Missed opportunities in Hollywood

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Too bad Donald Crisp and Irving Bacon never developed an act. They could have called themselves Crisp Bacon.

Penny Marshall and Jude Law might have played a nightclub and billed themselves as Marshall Law.

A retrospective of films featuring Cynthia Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Mae Busch could be called Nixon/Reagan/Busch.

How about Miriam Hopkins, Anthony Hopkins and Bob Hoskins going into business as Hopkins, Hopkins & Hoskins? Though that does sound more like a legal firm.

Maybe William S. Hart and George Burns as Hart Burns.

Oh I know. Someone could have sent Roseanne Barr on tour with Jack Lemmon as Lemmon Barr. And when J.L. needed time off John Candy could have filled in. I bet a show featuring Candy Barr would have been a lot of fun. Not sure how much the tickets would have cost. Maybe:

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Essential: THE FURIES (1950)

TB: This month we’re doing a different sort theme: Westerns where Stanwyck plays a strong woman leading men, dressed like a man.

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We haven’t done a month on Barbara Stanwyck yet. Plus these westerns have a lot to say about male-female relationships as well as white-native relationships. Also, we’re going to look at films in the genre that Stanwyck made in the 1950s, each one at a different studio.

In some of these pictures Stanwyck’s character has major daddy issues. Especially in THE FURIES which we look at this week and in CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA, which we will get to next week. It certainly defines her role as the story plays out.

Despite the contrivances of the plot, we can see how the producers and costumers try to feminize her characters. But at various points do they just let her play the role as a “man.” For instance, in CATTLE QUEEN, she only appears in one dress if I recall, it’s a black dress, when she goes to town and it is hardly demure looking or womanly. For most of the action, she’s in pants. I think that when she wears the dress, she is still wearing boots. No high heels. No frilly hair. Not much makeup, if any.

Related to this presentation of Stanwyck’s western characters is the way her character’s relationships with the men might be sexual but more often than not, she is just interacting with them like “one of the boys.” Part of the “appeal” of watching her portray these tough western women and discussing these films is how a Stanwyck western performance can be read subversively. Is she ultimately playing lesbian roles?

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Let’s get things started with THE FURIES…

JL: This is most famous as Walter Huston’s final film and there is no indication that he is suffering from anything health-wise since he is in great bombastic form. Here he’s T.C. Jeffords, the wealthiest cattle ranch owner of the 1870s, owner of The Furies property and, after the passing of his wife, he is still blessed with two spoiled brats, Vance (Barbara Stanwyck ) who has a touch of Scarlet O’Hara in her (“if you know what you want, why waste time?”) and Clay (John Bromfield), who pretty much disappears from screen once he gets married so we can focus on the bigger stars at hand battling it out.

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This is one of the great daddy-daughter rivalry melodramas. T.C. may be pompous and domineering, paying off his debts with “TC” notes and sporting a Napoleon bust in his office, but he can’t always have it his own way as long as he has a daughter around. She even forces him to help himself when he gets stuck in quicksand!

TB: Exactly. So right away, we see how tough Stanwyck is as Vance. Also, she is called Vance, a masculine name, and not something dainty and feminine like Vanna. She’s basically a tomboy, a tough-as-nails offspring. And with her around barking orders, why would brother Clay be needed.

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JL: Vance and T.C. are a mighty tight bond, but subject to outside influences that can separate them. Vance herself woos Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey), while also maintaining a strong, if secretive, friendship with Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland)…and both of these men feel parts of The Furies land are rightfully theirs. The romance with Rip seems doomed at first because daddy is able to show him up in front of his daughter as the money-grubbing gambler that he is, accepting a pay-out over marrying her. (Ironically he does not spend it as we later discover.)

As Juan tells her in confidence, “Maybe in his time, he has been hungry. To a hungry man, money is always important.” Juan is himself basically the male “Spanglish” accented variation of Vance here, being equally in love with mommie dearest (the wonderfully trigger happy and rock tossing Blanche Yurka) who successfully severs the TC/Vance relationship after her own is severed by TC.

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TB: I’m glad you mentioned Juan being a mirror version of Vance. In this regard, we are getting into how the film draws parallels between the races and cultures depicted in the core families. One has to wonder what it would have been like if the writing went in a different direction and the story had instead focused on Juan being T.C’s illegitimate son, with Vance having to deal with that. But of course that might upstage T.C.’s relationship with Vance.

