The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958)

The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw

In this British-American comedy western Kenneth More stars as Jonathan Tibbs, the last surviving member of a family of British gunsmiths. He has no desire to step into his father’s boots - he’d rather spend his time on his inventions (that often don’t work at all) - but when he discovers that the family business is not doing well, he decides to travel West. To the American West that is, because in the 1880s the Far West has become the best outlet for guns. Jonathan has never rode a horse or fired a gun, but thanks to a side-effect of one of his gadgets he is taken for a gunslinger and named sheriff in the western town of Fractured Jaw.

The idea for the movie is usually traced back to Leo McCarey’s classic comedy Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) in which an English manservant (played by Charles Laughton) ends up in the American West, but also seems to have taken inspiration from Nicolai Gogol’s famous 19th Century play The Inspector General (in Russian Revizor), in which a civil servant is held for an important dignitary and starts acting like one. Gogol’s biting satire on human greed, stupidity and political corruption has been turned into a rather mild oddball comedy telling the story of the tenderfoot taming the western town, including the stern and buxom saloon lady, played by no other than Jayne Mansfield.

The Sheriff of Fractured jaw is occasionally funny and overall it's a pleasant movie to watch, but it's never as hilarious as the now classic trailer will try to make you believe. Some of the jokes work, others don't. The best jokes come from the fact that Jonathan thinks the American West is still ruled by British manners ('once a colony, always a colony') and therefore tries to solve every problem with a stiff upper-lip and a wink of the eye. It’s quite funny to hear him say, leaning out of the window of a stagecoach under Indian attack: "Dear God, somebody should talk to these savages!" (political correctness wasn’t on the program yet in 1958!), but turning a brave into a butler is not funny, just plain stupid.
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20th Century Fox had bought the rights to the original stoy as a possible vehicle for American actor Clifton Webb, but director Raoul Walsh insisted on hiring More. Blonde bombshell Mansfield - at the two peaks of her career - was his personal choice as well; her singing voice was dubbed by Connie Francis. The interiors were filmed in the British Pinewood Studios but with the new cinemascope process in mind, Walsh decided to shoot some of the outdoor scenes in Spain. It was the first major western to be shot in Spain and some have suggested that its look might have told other - notably Italian - directors that the Spanish countryside was an ideal substitute for the desolate American West. The film doesn’t really feel like a spaghetti western but the gag with the small derringer, that snaps out of More’s sleeve when he extends his arm, was copied by Lee van Cleef in Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More and gadgets would become part of Lee's collection of guns throughout his career in Italian westerns.

Director: Raoul Walsh - Cast: Kenneth More, Jayne Mansfield, Henry Hull, Bruce Cabot, Ronald Squire, William Campbell, Sid James, Robert Morley, David Horne - Script: Howard Dimsdale, based on a short story by Jacob Hay


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