20 April 2008 | silverscreen888
A Genial, Fast-Moving and Thoroughly Likable Western Send-up
It would be difficult, I suggest, to say enough in praise of the genial and narrative positives of "HAWMPS". Its writers and director managed somehow to make the film engaging, easy to follow, ethical, and logical at the same time in my opinion, not always the expected qualities of a western "send up" . The writers, William Bickley, director Joe Camp and Michael Warren kept the dialog rather swift and on target, without engaging in too many long digressions, extraneous stories, etc. Director Camp also gave the film plenty of well-staged "slapstick" physical moments; but a study of these will reveals that virtually none were wasted--instead they all contributed to the fundamental storyline...The War Department's dispatching of James Hampton, about the only man who would accept the job, to assess the practicality of replacing horses in some jobs in the American West, with camels was. This attempt, which happened in history, is then staged for the audience step-by-hilarious-step. The veteran cavalry troop assigned to this experiment expected fine Arabian mounts; and their new Eastern leader, Hampton, couldn't bring himself to tell them that they were not getting new horses until it was too late. From this point in the story on, everything that happened, I suggest, revealed the Army's leaders' mental shortcomings. Hampton's seriousness about becoming the leader of men he really wanted to be and everyone else's inability to understand their own motives in regards to the camels complete the picture of the picture. The film's makers, I suggest, wasted almost no opportunity where they might reveal character and changing emotions by means of speech as well as action--no small asset to an action film. The cinematography by Don Reddy is always above average, and the original music by Euel Box sustains the moods evoked very well. Production designer Harlan Wright and Art Director Ned Parsons gave the film a dusty, western and believable look everywhere, in my judgment. In the cast, outstanding work was turned in by Jack Elam as Bad Jack Cutter, Slim Pickens as the leader of a rival cavalry troop, James Hampton and Chris Connelly as the leaders of the experiment, Denver Pyle as an artillery-happy commanding officer, Gino Conforti as the camels' imported caretaker and riding instructor, and everyone else concerned. One reason the characters are so memorable, I suggest, is that their motives are rendered so clear throughout the proceedings. I recommend the film for a number of scenes, including the original decision in Washington, the arrival of the camels, the first and second transits of a nearby town, the learning-to-ride sequence, the saloon fight refereed by veteran actor Herb Vigran, and the protracted contest that constitutes the final third of the film. I add my approval also to the way in which all details at the end are wrapped up logically, neatly and amusingly. This film is almost unique, I suggest, in its good-hearted approach to finding comedy in a realistic situation in the American West without demeaning the western genre. I found it to be unexpectedly likable, occasionally touching and enjoyable throughout. Recommended.