JL: These relationships are about the balancing of powers. After losing Rip (temporarily, since he re-enters the picture later), Vance has to take on daddy’s romantic “interest.” Judith Anderson’s Flo Burnett steps off the coach and quips “I hope I shan’t be too much bother.” Vance responds: “You won’t be. No bother at all. We have guests coming all the time.”

TB: And guests going all the time, too!

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JL: Much of the fun in this movie comes from the dialogue in Charles Schnee’s script, which is as double-sided as anything we hear in a 1980s prime-time soap of Dallas or Dynasty proportions. There is even plenty of subliminal sex talk too. For instance, Rip is flipping his cards as Vance comments “sometimes I think those are the only women that are in you to love.” His response: “Why not? They’re new and they’re smooth to touch. They’re exciting and they’re honest. When they’re against you, they don’t make you think they’re for you. When they’re for you, they bring you money.”

Vance: “Too bad they’ve got two heads.” Later, just before the two are reunited at his big bank, Vance confronts his “secretary” Dallas Hart (Myrna Dell) who introduces herself by saying, in a slightly condescending tone to imply she is younger and sexier material than Vance, “I’m new in town, honey.” In typical Stanwyck fashion, we get the acidic reply of “Honey, you wouldn’t be new anyplace.”

TB: Yes, those are great lines. And the way Stanwyck delivers this sort of dialogue is a lot of fun to watch.

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JL: One flaw of this film is that the dialogue sometimes gets too witty for its own good, trying too hard to milk Stanwyck and Houston’s talents for quick delivery, and detracts from the heavy seriousness that Anthony Mann’s direction and especially Victor Milner’s cinematography seem to be striving for in a tale about revenge, death and disfigurement.

TB: Good point. I think this is a perfect example of a script being written before the director was assigned to the project. Or that the director did not really sit down with the writers, like Hitchcock would have done, to fine tune it to so that the dialogue would suit the director’s vision and approach with the material. So we get two types of authors– the screenwriter versus the auteur, instead of them working in tandem.

JL: At times, I felt there were two separate movies competing with each other. In regards to the camera work, there are some great scenes that may be too “arty” for their own good but still quite effective.

TB: Yes. This is where the cinematography is almost on a different level than the direction and script.

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JL: I particularly like the deep focus shots, including one of Vance observing Juan with his mother at a distance as if she notices the similar relationship going on, and the film noir-ish silhouette scenes that often involve cacti lit from behind, exposing them individually in night scenes to suggest a “prickly” environment and its denizens. On the plus side, Franz Waxman’s music does tie some of the loose strings together, especially in the scene with TC wrestling a steer to prove he is still “king” of The Furies.

TB: The wrestling scene sort of ties back to Vance as a more masculine character. Daddy is showing her how things are really done here in the old west. If Vance had a chance to wrestle a steer and prove her worth to T.C. and the others in a similar way she would. There is no doubt that after T.C. is gone from this world, Vance should be the new “king” not Clay, not Rip, not anyone else.

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JL: The most shocking moment (at least then for moviegoers) is the scissor throw involving Vance and Florence, causing the latter to lose her beauty (and Judith Anderson cleans up pretty well when introduced as a very classy middle-aged lady with high class connections in Washington DC).

TB: Yes, to me this is the most pivotal scene in the entire picture. This is an illustration of Vance’s great fury.

JL: In a way, this could symbolically be viewed as some sort of Freudian male sex act like Norman Bates’ knife in PSYCHO. I am curious as to what happens to Flo after TC is out of the picture, but the script leaves certain details unanswered for viewers like me to speculate on.

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The primary purpose of this major event mid-way is to pit daddy and daughter in war with each other and prompt the former to hang Juan after Vance sides with him in a battle between forces. “It is me you should have hung because now I hate you in a way I didn’t know a woman could hate!” In turn, Juan’s mother seeks her own revenge in our climax in the end, but not until daddy and daughter are reunited.

TB: It does get somewhat soapy in spots. I think some of the intensely melodramatic moments are a bit too much, and the story is almost too ambitious. The heart of the story is really the doomed relationship between father and daughter, which is even more tragic because we know how much Vance strives to be a mini-T.C.

