"Sam Whiskey was way ahead of its time. I was playing light comedy and nobody cared."
- Burt Reynolds
Most American westerns released in the late Sixties, early Seventies interpreted the genre in revisionist terms. Even the immensely successful, seemingly light-hearted Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was essentially a thoughtful, pessimistic movie. Sam Whiskey anticipates Burt Reynolds' comedic roles in movies like Smokey and the Bandit, and in that sense it was ahead of its time, but it's by no means a revolutionary effort. It's labeled as a western but often plays more like a heist movie; some have characterized it as a caper movie in reverse.
In a genuine caper movie the protagonists - usually a trio of friends or professional partners - perform one or more crimes in order to lay their hands on a treasure. In Sam Whiskey the trio is trying to locate a stash of gold stolen from an army mint and bring it back to where it came from. In other words: they're not performing a crime, but trying to cover one up.
Angie Dickenson is Laura Breckenridge, a woman who recently became a widow and will use everything - including sex (well, mainly sex) - to get things going her way. She 'seduces' Sam Whiskey (Burt Reynolds) into retrieving $250,000 in gold bars stolen from the US army. The bars were stolen by her late husband and Mrs. Breckenridge wants to preserve her family's reputation by undoing the theft. Sam enlists two partners, Jed Hooker, a blacksmith he only met shortly before (played by Ossie Davis) and O.W. Cooper, an old army pal turned inventor (played by the gentle giant Clint Walker). The three are trailed by a bespectacled villain (Rick Davis) and his men, who wonder what the three are up to, and monitored by the widow, who's afraid that Sam and his friend will try to run off with gold and keep it for themselves.
Sam Whiskey was a much maligned movie by contemporary critics, but some recent comments were more positive. I was pleasantly surprised as well after all the bad things I had heard about it. Don't get me wrong: It's far from great, but it's an amiable little movie, mildly funny, easy to enjoy. Both Arnold Laven's direction and William N. Norton's screenplay leave a lot to desire, but the actors pull it off. There's some real chemistry between Burt and Ossie Davis and their remarks and repartees are often witty. Angie Dickinson has an incredibly sexy seduction scene early on, but unfortunately she has very little to do in the remainder of the movie other than waiting outside the army mint while the boys are doing their job inside. Western action is sparse (and unspectacular) but the protracted finale, with the execution of the daring scheme to put the gold back in its place, is very well handled, occasionally even exciting.
Reportedly this was the first movie to have a scene cut under the new MPAA rating (introduced in November 1968). To avoid an R-rating director Laven removed a bare-from-the-waist shot of Angie Dickinson (according to some sources he replaced it by a 'closer shot', from the shoulders up). It's said that the scene has been re-inserted in recent releases. The version I saw was quite revealing but contained no such scene
1969 - Director: Arnold Laven - Cast: Burt Reynolds (Sam Whiskey), Angie Dickinson (Laura Breckinridge), Clint Walker (O. W. Bandy), Ossie Davis (Jedidiah Hooker), William Schallert (Mr. Perkins), Rick Davis (Henry Hobson), Woodrow Parfrey (Thornton Bromley), Ayllene Gibbons (Big Annie) - Screenplay: William N. Norton