Ford is not Sheepish as the Sheepman
"The Sheepman" or "Stranger with a Gun" which it's also known by is called a comedy western, something which I sort of disagree with. The reason being is that for the first 20 minutes "The Sheepman" revels in poking fun at western cliches but after that it becomes for the most a formulaic and serious western about a stranger in town who ends up ruffling too many feathers. In fact I would even go as far as saying "The Sheepman" is a western with a humorous side rather than a full comedy. Not that I am complaining as there is something quite entertaining about "The Sheepman" and in particular the confident performance of Glenn Ford in the lead role.
When Jason Sweet (Glenn Ford - Torpedo Run) rolls into town he soon finds himself making enemies as he plans to graze sheep on the land where the locals graze their cattle. But full of confidence Sweet fears no one, not even Colonel Stephen Bedford (Leslie Nielsen - Airplane) who controls the town as Sweet knows Bedford and who he really is. But that makes no difference as the town's folk lead by Colonel Bedford and the attractive Dell Payton (Shirley MacLaine - In Her Shoes) try and make Sweet along with his sheep leave.
The funniest part of "The Sheepman" is the first 20 minutes as Jason Sweet arrives in town and various western cliches are made fun of. You have the train station porter wanting to know if Sweet was "picking a fight" when it's obvious he wasn't and then Sweet meeting the town character who makes wise cracks. Those are just a couple of amusing scenes amongst quite a few which dominate those first 20 minutes and whilst none are laugh out loud funny they are good fun. But get past those first 20 minutes and "The Sheepman" swaps making fun of western cliches for a standard western story. There are still funny moments but that smart comedy which fuels those first 20 minutes is gone.
What this means is after 20 minutes you then get quite a bog standard western storyline with Jason Sweet finding himself not welcome in town because he wants to herd sheep and that brings him in to confrontation with the town's boss who he happens to know. Add to that a cliche romantic storyline as both Sweet and Colonel Stephen Bedford find themselves in love with the same woman and you have what is a pretty much generic western storyline. And as such it is splattered with the occasional moment of action, a bar brawl which has comic undertones and a brief moment of gun action.
This probably makes "The Sheepman" sound like it's quite a normal and possibly a boring western only pepped up by the amusing opening scenes but Glenn Ford in the lead role of Jason Sweet makes it all work. From the moment he strolls into town exuding confidence as he out smarts everyone you are drawn to the character. And for the rest of the movie that amusing level of confidence just pours out of Ford as he smiles his way through scene after scene. And although it's completely manufactured, the scene where Sweet demonstrates his gun skill flicking a shot glass and poker chip in the air, shooting the glass and catching the chip on the back of his hand is a complete crowd pleaser.
What is amusing is that "The Sheepman" actually features a lot of well known faces. Leslie Nielsen delivers semi-amusing evilness as Col. Stephen Bedford and Shirley MacLaine is quite attractive as Dell Payton the woman who finds herself in the midst of the macho rivalry. And then in smaller roles you have Mickey Shaughnessy, Edgar Buchanan, Slim Pickens amongst others, but they are all over shadowed by Glenn Ford who struts his way through "The Sheepman", smiling, acting confident and you just can't take your eyes off of him.
What this all boils down to is that "The Sheepman" whilst a very entertaining movie is not what I would say is a comedy western. The first 20 minutes are great fun as western cliches are made fun of but after that it's almost a stock western. But with Glenn Ford oozing confidence in every single scene it becomes more than just a stock western and ends up rather entertaining.