the plot of this as an adaptation of the hippies' favourite writer, Herman Hesse: his novel Siddhartha, to be exact. But even if you're not up on your counterculture literature, you should be able to appreciate what they were trying out here; it is worth mentioning the team of writers included those comedy merchants The Firesign Theater, who it should be noted hated what their script ended up as and effectively distanced themselves from the finished production, although their names remain on the credits.
So if this does not enjoy their endorsement, who does like it? Chances are if you were around in the seventies and are keen to revisit the world of cosmic opportunity that was opening up in your mind, should you have been so inclined, then nostalgia renders Zachariah quite entertaining. Certainly the aforementioned music is worth investigating, although you might be better off tracking down the soundtrack album for that, but even if you were not around at the time this was released and don't know your sheepskin jacket from your joss sticks there is a worthwhile message here about not bothering with soul-destroying competition and opting for the simple life, allowing your experiences to make you the person you are today without, say, getting into face-offs with gunmen.
Zach is set on the path of violence after he shoots down a troublemaker in a bar, and with Matthew as his cheerleader they join the gang of outlaws known as The Crackers (actually Country Joe and the Fish). At this stage, the comedy is being played up and all very goofy it is too, with slapstick and oneliners and a ransom for the gang that dwindles to twenty-five dollars when it turns out they are inept. But Zach wants bigger things, and sets his sights on Job Cain (Elvin Jones, who regales us with some excellent jazz drumming), a big shot around there. Soon, however, after a dalliance with super-showgirl Belle Starr (Pat Quinn) he realises there's more to life than filling people full of lead, and heads off to the desert (well, it's all desert in this really) to find himself. This is all leading up to a final confrontation between Zach and a black-clad Matthew to prove which is the best, peace or force, and there's only one way to find out - fight! So if the amusement levels are frittered away eventually, then it's not a dead loss, a little piece of eccentricity from when it was possible to raise money for such things. If not get money back. Music by Jimmie Haskell.