Directors: Stephen Bridgewater & David S. Cass Sr.
“Hell, that ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of women,” a bemused villain surmises in figuring out the best way to rob a small wagon-bound party heading for Carson City in this surprisingly entertaining made-for-cable western just released on DVD. In what can best be described as a B movie version of a tale probably better suited for old dime western novels of the early 1900’s, we’re introduced to familiar characters and situations in the film’s opening sequence as Sheriff Preston Biggs (Kevin Sorbo) accidentally guns down his wife while trying to stop a criminal holding her hostage.
Cut to two years later and he’s become the town drunk, practically renting one of the stools at the Pure Luk Saloon (intentionally spelled wrong in honor of the proprietor Luk). After an obligatory bar fight lands the sheriff in jail with a hefty two hundred dollar bill to cover both the damages and his past due bar tab, Preston reluctantly accepts a week long assignment to bring three mail order brides stricken with prairie fever (a.k.a. mental instability) to Carson City's train station.
Soon saddled with the strangle-happy Lettie (Jillian Armenante), the hellfire and brimstone scripture quoting Blue (Felicia Day), and the sweet but terrified Abigail (Dominique Swain), Preston finds he’s gained a fourth traveler when the beautiful no-nonsense con-woman Olivia (Jamie Anne Allman) overhears Abigail’s irrational screams and intervenes on her behalf with a pistol, only to find herself discovering a maternal attachment to the young bride as well as a surprising interest in Preston. Having fled her former controlling male partner, Olivia talks her way into the wagon and provides both added danger in the form of her ex Monte James (Lance Henriksen) and a helpful ally and conscience as she and Preston begin to make inroads with the young women and learn what has driven them batty.
With an emphasis on sensitivity and character development that, as The New York Times wrote, does make for some pretty awkward dialogue that no cowboy would have been able to pull off, this nonetheless unusual and passable western benefits from the inclusion of four worthwhile female roles. Thankfully with a running time of roughly ninety minutes, Prairie Fever isn’t given the opportunity to overstay its welcome and it’s perhaps due to its brevity that the film’s (many) flaws are hidden, yet it’s sure to entertain those who scour used book racks looking for old fashioned tales of the west and those who appreciate a slightly modern take on a popular (and admittedly trite) western plot.