Out of the Past: Lemonade Joe

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

Lemonade Joe stands out among spoofs of the western in both its devilishly acute satire and its tongue-in-cheek love for the most outlandish clichés of the genre. Sometimes the satire goes right on past the western. But Oldrich Lipsky and company are singularly successful in lampooning the capitalistic impulses that are either veiled or given more exalted names in so many westerns, especially those aimed at younger audiences.

The film is not without subtleties. The ways in which the “religious” Goodmans slide so easily into the palace of commercialism add up to make a nice point about the closeness of evangelism and advertising. The erosion of Lemonade Joe’s image—from gallant white knight to entrepreneur to inheritor of the family business—works in a similar direction. And Joe’s blondness, rather unusual among cowboy heroes, may be an extension of his pure white morality; but it also suggests the Nordic “Aryan” superman and thus provides the film with a comment on the racism implicit in many westerns.

Then there’s the curious merging of puritanical and hedonistic qualities via commercialism and consumerism, especially with the chaste Winifred Goodman fondling the momentarily phallic lemonade bottle, and later whipping off her skirt in the midst of a sales pitch (“Anything for Kola Loka Lemonade!”). The scene in which Grimpo, slavering like your standard rapist, steals Winifred’s blanket and leaves her honor intact becomes a nice comment on the infantile nature of much melodramatic vice.

The final scenes of Lemonade Joe have some interesting peculiarities as well. The discovery of oil, gold, and a whole series of family entanglements—in the penultimate scene—obviously mocks the miraculous plot twists of naïve melodrama, but other targets may include the notion of America as the land of opportunity and America’s “democratic” leveling of moral distinctions (“It’s just your evil nature. Everybody’s different,” says Joe to Hogo-Fogo in what turns out to be a Cain & Abel situation). And the ultimate joke, the advent of WhisKOLA, is intriguingly ambiguous: have Manichean conflicts between darkness and light been replaced by a civilized spirit of reasonable compromises, or is it just that “free enterprise” adulterates everything, from good and evil to whiskey and lemonade?

LEMONADE JOE (Limonadovy Joe, 1964)
Direction: Oldrich Lipsky. Screenplay: Jiri Brdeca, Oldrich Lipsky, after a story by Brdeca. Subtitles in original-language version: Herman G. Weinberg; dialogue in dubbed-English version: Jack Dunn Trop.
The Players: Carl Fiala, Olga Schoberova, Veta Fialova, Milos Kopeck, Rudy Dale, Joseph Nomaz.

Copyright © 1975 Peter Hogue