THURSDAY, JUNE 28, 2018 -- The greatest western comedy ever made was - without question - Mel Brooks "Blazing Saddles". After that, the second funniest is a battle between "Cat Ballou" and "The Shakiest Gun in the West". It's a genre that's been around since Laurel and Hardy's "Way of West" (1937), WC Field's "My Little Chicadee" (1940) and Bob Hope's "The Paleface" (1948).


There has been an effort to revive the genre, most notably Seth MacFarlane's "One Million Ways to Die in the West" (2014) which was basically a bunch of vulgar slapstick...but hardly comedy. (I won't even mention that thing that Adam Sandler released!) But sadly, the funniest recent western comedy was Gore Verbinski's animated film "Rango" seven years ago.


David and Nathan Zellner have a knack for very offbeat stories with humorous overtones. "Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter" was easily as off-beat as Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" in terms of characters who fail to understand the concept of anything. The Zellners continue that theme with Robert Pattinson as Samuel Alabaster, a man setting out in the old west to marry the girl of his dreams... Penelope (Mia Wasikowska). With him in tow is his wedding gift to her - Butterscotch - a miniature horse which he say she thinks is the most precious thing in the world.

Before we meet Sam however, we meet the one character who will remain throughout the film, Henry (David Zellner) who is waiting a a stagecoach station in the middle of nowhere with a priest (played by a hilarious Robert Forster). He winds up inheriting the priests clothes and apparently goes on about his new life in the west as a fake parson. We learn he has been hired by Sam to officiate the wedding - as soon as they take off and find Penelope.


This is news to Parson Henry, because he didn't know he had to take a road trip with Sam and his miniature horse. As the trip continues, Sam tells them they have to rescue Penelope from a kidnapper named Anton... also news to Parson Henry who is now extremely reluctant to go along. But after some extra money and very assurances, he continues with Sam.


At the halfway point in the film they find Penelope, the kidnapper is killed and that's when the first ironic turn is revealed. When they begin the trip back to town there are even more ironies and humorous revelations and interactions. One of the funniest is between Parson Henry and an Indian. It is an ongoing examination of people who don't understand the concept... of anything.


Pattinson is surprisingly good for the role, he seems to be growing out of his brooding persona. Mia is delightful as the damsel (keep in mind a damsel is merely an young woman; not necessarily in distress) who is about a good as a woman is going to get in the old west. I found it hard not to laugh had her rifle with the bent barrel. But Dave Zellner played well as the setup for every comical moment, including the scene with the crabs.


Adam Stone's cinematography in the Wasatch Range in Utah is spectacular and adds the grandeur often related to old west films. Pattinson sings - and that's all I have to say about that.


"Damsel" is the comedy "One Million Ways to Die in the West" wished it could have been. It is intelligent, funny and stays true to the old west.   -- GRADE B+ --   GEOFF BURTON