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Zachariah (1971)

This offbeat and satirical film – billed as “the first Electric Western” – was conceived by members of America’s ever-so-hip Firesign Theatre for the midnight movies circuit and boasts appearances by a whole host of contemporary musicians, including Country Joe and The Fish, The James Gang, Elvin Jones and the New York Rock Ensemble.

Hero Zachariah (John Rubinstein, son of renowned pianist Arthur Rubenstein) sends off for a mail-order gun with illusions of becoming the fastest gun in the West. He practices a little and then kills a man in his local saloon.

He and his blacksmith friend Matthew (a young Don Johnson, later of Miami Vice fame) then join forces with The Crackers (played by Country Joe and The Fish), a rock band who are also (inept and bungling) stagecoach robbers.

Realising that his goal involves a lot of killing, Zachariah leaves Matthew with The Crackers and continues on his metaphysical journey alone.


He checks out the Bad Guy Job Cain (jazz drummer Elvin Jones), makes it with prostitute Belle Starr (Pat Quinn, star of Alice’s Restaurant as a combination of Mae West and Mother Earth) and finally learns the ways of peace from an old-timer (William Challee) who grows organic food in the desert.

Having gunned down Job Cain to become the new Bad Guy, Matthew comes to shoot it out with Zach (goading him by tearing up Zachariah’s vegetable garden).

Zach refuses to fight and the two friends ride off into the sunset together. Good triumphs over evil and love conquers all.

The fake-front sets look like fake-front sets, and the movie has more anachronisms than you can shake the Dada Manifesto at – the musicians all have amps but everyone rides horses, and instead of square dancing the townspeople frug. But surrealism isn’t as easy to pull off as it looks and this is the sort of film that the phrase “you’ll either love it or loathe it” might have been specially coined for.

Zachariah simply couldn’t have existed in any decade other than the 1960s. The hippies would have loved it. The Firesign Theatre hated it so much they disowned it.

John Rubinstein
Belle Starr
Patricia Quinn
Don Johnson
The Crackers
Country Joe and the Fish
Job Cain
Elvin Jones
The Fiddler
Doug Kershaw
Old Man
William Challee
Stage Manager
Robert Ball
The Dude
Dick Van Patten
Job Cain’s Band
James Gang
Old Man’s Band
White Lightnin’
Belle Starr’s Band
The New York Rock Ensemble

George Englund