Mel Gibson first got the idea to do a big screen version of Maverick when he was shooting Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet (1990). Westerns, a genre that had been long dormant at the time, were enjoying a comeback following the huge success of Clint Eastwood's Academy Award-winning Unforgiven in 1992. Gibson had been a fan of the TV series as a young boy and thought Maverick would make a terrific project for his production company, Icon Entertainment. Due to their previous success collaborating with Gibson on the hit Lethal Weapon series, Warner Bros. didn't need much convincing to give Maverick the green light.
With Warner Bros. on board, Gibson and his business partner Bruce Davey obtained the rights to Maverick and approached legendary screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid , The Princess Bride ), to write the screenplay. "I said yes for four small reasons and one big one," recalls Goldman in his 2000 memoir Which Lie Did I Tell? More Adventures in the Screen Trade. "Here are the four: (1) I loved the old TV show with James Garner; (2) I felt the material was in my wheelhouse; (3) I had never met Gibson but after five minutes I knew he could play the hell out of the part; (4) I had not written a western in twenty-some years, was glad for the opportunity to try again. And the one big reason? Shamefacedly, here it is: I knew it would be easy."
Goldman's last several projects had all been original screenplays, and he was certain that an adaptation would be a comparative breeze. "All I needed to do was pick one of the old TV shows that had too much plot, expand it, and there would be the movie," he recalls himself thinking. Much to his chagrin, however, he could find no material for a film despite immersing himself in several hours worth of old Maverick episodes. "I essentially had to write, sob, another original," he says. "It was not going to be easy money at the brick factory again."
Mel Gibson also brought director Richard Donner (The Omen , Superman ) on board for the Maverick film. Donner was the perfect choice for the material, having already directed Gibson in the similarly toned Lethal Weapon (1987) and its sequels.
The flirty feminine role of Annabelle marked a departure for Academy Award winning actress Jodie Foster, who was known more for her portrayal of tough, edgy women characters. "It was so unlike anything I had ever done and that's probably the reason why I was attracted to it," said Foster in a 1994 interview. "I was really interested in doing a comedy that was light-hearted and witty." Foster's performance is the biggest surprise of the movie and a fun treat from the usually serious actress.
Maverick boasts some impressive location scenery from El Mirage and Lone Pine, California; Lake Powell, Arizona; and Oregon, shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. To add authenticity to his scenes as a gun slinging card sharp, Mel Gibson worked with gun specialist Phil Spangenberger, who taught him some fancy gun tricks. He also worked for hours learning to expertly handle a deck of cards, which he often found to be more difficult than handling a gun.
The cast and crew all thoroughly enjoyed themselves while making Maverick, and that sense of fun came through on every frame as the film went on to become a box office hit during the summer of 1994. "Now comes Maverick," said Roger Ebert in his Chicago Sun-Times review, "the first lighthearted, laugh-oriented family Western in a long time, and one of the nice things about it is, it doesn't feel the need to justify its existence." Variety said, "[Richard] Donner conducts with aplomb the high-wire act of balancing vintage Western set pieces with contemporary high jinks. Maverick is an authentic oater that eschews shortcuts. You can almost taste the dust rising up from the pristine period re-creations vividly captured on the big screen by Vilmos Zsigmond." The New York Times said, "Fast, funny, full of straight-ahead action and tongue-in-cheek jokes, Maverick is Lethal Weapon meets Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That combination won't win any prizes for originality, but it works like a movie mogul's dream and sets the summer-film season off to an unbeatable start."
One of the best things about Maverick is that you don't have to be familiar with the television series in order to enjoy the movie. Also, viewers will enjoy trying to spot the many country music stars who make cameo appearances throughout the film including the late Waylon Jennings, Clint Black, Vince Gill, Hal Ketchum, and Kathy Mattea as well as a "wink wink" glimpse of Gibson's Lethal Weapon co-star Danny Glover.
April Ferry's lush and colorful costumes received an Academy Award nomination.
Producers: Bruce Davey and Richard Donner
Director: Richard Donner
Screenplay: William Goldman, Roy Huggins (TV series "Maverick")
Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond
Art Direction: Daniel Dorrance
Music: Randy Newman
Film Editing: Stuart Baird and Mike Kelly
Cast: Mel Gibson (Bret Maverick), Jodie Foster (Annabelle Bransford), James Garner (Marshal Zane Cooper), Graham Greene (Joseph), Alfred Molina (Angel), James Coburn (Commodore Duvall).
C-127m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume