Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1951. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Norman Panama, Melvin Frank. Cinematography by Ray June. Produced by Melvin Frank, Norman Panama. Music by Marlin Skiles. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu. Costume Design by Helen Rose, Gile Steele. Film Editing by Cotton Warburton.
Old westerns starring Howard Keel are being played on television and thrilling the kids who watch them on the small screen with their parents. Film producers realize this is a great opportunity to resurrect the star’s career and put new films out in theatres that will net a huge profit, but there’s one major problem: he’s older, a lot drunker and nowhere to be found. Thankfully, advertising geniuses Fred MacMurray and a lovely Dorothy McGuire find a cowpoke who looks exactly like the star at his prime (also played by Keel), so they hire him to impersonate his double despite the fact that the younger fellow longs for a quiet public life and has no idea how to act. The process of turning this rube into a silver screen commodity provides a few laughs in this lighthearted Return of Martin Guerre; old colleagues and friends air past grievances on the unsuspecting impostor or are unable to recognize this kind and considerate fellow who has replaced the abrasive and selfish bastard they once knew. The film takes on the advent of television with a smug sense of superiority (why sit at home and watch old stuff when the brand new entertainment is in your local movie theatre), while taking a subtler stab at the Red Scare about to swallow the decade in fear and superstition (the heroic All-American tradition of the cowboy has to be subverted to be made a tool for generosity instead of capitalism). A number of stars including Elizabeth Taylor have cameos as themselves.