In Stetson City, a town in the Wild West of Arizona 1885, the inhabitants like to do two things: drinking and brawling. The only thing that interrupts this at the saloon is when the showgirl Tornado Lou (Kveta Fialová) performs one of her songs, but she refuses to give her heart to just anyone, waiting for the right man to come along, who in this case is not the local big gun Duke Badman (Milos Kopecký), much to his chagrin. However, one day when the locals are deep in one of their brawls - over abstinence campaigners - someone new arrives, a gunfighter calling himself Lemonade Joe (Karel Fiala), and he has a message for everyone. "Drink Kolakola!"
There was a burst of creativity in Czechoslovakia in the mid-nineteen-sixties as far as their film industry went, with some of the most imaginative works of the decade produced there, and looking to establish their movies as true world beaters. Alas, this new liberalism in the air did not last as the Soviets cracked down on all of the Prague Spring business leading many to judge this artistry as a false dawn. Some of the Czech talent fled and regrouped elsewhere, Hollywood usually, but others opted to stay (or had no choice in the matter), and director Oldrich Lipsky was one of those, an expert in comedy who would have likely got his due had he brought his visions to America.
As it is, he remains a cult figure to cineastes and comedy fans alike - every film he made was designed to make the audience laugh, no mean feat considering the yoke of oppression hanging heavily on his countrymen's shoulders. Lemonade Joe was his take on the Western, still in 1964 the most popular form of motion picture entertainment across the world with examples being made seemingly anywhere there was a camera and some actors, but while in Italy that year Sergio Leone was about to revolutionise the style, for better or worse, and wake international audiences up to the potential of a cowboy effort not produced out of America, Lipský was more irreverent.
In fact, Lemonade Joe was one big mickey take from start to finish, with a particularly Eastern European flavour. You might have mistaken it for one of those Spaghetti Westerns at first glance, except it was in tinted black and white rather than the colour the Italians preferred, but when it was plain this film was here to satirise not celebrate, it made things a lot more interesting. For a start, the fact that its white-hatted hero was a soft drinks salesman, hence his obsessive promotion of the Coca-Cola substitute throughout, would make it apparent these comedians from behind the Iron Curtain were taking a decidedly Communist approach to the traditionally American format. This relentless commercialism they saw in the culture meant there was very little here to be taken seriously.
Was it funny? It was so daffy that it couldn't help but raise a chuckle, though perhaps it wasn't quite the knee-slapper its fans would have you believe, yet it was so imaginative that the pace never flagged, and neither did the invention. About the most recognisable face here was of the teetotaller's daughter Winnifred Goodman, played by Olga Schoberová who under the name Olinka Berova staged a career internationally, taking over from the not-dissimilar Ursula Andress in The Vengeance of She, for example. It didn't quite take, but she still has her fans, and here demonstrated a knack for straight faced humour that her decorative roles would not often give her the opportunity to do. It should be noted that one example of the joking would not travel well today: in a dig at American racism, the villain appears in minstrel blackface for one shootout, but that aside, comedy aficionados would be engaged by the flippant tone, even for the deaths of major characters. The anti-imperialist running dogs jibes did place it in a point in time, yet as a raspberry blown in the face of Roy Rogers, this was diverting. Music by Vlastimil Hála and Jan Rychlík (it's almost a musical).