Once upon a time an Italian film director rocked up in the Sierra Nevada in to make a movie. That movie starred Clint Eastwood as the famous ‘man with no name’ (this was cool then, I promise), so he went on to make a few more. All westerns. With fabulous titles such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which is so uber. And when he’d finished, all the locals who’d been extras in the films, clubbed together and bought the set that he’d built.
It’s been run as a tourist attraction for the last fifty years, although it’s owned by a hotel chain now. But honestly, who can resist a complete Western town of backless buildings? Not me. Steve wasn’t that keen to go: he thought it would be okay-ish and that I’d enjoy it much more than him. Boy, was he wrong; it was ACE!!!! And in all the wrong ways.
The best way to get there is to follow Deirdre the sat-nav slut as she takes you the long way around through the mountains. Although we programmed in the quickest way, please, she has selective hearing and prefers to meander. But the mountain route is spectacular and really gets you in the mood. Cacti. Ravines. Sparseness. And in the distance – ooh look, teepees.
So we fetch up at the entrance, which has weird disney characters and odd cowboys on the signage, and is looking a bit the worse for wear. And this is when I start to get very happy, because I love things that are a little bit crap so much more than things that are shiny and impressive.
Because of Dierdre’s navigation we’ve arrived half-way though the can-can show, so we give that a miss and explore the ‘town’. It has everything you would expect; a saloon, a gaol, a bank, etc., but also a mine shaft, a blacksmith, stables, shops, a schoolroom, moonshine stills and – of all things – a local Rabbi.
A photographer is taking pictures of people in costume, so Indian squaws and saloon girls keep crossing in front of us. Children run around in cowboy hats kicking up clouds of yellow dust. And honky-tonk piano music bangs out of the saloon, as the girls dance to the sound of gun-shots and well-choreographed whoops.
We have some time before the next performance of the Wild West Spectacular (and I just know it’s not going to be – I can hardly wait), so we head for the parrot display.
The parrot display? you ask.
Oh yes – because there is a zoo here as well!
And the parrot display is extra brilliant because it is all in Spanish and we can’t understand a thing. It consists of birds with beautiful plumage doing odd tricks, such as finding which cup the ball is under, or doing maths and ringing a bell to show the answer.
There is always a long lead up, with lots of ‘oooh’s from the audience, so we are quite keyed up about what to expect. Then a lady at the back of the auditorium releases a lovely cockatoo with champagne pink feathers and buttercup armpits (wingpits?). And its special skill is ….. flying! I swear. It swoops over our heads to land on the talking chappie’s arm, then flies back again, all to enthusiastic applause. Same thing with a little green parakeet with scarlet armpits. Very pretty, but not exactly a superpower, I think.
Then we head for the big animals. Steve is interested in the Rhinos which, on close inspection, are a serious bit of kit. But I fall involve with the giraffe, who comes to the fence and lets us all stroke her head. I know it’s cupboard love and she’s looking for grass, but I’m enchanted anyway.
Her enclosure – as with all the animals – has the most amazing view. The zoo sprawls out over the surrounding hillsides, rugged, rocky, and sun-drenched. The mountains fill the horizon. It is more like being on safari than my normal experience of a zoo. I have to keep pinching myself.
Then it is time for us to head back into town for the Wild West show. We get a coffee in the saloon and find a nice spot on a balcony. Steve suggests that they might ask for volunteers, and that I should definitely go for it. I’m so tempted, but then I realise that it wouldn’t work because all of their instructions would be in Spanish.’What instructions do you need to be roped and dragged along the ground by a horse?‘ asks Steve. Good point. You can tell we’ve been married a long time, can’t you.
We are told that the show is going to be an enactment of the last stand of Jessie James. Well alrighty. And this is how it goes:-
The sheriff and his deputy drive a horse and cart into town. The sheriff is pointing his rifle at a guy in the back who is tied up. Oh no – it’s the infamous Jessie James – who then proceeds to quietly jump out of the cart and wait patiently for the sheriff to get down. Not so tough, then. Reckon he had a good spin doctor.
The sheriff puts his rifle in the cart, which then gets parked around the corner. Bit short-sighted, methinks, because although Jessie starts walking calmly to the gaol, it suddenly occurs to him that he doesn’t have to. Bit of string around his wrists, but no actual gun pointed at him. But instead of legging it, he does the old throw my hat on the ground manoeuvre and picks a fight.
He gets biffed up quite a bit before the sheriff remembers he has a pistol (which Jessie has specularly failed to grab from his holster, despite copious opportunity). Jessie now wanders amiably into the gaol, sometimes at gun-point, but mostly not, and locks himself inside. If I were him I would have been very embarrassed, but Mr Thicky James now bellows out of the window at the injustice of having to gaol himself.
