A Movie A Day: THE COWBOY AND THE LADY (1938) I’d advise you to get off yer high horse and stop talkin’ down to people
Published at: Sept. 18, 2008, 10:59 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today’s our last Gary Cooper movie for a little while. Not forever. There’s one more left in the box set I have, plus I’m sure we’ll be hitting more Cooper outside of that set before this is all said and done. He hasn’t exactly turned me into an instant fan, but he’s given some solid work, especially in today’s THE COWBOY AND THE LADY and the first in the Cooper run THE REAL GLORY co-starring David Niven.
Up front: This isn’t a western. I know it doesn’t look like it in any of the lobby cards, posters or DVD art you’ll see in this installment of AMAD, but the damn thing opens in a modern day (1938 modern day, mind you) casino as it’s raided. Sounds a lot more like the opening to a heist flick or noir, doesn’t it?
Well, it’s not that, either. What it is is a fairly straightforward romance as a lonely daughter of a politician is sent away after being nabbed in the casino bust. The lovely Merle Oberon plays this girl, Mary Smith. Her daddy is an inch away from securing the support of an influential (morally straight) man that will get him the nomination for President of the United States, so any bad press could end the career he’s dedicated his life to building.
With that in mind, he sends his daughter to a country house… I could be mistaken, but I believe the film takes place in Florida, but I can’t say for sure. Anyway, she’s bored with only her maids to keep her company. They end up talking her into a night on the town, going for a triple blind date with some cowboys in town with the Rodeo.
Gary Cooper is the main cowboy, Stretch, not interested in blind dates, wanting to focus on making some money to fix up his homestead. His buddies, Sugar and Buzz (the unmistakable Walter Brennan and Fuzzy Knight, respectively) talk him into it and they all go out.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Oberon is given dating advice by the two maids and that leads her to tell some untruths to Cooper, building up a completely different image of herself than she should have.
But it’s too late. The bug’s got ‘em, Cupid’s arrow has found its targets and they fall in love. Too bad Cooper thinks she’s a chambermaid for a rich woman, which leads to many comparisons to “show horses” which aren’t good for anything but lookin’ pretty. He doesn’t realize it, but he’s talking down to her and it keeps her from telling him the full truth.
So, as you can see it’s not a western. In fact, it does shift genres a tad, but it’s only a marginal move. It starts as romance and moves into romantic comedy as Oberon throws caution to the wind and elopes. Seeing the fallout within her family and her true identity being revealed to her new husband plays almost like a one of the flicks out of my Busby Berkeley box set.
That’s helped in large part to a great character performance by Harry Davenport playing Oberon’s kind-hearted, liberal-minded Uncle Hannibal. He encourages his niece in her romance, in her actually living life. To hell with her father’s career. She has her life to lead and can’t spend it all in service to her father.
Also of worth is Walter Brennan and how wouldn’t he be? He’s such a great personality. That voice is instantly recognizable, the southern twangy warble. Remember him from early AMAD RIO BRAVO? He’s a character and the only difference here is that he’s younger. He still has the same magnetic ability that few character actors have. The next run of flicks features Brennan, which makes me smile.
Final thoughts: This is a very sweet film. Cooper plays genuinely nice really well, if not with a ton of personality. He’s very likable here, but without that extra little bit of oomph that Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant had. I enjoyed this film a lot, but I can’t say it’s one I’d be eager to revisit over and over again. It’s cute, it’s funny, it’s light. It’s a salad of a film.