Western Film WTF: Blaze Glory (1969)

This is a short film, clocking in at about 10 minutes, and starts like any other Western, with a trip of villains on a bluff waiting for a stagecoach. They rise, mount their horses, and ride off to rob the thing.

There is not a horse in the movie. Instead, the riders are animated, a process called pixilation that involves animating live humans like puppets. The film is by Len Janson and Chuck Menville and is the third, and most ambitious, in a series of short films. Their first, "Stop, Look & Listen," imagined a world without cars, so everybody simply scoots around town on their butts. Their second, "Vicious Cycles," imagines a world without motorcycles, so biker gangs and genteel scooter clubs battle it out by shuffling around on their shoes, posed as thought on bikes.

So here we are, in a world without horses, and with the actors animated so they they appear to simply float through the air, their legs splayed apart as though a horse were beneath them. The stagecoach has neither horses nor wheels, but simply glides along the prairie.

There is a lot more to this short film that just this one conceit, but it is the film's most distinctive element, the thing that Janson and Menville had originated and mastered: They could duplicate the effect of transportation without the mechanism of transportation, and find dozens, hundreds of little related jokes. Their imaginary horses sometimes rear back in terror, and, when a train is needed, instead we end up with our hero simply gliding down the tracks on his cowboy boots, pumping away at an the imaginary walking beam of an imaginary hand car.

Beyond that, the film is delirious, a frenzy of rapid jokes, all a bit surreal. The villain, as an example, has a habit of getting out of scrapes by taking people hostage. He begins with civilians, but then takes his own fellow desperadoes hostage, and finally himself, pointing a pistol at his own head and telling the hero that if he moves the hostage will die.

The hero (played by Chuck Menville) is a cheerful lug in an enormous 10-gallon hat with a preposterously deep voice — his voice is provided by Ted Cassidy, who played the funereal Lurch on "The Addams' Family" tv show; the filmmakers also threw in a lot of reverb, so the voice seems to be echoing out of a deep cave somewhere. He wears an elaborate cowboy getup with an American flag emblem on his chest, and the costume is so elaborate that he spends approximately 10 percent of the entire film just getting into it.

Nothing in the film happens quite the way it should. Whenever the hero accomplishes something, a comely woman showers him with kisses, and he responds the way dogs do when hugged too tightly, by looking terrified and squirming to get away. Fist fights are almost entirely created using the stop motion technique, so the characters knock each other for literally circles, rolling around like hoops, and can be flung vast distances. The film is filled with little visual gags, including a tremendous final when where the cowboy lifts his hat to say goodbye and reveals a foot-high mass of hair under the hat.

The film was released to theater and managers would often plug it in before features, and so "Blaze Glory" enjoyed no small amount of cult success, but that tradition has died away and the film has slipped into obscurity. There's a very poor dub on YouTube right now, which is still capable of causing gasps, but it would be nice to see "Blaze Glory" in all it's 35mm magnificence.

After all, pixilation wasn't then an animation technique you saw very often, and you never see it now. One a full-sized screen, with a clean print, the moment when those desperadoes hoist their legs and just start floating?

I think it would still pop eyes.


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