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JL: Ultimately, Vance swindles daddy out of all of his TC “notes” and takes full control of the ranch. The story gets a little nebulous on to the specifics of “how” she does it, but there are some delightful montages of her traveling from bank to bank throughout the southwest and ending up with Rip helping her out at the all important Anaheim bank. She succeeds with plenty of charm with both the owner and his wife, Mrs. Anaheim (Beulah Bondi).

TB: It’s interesting that the casting of this picture includes so many Hollywood lesbians. Judith Anderson, Blanche Yurka and Beulah Bondi were all supposedly gay. And Stanwyck herself was rumored to be a closeted lesbian. So to have Stanwyck interacting with these women at various intervals in the picture, we get an added dimension. I am sure the casting of this picture is not accidental and done by Mann to suggest other meaning.

JL: Ironically the film (in its writing) caters to the new post-war mentality of Rosie the Riveter returning to the kitchen and nursery; and it adapts this logic to the 19th century story.

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After we modern viewers enjoy seeing Stanwyck’s Vance succeed so successfully on her own against daddy and men in general, we get a very compact ending with dull-as-dishwater Wendell Corey’s Rip saying that he will make her “my” wife and talk about his son taking over the ranch later. Had this been made in more recent decades, she would have been the one in control in the end, just as she always was in control of daddy.

TB: Exactly, the premise is flipped over on itself in the end, to appease the production code office probably and ensure profitability with conservative moviegoers. It’s a bit disappointing that they’ve done so much to suggest ways in which Vance Jeffords is not your average typical female, for it all to be undermined at the end like this.

JL: Speaking of daddy, it is fitting that our last scene with Walter Houston on screen shows him dying in grace, as he no doubt did off-screen three months after filming ended. T.C. says: “There will never be another like me.” I quite agree.

TB: And there will never be another like Vance either.

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THE FURIES may currently be viewed on YouTube.

 

Essential: FORTY GUNS (1957)

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Part 1 of 2

TB: We’re wrapping up our month-long look at westerns in the 50s starring Barbara Stanwyck. This week our focus is FORTY GUNS, a 1957 entry that teams the actress with writer-director Sam Fuller and leading man Barry Sullivan again.

If it’s okay I am going to share my impressions today then turn it over to Jlewis tomorrow. A lot of thoughts crossed my mind as I watched this film last night. First, I wanted to point out that Leonard Maltin gives it 2.5 stars, out of 4, and he seems to think the story is a bit too over-the-top. Actually, it’s one of the things I like about the movie, that it is camp and it is over-the-top, as this makes the story much more entertaining than it probably has a right to be.

While I would not give FORTY GUNS four stars I would probably give it three solid stars. I agree that it could have been a much more perfect masterpiece. Still it’s a competently made product. It starts with an exciting on-location sequence featuring Stanwyck and her men on horseback.

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A few things prevent FORTY GUNS from achieving its full potential. I think the biggest fault with the movie is that it’s too ambitious a story for a modestly budgeted production. This is where 20th Century Fox should have stepped in to increase the cash flow. You can tell it does not have an adequate budget when an actor accidentally stumbles going up some steps, as Gene Barry does in one scene; and when Dean Jagger fumbles a line but quickly recovers the rest of his character’s speech in a dramatic confrontation with Stanwyck; and these flubs remain in the movie. Obviously, Fuller couldn’t afford to do many retakes, if any at all. And he didn’t have the time or money to fix these goofs in post-production by editing them out with cutaways to other shots.

I think the lack of retakes also causes him to rely too much on long tracking shots. After that exciting sequence at the beginning, we quickly grow weary of the Fuller’s repeated use of tracking shots. Also, we get too many long scenes where the characters move around and recite all their dialogue without any cutting to their faces to get close-up reactions. As a result of the sloppiness of some of the staging, we have a somewhat uneven film. However, this rogue or maverick feel which lends itself to Fuller’s “vision,” does work to the story’s advantage. But it still seems amateurish in spots when it shouldn’t. And I think that if more money had been allocated for retakes and a chance to record more reaction shots, we would have had a much more compelling and flawless narrative.

