By Victoria Santini
Wonder Chicken, a mid-budget dramatization of the true story of a rooster who lived for an astounding eighteen months after being beheaded with scores of other chickens at a farm in Fruita, Colorado in September of 1945, is really the story of Lloyd and Clara Olsen’s dashed hopes of an easy retirement. A cautionary tale directed by newcomer Lester Vance, Wonder Chicken is shot primarily in stark black and white in an apparent effort to underscore the gravity of the Olen’s decision to leave their simple farmer’s lifestyle and put all their eggs in a ghoulish fowl’s basket and embark on a national tour featuring “Miracle Mike: The Headless Wonder Chicken.”
Eunice Martinez delivers an honorable performance as Clara, downplaying Oscar Murray’s vaguely cartoonish Lloyd. The dialog is minimal, ranging from brilliantly authentic to contrived rural speak. The scenes in Fruita are conspicuously but not entirely ineffectively set against a barrage of mid-century sideshow imagery and fast talking businessmen.
The footage of the gorgeous countryside of Colorado’s Western Slope coupled with a soundtrack featuring the best of the strange resurgence of bearded folk musicians almost makes this movie worth watching, but the real problem with Miracle Mike’s hapless anti-hero’s journey is the fluctuating tone of the film. It wobbles between camp, dramedy, and student filmmaking at its eclectic worst, betraying the most common collection of cinematic influences. Not to mention that we’re asked to take a little too seriously the tragic element of the Olsen’s resting their faith in a Mike-sponsored future of comfort and security.
This movie, although it has no realistic hope of box office success, could end up with a legitimate cult following due to the sheer weirdness of the fact that it exists at all. Considering that the “Mike the Headless Chicken Festival” still goes strong every May in Fruita, it was likely inevitable that this film would be made—and it could have been a lot worse.