This fantastic Western spoof has the distinction of out-blazing Blazing Saddles, yet few people know it exists. Evil Roy Slade (1972) was a pilot to a proposed series, that somehow mis-timed its entry and never happened beyond this feature. By the Seventies, audiences were awash with sagebrush satires, because Support Your Local Sheriff (1969), Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), They Call Me Trinity (1971), Blazing Saddles (1974), and even the William Shatner/ Doug McClure short-lived TV series Barbary Coast (1975) were all going for the same audience.
The premise of this one, though, is wild: Evil Roy Slade (John Astin) was an abandoned baby in The Old West, raised only by vultures on the prairie. Nobody wanted him: not the Apache Indians, and not the wolves. So he grew up mean and evil, `lovin' no-body'. He just had one tired old teddy bear from the burnt out wagon train (God only knows how he learned to speak English).
Eventually he heads up his own gang of bank-robbers, but Evil Roy still has some growing up to do (although Astin already looked about 40ish). So one day, as he and his gang are robbing a bank, he happens onto Miss Betsy Potter (Pamela Austin) as his victim, and both he and Betsy get struck by the proverbial romantic lightning bolt. `I gotta write down this girl's address-where's a pen?'. They're in a bank, so he spots a pen attached to a bench, which he drags over to her. But then he needs paper. `Here, write yer address on this money, so I won't lose it'. When she does, writing her name as well as her address, Evil Roy rejoices to others in the bank: `She can write!'. He even rides off with the pen as a memento, still attached to the bench dragging behind! And he does show up to visit her the following day. Their kiss, this time without a gun in her ribs, inspires Evil Roy to go straight. He goes to explain his decision to his `family' (to some vultures): `You know what nice is? Suppose there was a whole herd of dead cattle, dropped dead on the field, just for you. That's what nice is.'
By now the chase for Evil Roy has become personal for the railroad owner Nelson L Stool (Mickey Rooney), who's the principal DISbeneficiary of the Evil gang. Stool tries tirelessly to coax famous Sheriff Bing Bell (Dick Shawn) (`Somebody at the door? -No, that's his name, stupid') back out of retirement. It's uphill work, because Bing Bell keeps setting the written appeals on fire to indicate his firm 'NO'. But now, with the involvement of the beautiful Betsy Potter, Bing Bell has something other than fame to strive for. He finally agrees to track down Evil Roy for the railroad.
Back at the hideout, Evil Roy has decided to retire. His gang moll Flossie is jealous of Betsy: `I know what's on your mind. I heard about that high-falutin' hussy you met in the bank!' `...Floosie?' `-Flossie!' `Honey, you got pierced ears?' `-No.' `Shuttup, or you will'! And `Roy, don't do this to me, I love you! You got no right to leave me alone!' `-Maybe you're right (looks around). Alright, who wants Flossie?'
The gang's unfortunate accountant, Randolph (Billy Sands) also has problems with Evil Roy quitting. Roy: `See that blank space right there? You make a 5, and some zeros, and you make that $50,000. ...So where's the money you got marked down in that book, Randolph? You owe me $50,000 and you ain't got it?!' Unfortunately Evil Roy never gets his retirement money from his very last stagecoach robbery, because Flossie rats him out to Nelson L Stool, so he is captured... ...eventually. It does take them a while, due to the midget's pony, because there's `not much call for roping gophers' out in the old West.
Suffering guilt for her part in his capture (during the shootout, she gave him a Bible instead of a gun), Betsy has Evil Roy start a brand new life with a brand new name in Boston. My very favourite scene is Evil Roy's musings as he tries to invent a new identity for himself while on the run, but can't get away from his nickname: `Lemme see... Evil John Ferguson... Evil Fred Nolan... Evil Lee Rich...'
Betsy's Bostonian cousin's husband Harry (Milton Berle) is a shoe salesman who employs Evil Roy in his shoestore. Boston, of course, is a whole new universe and not an easy adjustment for Evil Roy. For one thing, he is surrounded by money in the store, and is sometimes entrusted to take it TO the bank! So Betsy takes Roy to her college friend, now a psychiatrist, Dr Logan Gelp (Dom DeLouise). Logan, of course, doesn't get out much, and having completely failed with Roy (every Rorschach inkblot reminds Evil Roy of his gun), the shrink finally attempts surmising Evil Roy's personality problems by feel. Logan: `No, no; I'm not one of them funny boys! I was feeling the bumps on your skull. There's this new science called phrenology!' Evil Roy: `...What's 'science' mean?'
OK, almost every quote qualifies for a favourite scene; but that's what Evil Roy Slade (1972) is like! This classic gag screenplay was concocted by Jerry Belson and the unerring Garry Marshall, who created Happy Days soon after.
Eventually Evil Roy cracks, supplying a welcome relief from his forced good behaviour, and the reason for the show's continuance! My one quibble is frankly about the torturously un-hip performance of the un-svelte, graying Dick Shawn as an Elvis-like Bing Bell with a trick guitar. His overripe but unexplained meanness overwhelms the joke, and he's too ridiculous for Betsy to supposedly fall for in the final act. Thankfully, Evil Roy Slade (1972) recovers from its penultimate lapse in judgement, whereas Blazing Saddles (1974) did not.
Utterly irresistible/ quotable. One of my 5 favourite movies of all time. 9.5/10.