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Don’t get me wrong it is still compelling. But I think its dynamism comes from the performances and from Fuller’s script, which is certainly high concept. However, Fuller’s dialogue is downright silly in places which gives it those campy vibes, especially when we have Sullivan ask Stanwyck if she wants to spank one of her men. Like that would really be said by an investigator to a powerful woman he just barely met.

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Aside from Stanwyck and Sullivan, the performance that really stood out for me was Dean Jagger’s work as the corrupt sheriff. I love this sort of villain. I think I love this character so much because of the way Jagger imbues him with slimy but still “heroic” traits. The sheriff knows that Stanwyck’s character Jessica has been corrupt and could be brought down by a former ranch hand, so he takes matters into his own hands and kills the dude in a prison holding area, so she doesn’t have to worry.

Of course, she insists she didn’t want the guy murdered. But the sheriff seems to believe it was necessary, and he certainly enjoys doing the dirty work. Particularly if it endears him to her for a favor or two. Jagger’s sheriff has sort of his own code when it comes to protecting people, and to his way of thinking, this is what a man does for the woman he loves.

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Jagger has an interesting death scene a bit later, when all his efforts to hold on to the woman he loves have failed. He hangs himself in Jessica’s home. This is an unexpected development, but in retrospect it’s certainly something we should expect from Fuller the flamboyant storyteller. It’s a totally over-the-top death.

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I also like John Ericson’s performance, playing kid brother to Stanwyck. In fact, he’s probably young enough to be her son. Jessica Drummond has always bailed out little Brockie, but Brockie goes too far at the end and pays for his transgressions with his life.

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Supposedly Fuller wanted Jessica to die in the climactic scene where Griff Bonnell (Sullivan) shoots her so that she will fall and he can get a clean shot at Brockie. But the studio insisted that Fuller make the character live so she could have a happy ending. I think the movie probably would have been more powerful if she had died. Griff’s real love is the law, and his career certainly would have come ahead of sparing Jessica and making her his wife. It’s sort of like expecting Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke to put the sister of one of targets ahead of everything else, including the law, which of course he would never do.

As for the title, I think the forty men or forty guns that Jessica keeps employed, is mostly just a gimmick. Not many of them are fleshed out and we don’t know them as individual characters.

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Fuller’s thesis is that life and death exist side by side. In the blink of an eye, roles can reverse so that the living are now suddenly dead, and the seemingly dead might spring back to life.

In many ways, this would be a great companion piece to Peckinpah’s RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. Especially since both films have violent wedding scenes in them. I would suspect that Peckinpah was influenced by Fuller even if that has never been corroborated anywhere. I would also suspect that many makers of spaghetti westerns ten to fifteen years afterward, were inspired by what Fuller accomplishes here.

Again it’s a picture I enjoyed very much. Though I don’t think it’s exactly the masterpiece it could have been or should have been.

***

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Part 2 of 2

JL: Nice to see Barbara Stanwyck team up again with Barry Sullivan…and getting a fade-out with him in a possible romantic happily ever. As Jessica Drummond, her primary sin is having a bad brother named Brockie (John Ericson). Yet she is hardly an angel herself a.k.a. THE FURIES and must accept the fact that Sullivan as a reformed gunslinger Griff Bonnell must arrest her brother for the “common good.” (Initially he comes to town to arrest another member of her “forty guns” gang, Charles Roberson’s Howard Swain.)

Two of the previous Stanwyck westerns had strong daddy-daughter themes but, this time, the focus is on brotherly love and hate. Jessica and Brockie’s relationship is an intense one, going back to her helping in his delivery when their mother was dying giving birth.

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Speaking of brothers, Griff himself is one of a trio of Bonnells that include Wes (Gene Barry) and Chico (Robert Dix), all sons of a righteous doctor type who gets discussed in hindsight a bit.

While Griff starts a relationship with Jessica that involves saving her in a tornado, the other two have love interests of their own. Sadly the rather formal and traditional Wes doesn’t succeed in wedding (possibly before officially bedding) the town gunsmith’s daughter (blond bombshell Eve Brent) before fate intervenes in a shocking scene. Chico goes the less traditional route, rolling about in the desert sand with Sandy Wirth, and getting reprimanded by his big brother for drinking too much whiskey. Yet he winds up pretty settled in the end, taking on the job of marshal after Hank Worden’s John Crisholm and his fallen brother.

