Home Movies by Decade Movies - 1980s Silverado (1985)

Silverado (1985)

There are some major credibility issues in this pretentious New Wave Western by Lawrence (The Big Chill) Kasdan . . .

If you can buy Kevin Kline as a two-fisted gunslinger in the Old West, you’ll buy the Brooklyn Bridge; If you believe Linda Hunt (the Oscar-winning dwarf who played an Oriental man in The Year of Living Dangerously) as a dance-hall queen, you still believe in unicorns.

If you believe Jeff Goldblum, the bug-eyed insomniac from The Fly (1986), as a saloon gambler in a racoon coat, or John Cleese, the zany comic from Fawlty Towers and the Monty Python movies, as a mean sheriff, you probably still hang out a stocking for Santa.

Kasdan (whose screenplays for such comic-book fantasies as Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983) made him rich and arrogant) obviously believes his audiences will accept anything.

When audiences for Silverado laughed themselves silly, he passed the whole thing off as a comedy. This always happens when a movie turns out to be a bomb – The creators always turn indignant, claiming they intended to make people laugh in the first place.

Silverado is a riot, all right, but not because it’s supposed to be funny. It’s The Big Chill on horseback – A vast and tangled tale of greed, hate, and vengeance in cowboy boots, with nine stars lumbering their way through a convoluted and preposterous plot . . .

Kevin Kline has been robbed and left to die in the desert by villains – Scott Glenn (the astronaut from The Right Stuff) saves him.

At the fort, they run into Glenn’s younger brother, a daredevil cowboy played by Kevin Costner, who’s been sentenced to hang by John Cleese, a comic sheriff who talks like Arthur Treacher.


The three guys escape with a fourth sidekick, a black cowboy played by Danny Glover. They all head for a town called Silverado with a wagon train and a hardy pioneer woman, played by Rosanna Arquette.

Silverado turns out to be a western town so spanking new and whistling clean it looks like Knott’s Berry Farm.

Glenn and his brother find their score with a murderous family called the McKendricks unsettled. Glover, who has been working in the Chicago stockyards, finds his farm burned, his family dead, his cattle stolen. The bloody McKendricks are the culprits, and now everyone is out for revenge. The movie is just beginning.

The McKendricks are in cahoots with Silverado’s fat, mercenary sheriff, played by Brian Dennehy. The sheriff also owns the town (and Glover’s sister works in the saloon).

Kline leaves his three buddies and goes to work in the saloon, too. Glenn is his best friend. Now Kline is working for the McKendricks, who are Glenn’s worst enemies.

There are so many characters and stories going on at the same time (all of them boring, none of them related except by the thinnest thread possible) that the film can’t keep them straight, either, so every ten minutes it keeps introducing new ones.

Wandering in and out of the confusion is Linda Hunt, a miniature saloon queen who has to stand on a box to serve a highball, and poor Rosanna Arquette, a nice pioneer virgin who tries to get the guys to settle down and raise chickens. You can count her lines on the fingers of your left hand. Considering what she has to say (“Nothin’ wrong with this land, jes’ some of the people in it”) maybe you should forget the whole thing. I’m sure she has.


Silverado ends with an inevitable shootout on Main Street, but to get there it rambles. It wafts. It drags. And it piles up every cliché in the book: ambushes, kidnappings, burning homesteads, women and children terrorised, horses braying in the corral to signal the arrival of trouble, dance-hall girls reformed through the love of good men, bad men reformed through the love of good women. There’s a horse stampede. Even a square dance . . . Everything but Gene Autry.

In the noisy finale, the four sidekicks ride again. They look like Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix, Ken Maynard, and Hopalong Cassidy. But they say things like “Let’s get ’em!” and “Hi, guys!” – Maybe it’s an old script that was tailored for the four Marx Brothers and never used.

Nobody has any clear definition of what’s going on, so everybody appears to be making it up as they go along. Kasdan’s direction doesn’t help his idiotic screenplay, and he must have directed the horse stampede by walkie-talkie from a hotel room in Santa Fe.

Silverado is a mess. But at least the noise keeps you awake.

Kevin Kline
Scott Glenn
Kevin Costner
Danny Glover
Sheriff Langston
John Cleese
Deputy Kern
Todd Allen
Bill Thurman
Rosanna Arquette
Rusty Meyers
James Gammon
Troy Ward
Deputy Block
Kenny Call
Brian Dennehy
Linda Hunt
Jeff Goldblum
Ray Baker
Joe Seneca
Lynn Whitfield
Jeff Fahey

Lawrence Kasdan