What?! After a group of settlers realize that the Wild West is super lame they all decide to head back East. Led by a former doctor, Phil, and a wagon master with a secret, Harlow, they strike out eastward much to the chagrin of some city fat cats who will do anything to stop them. Will they evade the traps set by the fat cats and make it back home? Find out in… Wagons East!
Why?! As mentioned above, the settlers have all come to the conclusion that the West sucks balls for one reason or another. It is the entire motivation for the plot of this film. Once they set out, others realize that quitting is OK and the eastward trek goes viral. This spooks a bunch of railroad tycoons and land developers who are about to get a major investment in railroad construction if they can achieve a high enough population in the West. They determine that they must stop the wagons, and thus the trend, by any means necessary in order to preserve the investment.
How?! While all the settlers hate the West, they also don’t want to be seen as quitters. A series of good omens and the arrival of a wagon master, albeit a drunk one, convinces them that quitting is OK and they set out on the trail. The businessmen looking to stop the wagon train first hire a local gunslinger to do the deed, but the wagons evade his traps by pure dumb luck. Even when the wagon train has their own bad luck, such as stumbling into a Native American war camp, they come out unscathed due to the common sense in their quest. The film basically proceeds like this, with more traps evaded and bad luck turning fortuitous. In the climactic scene, the US Cavalry is called in and Harlow challenges the leader to a fight. He wins and the wagon train proceeds without hindrance to St. Louis. If that sounds dumb and boring then you’re not far off.
Who?! No Planchet or cameos/musicians/athletes/presidents in this one. There is a notable character that went uncredited. That’s J.P. Moreland, the land developer that is trying to stop the wagon train. He’s played by Gailard Sartain (what a name!), who we know from most of the Ernest films and television show (usually as the character “Chuck,” although as “Jake (Chef #1)” in Ernest Goes to Camp). Presumably this is a case where he realized how bad the film was and chose to go uncredited, as his part is fairly significant.
Where?! Interesting settings film. We are shown in the beginning that Prosperity is located in the New Mexico Territory. From there they travel vaguely East until arriving in St. Louis. Pretty good all things considered. Not sure I’d count this as a setting that is vital to the plot though… The West isn’t really exact enough and it could have been set in Colorado or Arizona. B-
When?! I usually fear films set in the past or future. They are often satisfied with simply saying “Hey, we’re in the past/future!” and leaving it at that. Wagons East! is fortunately not one of those cases. We get some nice reference years to try to nail down the date. We are told that Phil is a former surgeon in the war. This is presumably the Civil War, so we can place the film sometime after 1865. Later we are told that Harlow led the Donner Party “about 20 years ago.” The Donner Party set out in May 1846, so makes sense that we are looking at about 1866-1867. As for the time of year, I get to set off a little Secret Holiday Film Alert! That’s because while the film is mostly vague on exactly when the wagon train is travelling, we are shown explicitly that they arrive at St. Louis on July 4th! Happy 4th of Jooooo-ly, everybody! B+
Now that you know the ins and outs of all that makes up Wagons East! we can dive into the BMT-ness of the film.
‘Ello everyone! Wagons East!! More like Ragged Least! A parody starring classic comedians and slamming a genre cresting at the peak of its power? What could go wrong? Actually … seriously, what went wrong? Let’s get into it! Oh … and I’m trying something new. A twist to The Good, The Bad, The BMT. Basically they will now function as three minigames. Usually these will be the three that follow. After that, if there was a Homework Sklog-signment or other thing to discuss it will go there, otherwise it will be these three games. Let’s go!
The Good (Sequel, Prequel, Remake) – Somewhere buried under the overlong unfunny mess of a production is a simple idea: Westerns are peaking in popularity after a lengthy period without releases in the 80s (Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven won best picture two and four years prior), so it is time to skewer them like Blazing Saddles did before! In that vein I think you could get away with a Reboot. But how you ask? Westerns aren’t really having a moment anymore. Ah, but it wouldn’t be a parody of Westerns … it is a parody of reboots! Complete with CGI Candy teaser at the end! Is that gross and weird or bizarrely brilliant, skewering the resurrection of characters played by now deceased actors in a reboot of one of the worst films ever? There is nothing to salvage here is the point, but like the reported (and abandoned) Men in Black / 21 Jump Street cross-over film, skewering the idea of bullshit crossovers, reboots, and origin stories is in.
The Bad (Seven Deadly Sklogs) – Here I will try and identify the sin committed to create this film. Greed? Did they want that sweet Western boom money? Pride? In their hubris did they think they knew Westerns so well it would be easy to nail the genre? No … sloth. Produced by a company going out of business they hired people ill-suited for the job resulting in a movie containing almost no humor. Too lazy to rewrite or edit the movie makes no sense. Richard Lewis phones it in, literally wearing an 80’s NYC comedian blazer and mullet. They don’t even bother to give Candy a character (Ebert nailed that in his review). Top to bottom just terrible.
The BMT: Legacy – This movie is too boring to be good, like a ten in the BMeTric. The legacy of this film though is interesting. It is a rarity, a parody of Westerns. Alongside Blazing Saddles, and A Million Ways to Die in the West it comes along only so often. Parodies themselves are somewhat rare. The legacy is that this is literally the worst example of an extremely niche genre. And as such it will always have a place in BMT lore. Even if I never want to watch it again and it makes me sad. It has a place, it is a warning.
I’ll close with a short Sklognalysis as well. Mainly because it is astonishing to me that parody westerns managed to come out exactly 20 years apart right as the genre was cresting. In 1974 Blazing Saddles came out after the glut of Westerns in the late-60s. In 1994 Wagons East in response to things like Dances With Wolves. And in 2014 came A Million Ways To Die in the West. There always seems to be one. So what can we expect in 2034 I wonder. Mull on that.