Except that this isn’t America or the 1930’s. It’s Czechoslovakia circa 1964. You’re watching “Lemonade Joe,” a Czech New Wave satire of American westerns!
Lemonade Joe is a yellow-clad cowboy with a good-natured grin, a hunger for justice and a thirst for Kolaloka lemonade. But is his brand of gun-slinging do-goodery literally just a brand? The clear-cut morality of white-hat vs. black-hat westerns is suddenly not as simple as it seems when Joe is revealed to be a sales representative of the Kolaloka Company, ousting their main competitor, whiskey, under the guise of reform.
Oldrich lenses the film in slightly-faded black-and-white, color-tinted by the old-school rules of silent cinema: sepia outdoors, blue at night, red for romance, etc. The musical numbers are belted out with over-the-top gusto, lending operatic pomp to even the most trivial remark. The overture theme is particularly amusing, garbling Czech and pseudo-English without regard to grammar or meaning in a shameless acknowledgement that the lyrics aren’t important anyway.
Yet such is the nature of Czech New Wave ambitions that Oldritch indulges in endless virtuosity, investing the tired genre with new life. The film’s exhilarating plot contortions, exaggerated situations and nearly random camera-chaos is like the Marx Brothers meets “A Hard Day’s Night” or something akin to a Wild West version of Godard’s “Pierrot le fou.” An elaborate jump-cut-strewn shootout with Hogofogo playing the trumpet while in blackface and a white suit is particularly memorable.
No Czech New Wave film would be complete without a political dimension, and “Lemonade Joe” is no exception. The underlying critique of collusion between capitalist forces and government is central to Oldrich’s satire. Kolaloka is clearly an anagrammed stand-in for Coca Cola, itself a symbol of American consumer culture. Joe’s role as a spokesperson for the beverage often times grinds the action to a halt for commercial-like endorsements, and I can’t help appreciating it as a prescient parody of product placement.
[SPOILER paragraph] The ending of the film is in perfect sync with the satire, providing one of the most hilariously overdone happily-ever-after finales. Birthmarks reveal that Lemonade Joe, Tornado Lou, Doug Badman and Hogofogo are all siblings, separated as infants from their father, the founder of Kolaloka, during a hurricane. It seems like little more than tragic irony since they have already killed each other off, but Joe magically reappears in perfect health to reveal that Kolaloka also cures death! With the whole family revived and united, their father gives his blessing to Joe and Winnifred’s marriage, thrusting his cane in the ground with happiness and striking oil. Winnifred discovers gold a few feet away and a man runs in from off-screen to announce that Kolaloca stock has just surpassed a billion dollars.
Walrus Rating: 8.0