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I like how Stanwyck as the primary Alpha Female of the piece runs the show. She is introduced galloping in with the force of a tornado, not unlike the one Griff later saves her from. When Griff comes to her western mansion to arrest Swain for mail robberies, she supervises from her post at the end of a long dinner table.

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Out on the open range close to a cattle herd, we see Griff and Jessica have some mental-challenge wordplay with her dressed in solid black on top of an all-white horse, suggesting she has both a “dark” and “light” side to her persona. “I need strong men to carry out my orders” is her plea to get Griff on her side.

She even buys off Sheriff Ned Logan (Dean Jagger) despite his tearful pleas, since these men are so smitten by such a strong woman. An interesting fade-out of her face as she says “I will do everything I can to see him live” (concerning her brother when arrested) occurs over shots of the “forty guns” riding on horseback.

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Despite being a western with the same two stars as THE MAVERICK QUEEN, so much about this production is as different from the other as night and day. The other was in glossy color and presented fairly straight-forwardly without a whole like of complicated background history among the characters. This one, directed by one the Big Names of fifties cinema, Samuel Fuller, has plenty of action in the central western town but tends to be more methodical and fussy in how it shows it.

The crisp CinemaScope monochrome showcases a rural landscape of Tombstone in the style of a European road picture; obviously the Hollywood studios like 20th Century Fox were competing with all of the art-house imports invading American screens at this time.

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This is a very “artsy” film, opening with exciting shots of horses and men in action, taken from ground level, and a few rather lengthy tracking shots that were just starting to get fashionable with Hollywood productions during this period, the funeral song sequence being a notable stand-out. Griff’s warrant and gun battle with Charlie Savage (Chuck Hayward) is shot from a myriad of camera angles, mostly from either high up or so far below that you feel like you may get stepped on by Griff’s boots.

I saw this scene before, despite not seeing the entire film, and wasn’t aware at first when and where. Then I realized it was a favorite scene of Martin Scorsese’s and he and others brought it up in various documentaries.

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Oh… and there are a lot of chickens on view. Also still more chickens, including some roosting over the coffins in the town’s mortuary. Not sure how many lost their lives as dinner for the humans, but I am sure they had gotten quite used to seeing humans kill each other.

Despite all of the gun tooting, the men in this town are quite clean. We get multiple bath “tub” shots. Made me remember Sundance’s problem in the previous film.

Music (credited to Harry Sukman) is used more sparingly to add a more authentic feel, with the emphasis on the sound effects. Yet it does appear in various doses. It gets rather maudlin and nostalgic-for-the-old-days when Griff tells a sobering up Chico that his way of life is now considered freak-ish and out of touch with the changing times of 1881. Like some of the fifties clothing and hair fashions lurking amid the 19th century setting, the melodies do date the film a bit.

Overall this is a very well made movie, but I did not exactly warm up to it. Had to re-watch parts in order to keep track of the complex story with its changing positioning of characters on different sides of the law.

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Ultimately…and this is the main point of the movie and my review…we once again see that Stanwyck’s Jessica is a good woman at heart and she gets her just reward with a new man after losing That Other Man, this time being her brother instead of her father. “It is very hard to forget the man you love” as she tells Louvena Spanger in mourning after Wes’ death.

FORTY GUNS may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Essential: THE MAVERICK QUEEN (1956)

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TB: We’re looking at another western that Barbara Stanwyck made in the 1950s. This time she ventured over to Republic Pictures, the first and only time she worked for Herbert Yates’ illustrious studio. She plays a larger than life saloon gal who has ties to an outlaw gang. On screen Stanwyck is reunited with Barry Sullivan, with whom she had previously costarred in MGM’s psychological drama JEOPARDY. Sullivan is well suited to the western genre, and he has a nice easy rapport with Stanwyck. In fact, they would team up a third time, for 1957’s FORTY GUNS, which we will review next week.

I think what I like about THE MAVERICK QUEEN is that it’s really Stanwyck’s show. She is surrounded by Sullivan and other audience favorites like Wallace Ford, Jim Davis, Scott Brady and Mary Murphy. But she’s clearly in command of the proceedings.

