Our Favourite Films: Lemonade Joe

I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of westerns, there are exceptions but the majority tend to be a bit drab and predictable, full of machismo and outdated portrayals of men being men in thoroughly dull ways. Though the scenery’s beautiful the scripts are often bland and the acting by the numbers, and the ending’s can mostly be seen from several miles off, if not outer space. So when a friend recommended I watch this 1964 Czechoslovakian effort based on a 1963 stage production I didn’t have high hopes that I’d enjoy it that much, but it’s instantly become a film I love an enormous amount, to the extent that I asked it to marry me. And it said yes, if you fancy coming along just email me.

A musical spoof of westerns from the silent film days, it really is quite the unique beast. It’s shot using coloured filters (mainly yellow and light blue, but occasionally others) which has the odd effect of making it look quite modern, as does director Oldrich Lipský’s use of a variety of different styles and camera trickery, you could honestly fool someone in to thinking it was released this year if you’re a Machiavellian type. The story’s quite unusual too, as Lemonade Joe (Karel Fiala) saunters in to town to persuade everyone that drinking lemonade makes you a real man, he’s the most casual gunfighter in the west, barely even glancing at his targets before either killing them or removing their trousers with a carefully aimed bullet. Duke Badman (Rudolf Deyl) is not happy about this though, mainly as he sells whiskey for a living in his bar / brothel, and when his brother Horace (Milos Kopecký) turns up they soon hatch a scheme to persuade everyone that proper men drink whiskey instead, and all it takes is a bit of murder. Horace then falls in love with Winnifred Goodman (Olga Schoberová, who’s perfect as the romantic lead and has a fantastic voice too), she’s already betrothed to Lemonade Joe but unfortunately for all concerned Horace isn’t the type to take no for an answer.

There’s so much to love about this film that listing all of the best bits would take several days, and I’m a fast typist. But if you want to see a film packed with unusual but exceedingly charming songs (often about lemonade or whiskey, but sometimes love and villainy as well), a twisted bad guy who all but equals Professor Moriarty when it comes to being a master of disguise and a right old shit (in one delightful scene where he’s disguised as a blind man he screams “Get lost you little bastard” to a small innocent girl whose only crime was to offer to him help across the road), sped up fight scenes which are impressively choreographed, improbable cliff jumping from our hero, an incredibly alluring romance between the two leads, all mixed together with a truly smart sense of humour then you’ve come to the right place. And it’s a place you’ll want to live in for quite possibly the rest of your life.

It’s not quite perfect, slightly problematically there’s a scene where Horace blacks up which is misjudged (and his brother seemingly not realising who he is calls him the N word), which is a real shame as otherwise I wouldn’t have any complaints about it at all. But it’s a very minor element in a bewitching film which has a tremendous amount of things to love about it. There’s lots of slapstick nonsense, some engaging and infectious songs, satire of the American way, playful film making and a sense of real fun throughout. It also has one of the most absurdly ridiculous but utterly joyful happy endings I’ve ever seen which is the icing on an almost perfect cake that I plan to eat again and again, even though I’m diabetic and doing so will kill me, because it really is that good.

Alex Finch.

Related Link:
A high quality version of the film is on youtube here.

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