On Saturday afternoon we moseyed over to Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema in West Hollywood for a kiddie matinee of James Garner starring Disney flick, The Castaway Cowboy from 1974. I've never seen the film or even heard of it so what better way to enjoy some Garner than on the big screen? The New Bev's kid friendly day shows are great because they're $6 and include popcorn. I kind of wondered how many youngins would really be here and figured you'd get more western enthusiasts and James Garner completists attending. I was right. Not a single child in the audience, fools! With our popcorn, ice cream sammich and Reese's Pieces in hand, we sat down for the pre-show of Disney cartoons and vintage trailers. The print for The Castaway Cowboy has seen better days but it's a fun flick that finds Garner's shanghaied Lincoln Costain washed up on the shores of an island in Hawaii. Found by young Booton MacAvoy (Eric Shea), who lives on a 10,000 acre potato farm with his widowed mom Henrietta (Vera Miles), the MacAvoy's are having trouble staying afloat as land owner and suitor Calvin Bryson (Robert Culp) waits to snatch up the land and the lady.
As Costain mends, he meets the lovable but simple minded farm staff who deal with wild cattle trampling and grazing the plot. Ol' Costain figures you'd get $20 a head stateside but no one has figured out how to get the animals off the island. Cue montage and Garner looking oh so brawny and manly in his hat and button up shirts riding a horse and swinging a lasso. The film incorporates Garner's macho yet easygoing charm as he constantly calls Booton the wrong name, compares marriage to smallpox, warns young Booton no one is going to pin a rose on his shirt for doing his job and in addition to being a cowboy from Texas is a crack poker player that brings back memories of his hit western show Maverick. The flick is a strange mish mash of fish out of water, cowboy action and island living but somehow works as a funny and enjoyable 91 minutes. There's a crazy segue into black magic complete with a fight inside a haunted cave then a nice barroom brawl style fight that results in a dude getting punched out a window. Directed by Disney lifer Vincent McEveety with a script from Don Tait, Richard M. Bluel and Hugh Benson, Castaway Cowboy would be Garner's second family western with Disney but his last film for 6 years.
By 1974, Garner had already achieved big and small screen success with memorable turns in Maverick, The Great Escape, Grand Prix, Support Your Local Sheriff and more. Never one to accept things as they were, Garner sued studios and opened his own production shingle. In the same year, The Rockford Files debuted on television and ran for 6 seasons. By the 80's, Garner returned to films and racked up his sole Academy Award nomination for 1986's Murphy's Romance opposite Sally Field. Before his death in 2014, Garner continued to work regularly in film and television, returning to The Rockford Files as TV movies and recurring on sitcoms along with playing the elder Maverick in the Mel Gibson/Richard Donner hit, teaming with pal Clint Eastwood for Space Cowboys and epic love flick The Notebook. Sitting in the dark theater I couldn't help but chuckle at Garner's old school cool and "telling it like it is" charm.