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I was incorrect in my assumption that the cockfight was a once-off advertisement. The film cuts back from James driving the wagon and the cocks are mid-bout. OK… those birds are actually fighting. They filmed a real cockfight – pecking, scratching; the works. Is that legal? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy animal cruelty as much as the next guy, but I ask again, are you allowed to film chickens killing each other? Mel Brooks received scores of angry letters because of the horse-punching scene in Blazing Saddles and the actor didn’t really make contact. It was all smoke and mirrors… well, a ‘thwak!’ sound effect and a specially trained circus horse.
It is possible the cockfight is a similar trick. Trained chickens, lighting, special filters and camera angles could create the illusion. Oh, I’ve just worked it out! They’re animatronic chickens! Very lifelike, I must say, especially for the early 80s. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop probably had something to do with it. How did they achieve such speed and mobility? Anyway, put down your angry letter/email pens/laptops, there’s no need to inform the *RSPCA, the birds are just impossibly technologically advanced robots for their time.
*RSPCA stands for Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and was once an organisation that promoted animal welfare. Now, they’re a casino.