Once I was at a party and everyone was talking about the fads we went through at school. “Remember Tamagotchis?” someone said. Everyone began to throw in suggestions, the conversation growing speedier and more enthusiastic. Drawing the “Cool S”. The Spice Girls. Asking yes/no erasers to answer questions. “Oh, and what about when everyone got really into collecting millipedes!” The conversation paused as everyone looked at me. Turns out that experience wasn’t universal.
I get a similar reaction every time I bring up The Quick and the Dead, a 1995 film directed by Sam Raimi. I watched it as a kid and figured everyone else had too. But whenever I’ve brought it up over the years, I’m usually met with a blank stare.
I’m not quite sure why The Quick and the Dead flew so under the radar – it had a strong cast, a solid premise and it is a lot of fun to watch. Sometimes a film just arrives at the wrong moment – like The Shawshank Redemption, swept under the table by Forrest Gump; or horror comedy Jennifer’s Body, widely under-appreciated until years after its release.
The Quick and the Dead stars Sharon Stone as the Lady, a woman who arrives in an outlaw town in the late 1800s, to take part in a gunslinger contest. Despite what she says, she isn’t there for the prize money – the Lady has unfinished business, the nature of which is slowly revealed over the film. The plot centres on the series of duels that make up the contest, and the gunfighters who are entering: a sinister outlaw who runs the town (Gene Hackman), a preacher who refuses to shoot (Russell Crowe) and a cocky local kid just trying to prove himself to his father (Leonardo DiCaprio).
The Quick and the Dead is not a traditional western, nor is it a satire; if anything, it is a little bit camp and schlocky, with the slightest hint of superhero movie in there. (Raimi went on to direct the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films, and Marvel’s most recent film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.)
I have fond memories of this film, so at first I was hesitant to rewatch it, in case it held up poorly. With one or two exceptions, it’s still great. If anything, it’s a little more fun now with the benefit of hindsight. The Crowe and DiCaprio you see on screen have yet to hit it big at this point. Stone’s performance is also a very specific kind of pleasure, the no-nonsense Lady who suffers no fools and refuses to smile. (One 2013 listicle described Stone as “sexually inert”, which is a ridiculous criticism to make of an actor playing a cold woman). Stone played an integral role in the film off-screen: as co-producer, she reportedly insisted on Raimi directing, and stood her ground when the studio didn’t want to hire DiCaprio, even offering to pay the 21-year-old’s salary out of her own pocket.
The Quick and the Dead is one of those films that deserved to be bigger than it was – but it’s never too late for something to become a classic.
• The Quick and the Dead is streaming on Netflix.