Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1939. Universal Pictures. Story by Felix Jackson, Screenplay by Felix Jackson, Gertrude Purcell, Henry Myers, suggested by the novel by Max Brand. Cinematography by Hal Mohr. Produced by Joe Pasternak. Music by Frank Skinner. Production Design by Jack Otterson. Costume Design by Vera West. Film Editing by Milton Carruth.
Classic western that serves as the prototype for Western genre cliches: the good guy from another town wears the white hat, the bad guy the black, the saloon gal has a heart of gold but can’t have the leading man because of her ‘past’, the professional virgin across the street can, and none of these stereotypes have ever seemed fresher or more lively. James Stewart is awshucks sturdy as the Gandhi-like deputy who sweeps into Bottleneck and decides to clean it up…without a gun! It seems the smarmy Brian Donlevy and his evil cohorts want to own all the real estate and, along with the corrupt mayor, control the peaceful little town. Marlene Dietrich accomplished what is still the greatest comeback in film history (next to John Travolta’s) with her reinvented image as Frenchy the saloon gal who belts some pretty great songs (this is the role Madeline Kahn spoofed in Blazing Saddles). At this point in her career Dietrich had been labeled box-office poison until Universal took a chance and hired her away from Paramount; it worked, and it’s one of her greatest roles. Watch this gem also to see the greatest ‘cat-fight’ in film history between Dietrich and Una Merkel.