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JL: At this point Republic Pictures was using their widescreen process Naturama. Director Joseph Kane and screenwriters Kenneth Garnet and DeVallon Scott are adapting from the always reliable Zane Grey whose books were as commonplace in libraries throughout the 20th century as Webster’s Dictionary. Colorado poses as the Wyoming Territory and it is presented fairly well in Trucolor.

We get the infamous Butch Cassidy and Sundance as an added plus, being played by Howard Petrie and Scott Brady who may not be as glamorous as Paul Newman and Robert Redford but are also likely better matches to the 19th century originals. Mind you, this is still fictional make-believe with a “what if?” scenario that suggests Sundance died much earlier than he did in real life and under completely different circumstances.

TB: Tell us how Stanwyck’s character crosses paths with them.

JL: Barbara Stanwyck is portraying a somewhat “bad” character here in cahoots with them, but she becomes a “good” heroine later on when she severs her ties and helps those battling them.

TB: She has an especially close bond with Sundance.

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JL: Kit Banion is a fascinating character: a successful hotel owner and “queen” of cattle rustlers at a time when there weren’t many women occupying such roles. It’s interesting how the theme song by Joni James contrasts with the story; she is so soft and feminine in her delivery, suggesting our leading lady is quite demure and wholesome despite “stealing your heart.”

TB: But of course Kit is tough, as only Stanwyck could play her.

JL: In various ways, these Barbara Stanwyck westerns are stepping stones of sorts to the later TV roles that established Stanwyck with an audience that was too young to see these theatricals in their initial release. Namely, The Big Valley, where she stars as the matriarchal widow. Plus The Thorn Birds, where she’s cast as the ruthless Australian sheep ranch owner Mary Carson, also a widow.

TB: (smiles) I should interrupt for a second. Our readers don’t know this, but you and I often debate the merits of alluding to other films or television projects the stars also appeared in. Though I’m sure you are going somewhere with this…

JL: Well…I will defend myself here in referencing these other titles because I do see some similarities worth noting. More often than not, Stanwyck does not need a man in her life as a support system because she operates quite well solo as her own “man in charge.”

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TB: Good point.

JL: Yet she does find a man purposeful for other reasons…ahem…as she clearly points out to Richard Chamberlain’s Father Ralph in The Thorn Birds. Intriguingly the “good” Stanwyck, even the type who is shady in her actions as in THE FURIES and FORTY GUNS, gets a man as her “reward,” but the “bad” Stanwyck like Mary Carson and Kit Banion must suffer unfulfilled.

TB: In other words, the lead character of this story is not exactly going to have a happy ending.

JL: Yes. Kit (short for Kitty, not unlike Kitty in Gunsmoke, another lady who has been around the block) makes no secret that she has plenty of experience with men on an intimate level– and, yes, that makes her “bad” in other ways if we view her through a prim and proper Victorian Age lens. As as she puts it, “I did what I had to do to get where I am.”

TB: I think this suggests an evolution for Stanwyck in the western genre. (Now it’s my turn to reference another work.) A decade earlier she had played a saloon gal in Paramount’s CALIFORNIA. But while it was implied the character in that film had obviously used sex to get ahead, it’s not as explicit as it is here. Therefore, Lily Bishop, the woman she plays in CALIFORNIA, does get a happy ending– provided she leave a life of sin behind. But in THE MAVERICK QUEEN, Kit Banion is a known “maverick” and must not be rewarded for that.

Has she been corrupted by Sundance and his gang? Or did she corrupt them? We’re sort of left to figure it out for ourselves.

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JL: Kit does not want the Sundance Kid as much as he wants her: “Oh for heaven’s sake, take a bath first! You smell like a combination [of] brewery and horse stable!” Later she gets even more acidic by questioning his, um, functioning abilities in some rather sharp Freudian dialogue that miraculously got past the censors: “That was twice in two days that you lost your gun. You’d better carry it in a sack.” His obvious response: “You shush your mouth!”

She is aching for something more substantial in her conquests, telling him “somewhere along the way, sometime, I will meet a better man like the kind of man I used to know.”

TB: Of course we have to wonder if she really did know any better men before Sundance, or if she’s just saying that to mess with his head.

