It would appear that I am on somewhat of a Mel Gibson kick, lately. When I watched The Professor and the Madman (2019), it had nothing to do with him being in it. I encountered a movie based on a book I enjoyed and wanted to see it. Still, watching it got me thinking about Braveheart (1995), particularly as Mel Gibson’s character in the later film has a Scottish accent. Yesterday, while scrolling through titles (I promise to get back to your requests), I stumbled upon another of his films that I had not seen in a while, one that I enjoyed in my younger years. It was Maverick (1994), a fairly clever little Western based on a television show from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The title character in Maverick, Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson), is in trouble. His head is in a noose, and he is on a horse in the middle of the desert. A mysterious group of people have left him there to die surrounded by rattle snakes. How he got into this predicament is the subject of the first half of the film. You see, Maverick is, as his name might suggest, not somebody accustomed to living a staid and settled life. He is an aspiring gambler, and he travels to your stereotypical (I cannot emphasize that word enough) Western town in order to obtain the rest of the money he needs to enter into a big poker tournament in a little over a week in St. Louis. While waiting for the bank to open the next day, he takes in the local saloon for an evening of cards. Though the game is already underway and the players are not too keen to let him sit in, he convinces them to deal him in by promising to lose for the first hour. Such is his confidence in his poker abilities that he is willing to flit away a significant amount of money believing he will make it up, and then some, in the long run. At the table already are the ravishing Mrs. Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster) and a rough character named Angel (Alfred Molina). It is Angel who initially refuses Maverick’s request to buy into the game, but it is Annabelle who charms everyone into accepting the new arrival particularly when she sees the large amount of cash he is carrying. When the appointed hour ends, Maverick begins winning so speedily that, of course, he is accused of cheating. This is when a group of men burst in intent on killing him. In spite of claiming that he is gutless, he is able to fend off his attackers single-handedly, a move which intimidates Angel and endears him to Annabelle. Afterwards, she comes to Maverick’s room, and after they kiss, she attempts to steal his wallet full of money because, after all, she is a bit of a con artist herself. The next day, proceeding a failed attempt to retrieve the money he sought from the bank because of a robbery, we learn that the men he beat up were also paid off by Maverick to make him look more impressive. He then catches the next stage out of town, one that also happens to be inhabited by Annabelle (who also plans to enter the poker tournament) and Marshall Zane Cooper (James Gardner). Annabelle is none too pleased by having her theft attempts thwarted by Maverick, and Cooper takes him for being gutless as well. However, during their travels they happen upon a group of missionaries who think they have been attacked by native peoples. Though their assailants turn out to be a group of ruffians pretending to the Indians, a real band of Native Americans shows up. Everyone else is scared but Maverick, who is an old friend of their leader, Joseph (Graham Greene). They take him away, and he and Joseph scam a Russian nobleman that helps Maverick obtain some of the rest of the money he needs for the tournament. They do so by leading the Archduke (Paul L. Smith) into thinking he had hunted and killed a “red man” when it had actually been Maverick in disguise. Leaving behind Joseph, Maverick makes his way to a strangely mountainous St. Louis (though surviving the near hanging along the way set up by Angel) and boards the riverboat upon which he is to play in the poker championship. There he reunites with Annabelle and Cooper, and he is able to swindle the remaining funds he needs from the Archduke, who is also on the boat. Of course, Maverick ends up winning the tournament on an amazingly lucky draw of an ace of spades, the last card he needs on the final hand to complete a straight royal flush. Just as he is about to be handed a half a million dollars by Cooper, the lawmen hired to oversee the proceedings, Cooper decides to steal the money. The boat’s owner and the one had arranged the tournament, Commodore Duvall (James Coburn), is about to shoot Cooper when Maverick intervenes. Instead, we next see the Commodore sneak off and meet Cooper at a campfire in the woods. He is followed there by Maverick, who is able to get the drop on the two men and take the money. He then heads off to live the good life, soaking in a tub, smoking cigars, and drinking brandy, but Cooper catches up with him. All is well, though, as Cooper is actually Maverick’s father and they both settle in to enjoy the trappings of their newfound wealth. They do so, that is, until Annabelle comes in to steal the money, though she unwittingly only takes half. The film ends with them musing about chasing her down and getting it back.
When our title character in Maverick first appears in the film’s opening scene at the end of a rope, he prays to God to get him out of this predicament. Thankfully for him, God seems to intervene and he is able to make it to the tournament. I always find it fascinating how it is in moments of difficulty that people think to turn to God. Please understand that this is not a complaint. God hears our prayers no what condition in which they are given. It is when people’s lives are seemingly flashing before their eyes, as the old saying goes, that they reflect on the things they have done. Wanting to avoid death, people usually ask that they be spared. Some, though, ask for forgiveness for whatever has led them astray. Sometimes it is a combination of the two. This film presents a third scenario, those who look to the divine in times of great need. We have all been there, right? Whether it is to get a new job, help with taking a test, or maybe to get a gift for Christmas we have always wanted, we cry out to God in certain instances because we attach miraculous meanings to what is probably mundane in the eyes of God. And when they seem to be answered, how quickly we forget that we asked God for His assistance! In the film, Maverick has times that he refers to as “magic” when he concentrates hard on a particular card he needs, thinking that if he desires it enough it will appear. Most of the time it does not work, but he tries this one more time on his final hand. So much does he believe he can make this happen that he does not look at the card until everyone’s hands are revealed. While I do not like to lump the divine with gambling (grace does not happen by chance), what an example of stepping out in Faith! If only we could all be like Maverick in our daily lives, knowing that if we just have Faith in that which is so often unseen that everything will turn out okay. It takes nerves, just as Maverick displayed in the end.
There are some unfortunate stereotypes in Maverick. Some of them are turned on their head, though, as can be seen in the scenes where Maverick is hanging out with his friend Joseph. The notion is that the Archduke wants Joseph’s people to look and act the way he had come to expect from reading the dime novels about the Old West that were popular at the time. It is also kind of refreshing how the concept of the gunfighter is handled. While Maverick can clearly wield a firearm with skill, he has a certain reticence to doing so. Still, I do not know if I would call this a family movie. The apparent protagonists do triumph, though I would not call them completely good. They do good deeds, such as giving back to the missionaries the promised reward money, but overall they live an alternative lifestyle, for lack of a better term. Still, a pretty enjoyable movie.
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