Grade: B-/C+
Western comedy
Not rated (would be PG)

In his 1966 review of Texas Across the River, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, “Trying to make fun of Westerns is an aberrant Hollywood stunt that’s as fraught with folly and possible disaster as challenging John Wayne to draw. Either you score a clean hit on that first shot or it’s goodnight you. Well, they do not score a clean hit with Texas Across the River. . . .”

Not that it can’t be done, mind you. Wayne himself starred in two successful Western comedies—North to Alaska (1960) and McLintock! (1963)—but both of those were comic Westerns that still leaned heavily on Western conventions. Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway had a runaway hit with Little Big Man (1970), a comic epic of the Old West that fell into the revisionist category because of its more favorable treatment of Indians. Then Jerry Paris and Mel Brooks scored bulls-eyes with Evil Roy Slade (1972) and Blazing Saddles (1974), but those were true parodies that poked fun of the genre while also clearly admiring it. And likable TV everyman James Garner charmed audiences with his Maverick-style antics in Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969).

But when members of the Rat Pack tried their hand at the comic Western, the screenplays they were given leaned more toward farce than fans of the genre seemed to prefer. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin teamed up in 4 for Texas (1963), while Martin paired with Joey Bishop in Texas Across the River (1966). Neither film was successful, though the latter is the stronger one—the kind of gentle farce that appeals to children and people in the mood for something silly because of the level of humor—even though some of the material is very slightly risqué. It’s the plot that’s fun because it’s a little different from the standard Western fare.

Alain Delon gets second billing as Don Andrea Baldasar, a Spanish nobleman who shows up for his wedding to a Louisiana belle (Rosemary Forsyth) only to discover that she was previously engaged to an army officer . . . and neglected to tell him that she was no longer interested. One thing leads to another, and Baldasar finds himself needing to get out of town.

His path crosses with that of Sam Hollis (Martin) and his deadpan Indian companion Kronk (Bishhop), who are in need of a sharpshooter to help them protect a wagon train of settlers. Meanwhile, a company of cavalry under the command of Capt. Rodney Stimpson (Peter Graves) is riding all over the West trying to catch up with Baldasar, and a war party of Commanches led by Iron Jacket (Michael Ansara) shadows the settlers for most of the film, waiting for the right moment to attack. Baldasar saves a Commanche woman (Tina Marquand as Lonetta), who in turn tries to help him realize his dream of owning a cattle ranch. In other words, Texas Across the River has enough plots and side plots weaving here and there to keep one step ahead of the film’s running jokes that tend to stumble more than they run.

An Indian chief seems so devoted to his son (“Best brave will shoot a flaming arrow to signal the start of the attack”) that he tends to overlook the fact that the “boy” is a massive failure. But the reaction shots of the other braves is more of a failure as one of the main running gags. Other gags revolve around Baldasar’s European habit of greeting people, Sam’s scheming to get close to Phoebe Ann, Kronk’s deadpan one-liners, and Rodney’s repetitious cavalry command. It’s all pretty lightweight fun—not sharp or observant enough to be a parody, nor combined with enough serious adventure or romance to be a comic Western. Instead, it’s silly enough and with enough “misunderstanding” plot devices to qualify as a farce that barely clears the entertainment bar. One positive is that the only deaths are nongraphic comic ones, and there’s really no violence to speak of other than some dueling and fistfights. Three deaths actually provide the biggest humorous commentary on the genre, where one shot fells three Indians and their horses.

One caution (though I suppose savvy movie fans will already anticipate this): The film is full of outdated cultural depictions, starting with the fact that Ansara, of Lebanese descent, is the closest thing to a Native American that you’ll see in the film. “Whitewashing” was common practice in Hollywood, but the reaction shots of actors dressed like Indians draw attention to their whiteness. An attempt to poke fun of genre conventions (“White man speak with forked tongue. Old Indian saying. All old Indians say it”) still feels racist, as does Kronk’s funniest rejoinder (“Why weren’t you born a Commanche?” “Mother ran too fast.”). But that’s the level of humor, and there’s slapstick physical comedy as well—all of which makes it, in my mind, something for a younger audience—or diehard fans of the genre or Sinatra’s Rat Packers.

Entire family: Possibly, but recommended for age 10 and older
Run time: 101 min., Color
Studio/Distributor: Kino Lorber
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-Stereo
Bonus features: C
Intro/title sequence
Amazon link
Not rated (would be PG for some suggestive adult situations)

Language: 2/10—a handful of very minor swearwords

Sex: 2/10—some innuendo; a clumsy attempt to hug her; plus one scene where Forsyth is bathing and her naked back is seen from behind

Violence: 2/10—for a Western, there’s practically no violence, just those comic deaths and some dueling and fistfights

Adult situations: 2/10—Sam’s comic advances on Phoebe Ann could be considered adult, as was his coming upon her when she was bathing (though he and we don’t see anything)

Takeaway: Texas Across the River is a pleasant diversion, despite not being sharp enough to be considered one of the best parodies or comic Westerns