JL: Unfortunately, she realizes it is too late for her to have what she wants and she can’t turn back the clock. In traditional Hollywood style, only good and moral ladies get what they want in the end. And although she can’t be part of a Hollywood boy-meets-girl-and-fights-the-obstacles-to-keep-her scenario, she does make her best efforts before her final departure on screen and at least gets cradled in a man’s arms.

TB: It should be pointed out that there is more than one triangle occurring in this story.

JL: Yes, the main love story here involves Barry Sullivan, as an undercover Pinkerton detective posing as “Jeff Young” of the gang whom a deceived-for-a-time Kit aids (“always nice to meet the better man”), and Mary Murphy as Lucy Lee.

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TB: Incidentally, Mary Murphy was a contract player at Republic. And typically, she was cast in “A” westerns as the sweet-natured love interest. She obviously did not have the star power Stanwyck possessed, but in this story, she is still given the main romantic storyline. Ultimately Murphy’s character wins the guy, because Stanwyck’s character is deemed too tough, too immoral, too far gone to be saved; and she cannot be allowed the happily-ever-after fairy tale ending.

JL: There is some courtship between Lucy Lee and Jeff early on so that we know Kit’s own displays of affection, including some passionate kissing, do not stick to Jeff and he remains free for Lucy. But Lucy temporarily plays the damsel in distress with sweaty and shirtless Sundance ( who apparently is far more unsatisfied in his libido than even Kit).

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Personally I feel that the actor Barry Sullivan is better matched as a partner with Stanwyck than with Murphy, not so much because of their almost 19 year age difference as performers (and it shows on screen) but because they spend less time together than Sullivan does with Stanwyck.

TB: Probably the audience would have expected Jeff to redeem Kit, and for Lucy to redeem Sundance, so that more age-appropriate couplings occur. But we know that Sundance is not the type to be tamed, and apparently, neither is Kit. This leaves wholesome Lucy the only viable match for Jeff, despite his being old enough to be her father.

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TB: Thoughts about the visuals?

JL: In terms of visual style, I kept thinking of several westerns I had seen that were made well before the talkie revolution, including those featuring William S. Hart. I was especially reminded in the rather prominent shots displayed here of characters running swiftly from the cover of one building to the shadow behind another, with half-faces appearing as doors open and the rather abrupt way people jump into action with limited restriction.

This does not suggest that this movie is behind the times. Quite the contrary, it suggests that Republic Pictures and its well established crew of longtime veterans were great at taking what worked so well decades before (don’t fix what isn’t broken) in keeping viewers tight in their seats suspense-wise. They kept it going well into the fifties quite successfully. With the coming of the New Wave Sixties, a lot would change, especially in the western genre, and there is a sense that some well-learned lessons were forgotten along the way. Although bigger budgeted than the earlier Republic programmers and serials, THE MAVERICK QUEEN is still a good representation of vintage “action-packed” entertainment.

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TB: Thanks Jlewis. THE MAVERICK QUEEN may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Essential: THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963)

“I’m not an actress. I’m a housewife.”

Doris Day as Beverly Boyer, wife of Dr. Gerald (James Garner), says this initially to aging advertising tycoon Tom Fraleigh (Reginald Owen, whom we’ve seen in quite a few essentials discussed). They had been watching a TV commercial for Happy Soap featuring a blonde Jayne Mansfield imitation (Pamela Currin as Spot Checker, the “Happy Girl”) undressing in a bubble bath. She croons “There are so many things a girl must learn before she can become a glamorous movie star.” Previously Beverly was struggling with her own nudie cutie in a bubble bath, the pint-sized Maggie (Kym Karath, a year and a half before being cast as the youngest Von Trapp in THE SOUND OF MUSIC).

Mr. Fraleig’s son Gardiner (Edward Andrews, a regular on many TV shows that decade, including a couple BEWITCHED episodes) and his wife (Arlene Francis) are both expecting a baby despite advancing middle age. I have to make note of Arlene’s wonderful comic timing over the opening credits, expressing how happy (as soap) she is discovering that she is pregnant and taking an elevator full of curious men. (Interesting fashion statement: by late 1962, when this was filmed, most American men had pretty much stopped wearing hats in public due to President Kennedy seldom wearing them. Yet she is wearing one, perhaps suggesting that women were not changing their lives and fashions quite as fast as the men were.) Overjoyed by Dr. Boyer’s aid as the obstetrician in relaxing them (suggesting a romantic cruise and so forth) so that she can officially get “on the nest”, they invite the Boyers to dinner at the big mansion, where Daddy is much impressed by Mrs. Boyer. Of course, her first time for the cameras is a disaster… hard to believe, considering this is Doris Day.

