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  Scalawag A 4-12?!!! WHAT'S A 4-12???!!!
Year: 1973
Director: Kirk Douglas
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Mark Lester, Neville Brand, George Eastman, Don Stroud, Lesley-Anne Down, Danny DeVito, Mel Blanc, Phil Brown, Davor Antolic, Stojan 'Stole' Arandjelovic, Fabijan Sovagovic, Shaft Douglas, Dragomir Stanojevic
Genre: Western, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: John Stewart (Kirk Douglas), or Peg as he is known to his friends thanks to his wooden leg, makes his living the easy way: stealing gold wherever he finds it with his band of pirates who barely have to leave the shore, they simply wait till a ship is docked at the makeshift port near their lair, then swim over, take over, and raise high the skull and crossbones. Their latest conquest is a galleon that was holding a fortune in gold coins, and are delighted when their endeavours see their rivals well and truly overcome and their captain blown up, but what to do with the treasure? Peg is so keen on carousing that he hasn't thought that far ahead, nor about a mine further inland which could prove fortuitous...

Kirk Douglas didn't make his directorial debut with the fairly well-regarded Posse in 1975, as he had made another movie two years before, and Scalawag was it. Also know as Peg Leg, Musket and Sabre, it was a Yugoslavian-shot adventure which sought to transfer various plot highlights of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island to the Wild West, an eccentric choice when you note many pirate movies are made on the sea, and almost all Westerns take place on land, but not many pirate movies took place on dry land for the most part, and not many Westerns, if any, took to the high seas, therefore what was on offer was a curious combination of the two genres.

An unsatisfying one, at that, utterly overwhelmed by Douglas seemingly setting out to overact even more than Robert Newton had in his iconic reading of Long John Silver a couple of decades before for Disney. Now, Newton's performance was rightly lauded, but underplaying wasn't in his repertoire, to give you some idea of the ripeness of Kirk's hamming here, and presumably as he was calling the shots behind the camera, nobody had the courage, never mind the inclination, to tell him he didn't have to turn it up to eleven from minute one to the grand, would-be emotional finale. At least he wasn't giving it the full "Arr, Jim lad!", so he wasn't emulating Newton - he was very much his own man in that respect.

There was a Jim lad, however, and he was played by Mark Lester, usually, fairly or unfairly, labelled the weakest link in the acting chain of the Oscar-winner Oliver! of five years before, which has baffled many as to why he garnered so many acting gigs over the next half decade or so. Here he was his usual fresh-faced self, not unduly unwholesome and evidently present to idolise Peg in his role as Jamie, the brother of Lesley-Anne Down's tavern owner where Peg shows up in pursuit of one of the movie's two Neville Brands. That was to say, Brand was playing twins, one bearded and one without, though because apparently everyone tired of this conceit and all the technical troubles that may arise thanks to it neither incarnation lasted much past the first act; maybe Douglas sensed a threat to his aforementioned overacting.

Without the life on an ocean wave, the subsequent lack of an actual island in the story this time around would appear to be an issue, so they made the desert effectively the seas, and the sunken area around the mine the island (not a very big island, then). Also showing up of interest was Danny DeVito as a pirate, and a relatively thin Danny at that, before he and good buddy (and son of Kirk) Michael Douglas began to team up seriously on projects to come, though his "throw stones at a ram" scene was not a great way to kick off a great screen career. Then there was George Eastman, the heavy of many a European exploitation flick, here in a part that brought to mind Arnold Schwarzenegger in future Kirk production The Villain as he was not a baddie for a change. As you can see, this was not without interest, yet it was pitched so broadly that it quickly outstayed its welcome, no matter its tries at courting the family audience (Down had a song to sing co-written by Lionel Bart and composer John Cameron, out of the blue). Mostly it was ninety minutes of noisy roistering.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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