Then we get something is about to happen music. For ages.
A guy in a long coat rides right through the centre of the town square. He may have borrowed it from Harry Potter because, although he is clearly visible to everybody, the sheriff patrolling the balcony totally fails to spot him. He sneaks noisily up the stairs and promptly chucks the sheriff off onto a handy pile of straw. The sheriff decides to have a bit of a snooze.
Another chap in an invisibility coat rides into the town with a rope. Together they tie it to the bars of the cell window and the horse pulls the whole shebang out. Jessie jumps through the gap. Hoorah.
Then the new chap decides not to tie up the sheriff. Instead, he positions himself behind a too small barrel and waits for the sheriff to wake up and start shooting at him. It all kicks off and now a deputy runs out from the gaol and joins in the fray. He’s been there all this time and done nothing! What a plank.
Jessie rides out and stops to offer barrel-guy a jump-up, but rides off before he can do it. You know – just before: he’s that guy. And then the other invisible-coat chap does the same. So barrel-guy gets shot. A lot.
Jessie waits until barrel-guy is really dead then, rather than make a clean break out of town on his horse, he jumps off and hides behind a too small water trough. Perhaps this is an homage thing, I don’t know, but I’m sensing a pattern.
And now the sheriff and two deputies are spaced out and training their guns on him, so he stands up and runs into the middle of the triangle. And gets shot. What a surprise, who knew?
But miracles happen (although not to Jessie) and barrel-guy is resurrected despite being shot, like, fifteen times. However, he is still an idiot. The sheriff and his deputies are wandering back to the gaol and – rather than fake it until they go inside and then make his escape – he waits until the sheriff (armed) is next to him (unarmed) and then he gets up and picks another fight.
And it doesn’t go so well and he’s marched off – showing no resistance at all – to the convenient gallows. Honestly, there’s no helping some people. But maybe the whole gang comes from the same shallow gene pool, because then the invisible-coat guy who had escaped rides back into town for the sheriff and his deputies to shoot at him again.
The sheriff chases after him and it is left to the two deputies to get the hanging done. This takes a lot longer than you’d think. Even though he’s strung up and his feet are off the ground, they are all still having a right barney and there is a considerable amount of bad-tempered spitting and kicking. Eventually, the music signals it’s time to stop, so he does a sort of mid-air M C Hammer dance, then waves at all the children, and slumps. Really dead this time. I think.
And now the sheriff comes back and, boy, did he earn his star! Not only did he outrun a galloping horse on foot, but he pulled an armed man off it, caught the horse (without being shot by the armed man), and has now roped and dragged said armed invisible-coat man back into town. Oh yes.
One of the deputies checks that the coaty is alright, before helping him to his feet in order to throw him down again. The dead guy on the gallows pipes up, ‘Shoot him!‘ and promptly gets shot again. Really, really dead, this time.
Now deputy number one waits calmly for coaty to get to his feet again, and starts beating him up. Despite all the yelling, deputy number two continues his sedate walk towards the gaol house. Perhaps there’s been some Health and Safety initiatives, because he doesn’t seem to want to get very involved. And although he has a gun, deputy number one prefers a good old fist fight, it seems. Maybe they are being too noisy, because deputy number two does turn around and points his gun at coaty until he stops fighting. But I don’t think he likes the other deputy much because he then wanders off and lets them carry on.
And suddenly – DRAMA! Coaty has got the deputy’s pistol and has shot the sheriff! Deputy number two has to do something now – he’s beginning to look more than slack – so he does more gun pointing. And coaty – despite being a crack shot (unlike the law, apparently), and only facing a deputy who clearly doesn’t give a shit, and having nothing to lose – throws his pistol back to deputy number one and puts his hands in the air. Mental! Coaty then plays his last card. ‘I’m unarmed,‘ he says. Well, who’s fault is that!
So, get this – they give him a gun!?! And now I see how it was all part of deputy number two’s master plan (cue evil laugh). He waits until coaty has shot the other deputy, then smartly polishes him off. One bullet. He’s given the undertaker plenty of work (bet they’re related) and has risen very sharply up the ranks to become the sheriff of a Jessie James-free town. Neat. Then gallows guy resurrects again, and helps to put the bars back into the gaol house window. Swell.
The kids bloody loved it, and they all got to sit on the horses afterwards and have their pictures taken with the idiot gang. I Googled Jessie James and it turns out he was shot in the back of the head, by one of his own gang, in his own home. So I don’t know what we just saw but I know which version I preferred, and it was here, at Mini Hollywood.