Being a doctor’s wife is “career enough” for opinionated Gerald, who objects to all of this interfering with his life. In hindsight, this could be seen as ahead of the curve as feminist social commentary. Not that I myself consider her new career as a TV spokeswoman for hausfrau essentials (and I didn’t quite understand all of the German jokes here a.k.a. Nazi story in a Playhouse TV show, a German housekeeper who replaces Olivia, etc.) much of a deal for that time, compared with, say, being a female obstetrician (more on that below) or the interior decoration and advertising jobs that she was quite accomplished with in the earlier PILLOW TALK and LOVER COME BACK. As much as I enjoy these Doris Day comedies, they were essentially Disney comedies made for the over thirty crowd and did not intend to rock the boat any more than SON OF FLUBBER.

In fact, I feel that this film took a few steps backward in comparison to her earlier films going back to CALAMITY JANE and including the Rock Hudson co-star hits. It all ends with the man in charge and she is all too happy to return to him as “a doctor’s wife”. This is despite all of the interesting talk about “our” money versus “your” money, he being called Mister Beverly by accident after her new found fame and, most dramatically, she alone delivering the Fraleigh baby in a Rolls Royce. Why not allow her to work alongside him after some additional medical school training? Personally, if I was a little Maggie Moyer watching this, I would be getting mixed messages as to what this movie is telling me what my future holds.

Leading to all this is the usual slapstick involving a battle of the spouses. In a fit of anger, Gerald kicks Happy Soap into their built-all-of-the-sudden backyard pool (where he drove the car into previously) and, as a result, we get one of the show pieces spectacle-wise involving soap suds galore. (“It’s beautiful… like heaven.” In a film full of references to female anatomy, one sud is commented by the all-male construction crew as resembling a naked lady.) There’s a subtle nod to Jerry Lewis, whose comedies resemble this in some ways with the slapstick: a movie shown playing at the marquee is “The Respectful Professor” since Universal-International did not have the rights to showcase the Nutty kind (and intriguingly filmed during the same time as this one but I am sure the studios were well aware of what their rivals were doing).

Gerald must also stoke her jealousy and get her to stay home more by pretending to be “unfaithful”. Although some of the gags here are intentionally far-fetch (a.k.a. he plants a candid of him with some unknown woman at a restaurant and applies lipstick to his clothes), only in a comedy like this would you get a surreal line like “I’m surprised at you letting me go into the shower without my underwear.” Oh… they do sleep in twin beds since two kids are enough for now. This may have been among the last major screen features showing this since the times were a-changing.

Yet it all works out in the end since Gerald is not all that Victorian of a husband as he states and at least understands her career needs. Would he have survived the seventies revolution? I think so. Gerald appears to be pretty good at adapting to what he isn’t used to at first, including a working woman getting more pay than he does.

Quite a few other familiar faces in the supporting cast worth mentioning. Carl Reiner, co-writer of this box office hit, gets into the act with some hilarious on-TV cameos and as the cop arresting Gerald for stopping suddenly on a highway. ZaSu Pitts from the earlier Hal Roach comedies and countless other classics plays housekeeper Olivia; sadly she would pass away during the production of IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, which succeeded this. Alice Pearce (another veteran from classics like ON THE TOWN and BEWITCHED) also appears briefly. Curiously Brian Nash as the other Boyer child only enjoyed limited success as a child actor, not getting blessed performing with Julie Andrews on something seen by the multitudes like his on-screen sister.

Despite the fact that Norman Jewison directed this and he would make some interesting forward-advancing features as the sixties progressed (including a most famous Best Picture winner covering race relations), I was a trifle disappointed with this movie much like you were with MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON playing it safe with Frank Capra’s all-male U.S. Senate. There were, in my personal opinion, some lost opportunities here that could have been developed much further. Then again, as I stated above, this film was made merely to please the masses without making them too uncomfortable. It is a sixties film still somewhat stuck in the fifties… and that is what audiences did want at the time, making it an 11 million dollar hit at the box office.