There has been an advertisement playing on television recently that publicises a fantastic new holiday resort by the name of Delos. Delos has a unique selling point in that you can go there and actually live out your fantasies of existing in one of three "worlds": Medieval World, Roman World or Western World. This is brought about by the highly advanced robots that populate these places, so you can be sheriff of an American town in the 1880s, attend a Roman orgy, or be a King hundreds of years ago. The new guests are arriving, and John (James Brolin), who has been before, is bringing his friend Peter (Richard Benjamin) to experience the delights of Westworld for a week. At a thousand dollars a day, it had better be realistic, and it is... a little too realistic...
A surprise hit in the seventies, Westworld has one of those premises that cannot help but intrigue and excite the mind. It was scripted by director Michael Crichton, then best known as writer of sci-fi success The Andromeda Strain, and in its casting of Yul Brynner as the resort's menacing and persistent gunslinger, found an ideal personification of technology spiralling out of control. Much of the suspense in the first two thirds of the film derives from wondering when things are going to go horribly wrong, but in the meantime there's comedy, as when tourists become unlikely sheriffs or noblemen, and thrills, as when the robots act out movie clichés for the guests.
A scene early on provides the basic template for the rest of the drama. Peter is a meek and mild divorcée who, we suspect, still harbours feelings for his wife and misses his kids; he's more a downtrodden modern man than a convincing cowboy, in contrast to John, who is a macho man's man and fits right in. However, when the Gunslinger walks into the bar they are drinking in, he deliberately bumps into Peter, spilling his whisky and obviously spoiling for a fight. At first Peter is reluctant, but as the gunslinger goes on to insult him he draws all of his anger and pulls his gun on him, shooting him down where he stands. So it is that Peter gains his courage and masculinity.
All part of the fun of course, but you start to get the impression that the robots aren't going to take this abuse lying down. In the control room, the Chief Supervisor (Alan Oppenheimer) is becoming suspicious that all is not well and admits that as the robots were designed by computers, the humans don't really understand how they work! A little hard to believe, but like many of the script's implausibilities, you don't mind whlie you're watching and simply accept it. The first thing we notice that all is not well is when a robot rattlesnake bites John, despite its programming to the contrary; "That's not supposed to happen!" he complains bitterly, and that could be the tagline for the whole film.
There's an element of punishment for the human characters, as if they thought they could get away with their immoral behaviour just because they were dealing with machines. It's as if what they most want to do is, in the case of John, sleep with prostitutes and gun down lawmen, or in the case of another tourist, sleep with a robot who looks young enough to be his daughter, and the robots recognise the amorality of this. The last act has a undeniably thrilling chase with Peter fleeing the Gunslinger across the resort and finally into the corridors beneath it, and Brynner brings a welcome, sinister humour to his outwardly impassive role. Although not an expensive film, certainly not as expensive as Crichton's variation Jurassic Park, the strength of Westworld's central idea, that we ought to fear technology getting out of hand, carries it through. Music by Fred Karlin.