A man walks into a bar …
I love watching stuff like this because it’s so gloriously cheeseball that it’s unintentionally funny! This is such a bizarre version of the wild west that it’s hilarious!
James Caan is supposed to be a total badass. I get that. I can tell because he narrows his eyes to slits while he stares down the guy he’s confronting. I’ve seen Clint Eastwood do this a million times. Also, Caan barely moves his lips while he talks really, really quietly for a long time about how the other guy did him wrong, apparently to bore the other guy into a false sense of security. (Clint didn’t talk much.) Caan’s really not the badass, though. In the real wild west, Charlie Hagan would’ve been the badass, and Caan would’ve been a dead guy who briefly thought he was so slick that he went by the nickname ‘Mississippi.’
There’s a conceit in western films that the bad guy believes wholeheartedly that nobody can get the drop on him, so he doesn’t realize he’s in trouble until it’s too late. But a feral human doesn’t wait, and Hagan is not only feral, he’s the kind of feral human who casually kills people if they cheat him playing cards. I’m pretty sure Hagan would have drilled Caan full of holes as soon as Caan took his eyes off Hagan. He might have let Caan dramatically take off his hat, just so both of Caan’s hands were occupied holding something besides a weapon, but I doubt it.
But let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Hagan let Caan reel off a boring monologue about his buddy Johnny Diamond, and when Caan was finished, Hagan went for his gun, which was right there on his hip, while Caan had to reach for a knife that he kept sheathed at the back of his neck. I guess Caan put it there because that not only makes him look way more badass, but it’s also supposed to make us believe it’s hidden, even though enough of the handle would have to be sticking out in order for Caan to grab it quickly. (Not that I’m saying he grabbed it quickly.)
Now I’m no expert, but it seems to me that a guy who was familiar with the use of a pistol would not have gotten very far in life, especially a life in which he casually shot people for cheating at cards, if he couldn’t plug a guy who had to lift his arm up over his head to pull a hidden knife out of his shirt. I mean, how many times did Caan have to practice that move to do it at all without slitting his own throat, let alone do it faster than a man can draw a gun from a holster?
I guess you could make the argument that Hagan was a bad shot even though he hung around in wild west saloons, killing gamblers to collect the kitty, but frankly I think that’s an argument made in bad faith. Even if old Johnny Diamond was the first guy Hagan killed, which doesn’t seem likely, it’s hard to believe Hagan would have gone another two years playing cards in saloons without killing anybody else. And if he was a bad shot, it’s more than a little hard to believe he would’ve survived.
So worst-case scenario is, Hagan is not the fastest gun in the west but he’s probably no slouch; he’s killed at least one guy but probably more than one; he kills for shockingly casual reasons, such as believing that someone has cheated him at cards; and he hangs out in wild west saloons, the kind of places where he wouldn’t drop his guard or let a guy like Caan talk him to death. Hagan would have killed Caan the second he got the chance.