How to Make a High Ridin’ Western in 5 Easy Steps: Go West, Young Lady (1941)

Trouble’s a brewin’ in Headstone…

Accosted mercilessly by unruly outlaw, Killer Pete, the weary townspeople turn to the outside in seeking aid.

A new sheriff, Tex Miller (Glenn Ford), aims to rid the town of its menace. What he doesn’t realize is that Belinda “Bill” Pendergast (Penny Singleton) has plans of her own up her sleeve to restore peace to Headstone.

Unfortunately for Tex, it will take him a few pies in the face before he finally gets the message.

1. Hire Unflappable Leads

Penny Singleton, darling of Columbia’s Blondie franchise, nabs the title role as Belinda “Bill” Pendergast, a gun slingin’, pie throwin’, high kickin’ gal if there ever was one. Bill is unafraid to get her hands dirty, whether performing an impromptu dance number, devising a clever ambush, or marching into enemy territory.

Let’s just say, when trouble comes knocking, you want her on your side.

Columbia Studios had a gold mine with Penny’s Blondie, casting her and Arthur Lake in a series of twenty-eight (!) films from 1938-1950. Go West, Young Lady is one of two films she made apart from the series during that time.

Glenn Ford follows up as Tex Miller, the brave young sheriff willing to save Headstone from its perpetrator.

Ford was just two years into his Columbia contract and fresh as a bright new penny.

Go West, Young Lady was his second western, a genre he loved and would go on to make twenty-six in his long and varied career. His propensity for the great outdoors, grace on a horse, and ability to portray no-nonsense, resolute characters in extraordinary circumstances made Ford a natural for the genre.

Ford’s Sheriff Miller is a reliable man, always on the heels of Killer Pete, and doing what needs to be done for the good of the town. Once he meets Bill he knows she’s the gal for him.

If only she would stay out of his way in capturing Pete, or vice versa!

Faint glimmers of the world weariness that mark Ford’s career come through in his performance. More so, the film gave him the chance to demonstrate his comedic talents which he would return to in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

On screen, Ford and Singleton display a seamless, easy rapport.

Just a year prior to Go West, Young Lady, Ford appeared alongside Singleton in Blondie Plays Cupid. Though that film did not pair them as love interests, it must have helped their working relationship.

In Go West, Young Lady, their sweet and innocent relationship is of an “on again, off again” nature that is absolutely adorable.

2. Stir in a Variety of Crowd-Pleasing Personalities

Filling out our cast is the inimitable Ann Miller as Lola, the saloon girl of the Crystal Palace, Charlie Ruggles as Bill’s trusty Uncle Jim, Allen Jenkins as Hank, Headstone’s scaredy cat deputy, Onslow Stevens as Lola’s tough guy boyfriend, Tom Hannegan, and Jed Prouty as Judge Harmon.

Allen Jenkins

3. Pepper the Story with Plenty of Extras (and a doggie, too!)

Although Go West, Young Lady is not a Blondie film, it bears the same writers (Karen DeWolf and Richard Flournoy), producer (Robert Sparks), and director (Frank R. Strayer).

The shenanigans Bill gets herself in and out of wouldn’t be out of place in a Blondie film. While I can’t entirely see Arthur Lake in Glenn Ford’s role, there are moments that would inescapably fit Dagwood’s character.

Fun bit of trivia: Producer Robert Sparks and Penny Singleton married in 1941, a union which lasted until his death in 1963.

As you can already tell from the title of the movie, the ladies get involved in a big way in this western.

Not only does Bill take matters into her own hands, she dukes it out with Lola in a tough and lengthy catfight, which leads to a great showdown between the women of the town and Killer Pete and his gang.

I’m glad the writers didn’t leave Bill alone in her pursuits. Her companion Waffles the dog has an important involvement in unraveling the plot. I love when writers add animals to the story, don’t you?

4. Don’t Skimp on the Wardrobe

Here’s one name I wasn’t expecting to see on the crew – Walter Plunkett, costume designer extraordinaire (Gone With the Wind, Singin’ in the Rain). Plunkett lends his usual brand of excellence to this gratifying B programmer.

Is it just me or does Penny’s bonnet look awfully familiar? Even the two tone of the ribbon is similar to Scarlett’s hat from Paris.

5. Let It Sing (and Dance)

In between the action, Go West, Young Lady intersperses a few musical numbers. And as to be expected, Ann Miller taps her way across the stage and bar top of the saloon in her impressive, fast as a speeding bullet signature style.

One of the highlights of the film is when Allen Jenkins joins Miller, in spurs, for a comical routine “I Wish I Were a Singing Cowboy.”

Penny Singleton also adds to the musical scene with her singing and dancing talents, while “The King of Western Swing” Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys contribute a charming authenticity and country sound of the Old West with the traditional “Ida Red.”

Conclusion

Don’t go looking for any deep social messages like others of the genre. You won’t find them here. Go West, Young Lady is simply a feel good western of the cozy, amusing variety that wraps up in a quick seventy minutes.

Due to Penny Singleton’s persona and fame at this point in her career and feisty Ann Miller as her foil, Go West, Young Lady offers a female centric western, while the musical interludes and familiar faces add a delightful medley of spices to the tried and true recipe for some good ol’ cowboy stew.

This post is my contribution to The Glenn Ford Blogathon hosted by Hamlette’s Soliloquy and Coffee, Classics and Craziness. Thank you for letting me participate, ladies! Head on over to their blogs to read more about the talented Glenn Ford!

It’s My 2 Year Blogaversary! Here’s Why I Started the Muse

Hello, dear readers!

As you can tell from the title of today’s post, we have some celebrating to do! Two years ago, I pushed the publish button and created this little corner of the internet to share my love of classic movies with all of you.

I’m so grateful to you for supporting The Classic Movie Muse through these two years. I appreciate every follow, like, every minute you’ve taken to read my posts, and every kind word you’ve left in the comments.

The connections I have made here are of great value to me and your positive energy and love for classic movies inspires me.

Thank you!!

To be honest, I’ve struggled with what to write for this occasion. Such an event demands a special post…But after much thought, I thought I’d go back to the beginning and share how I got started on this blogging journey.

Where it All Began

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved classic movies. My mother, a classic movie enthusiast, encouraged a love of the arts from a young age and for me, classic movies were an irresistible gateway into that world.

Growing up, trips to libraries became part of my after school routine. Each trip brought the excitement that a new film could be found, and with it a new experience that was hard to equal.

The Slipping Away

But when I became an adult and moved out of my parents’ home, I drifted away from classic movies. I tried to adopt a mentality that didn’t align with my principles for the sake of “fitting in,” and as you can imagine, I was miserable.

Reunited

One day, I came to my senses. I don’t remember when it happened, but somehow I realized that I needed classic movies in my life. Thank goodness that lightbulb went off! The joy was back and I felt like myself again. Oh, it was glorious!

Bit by the Blogging Bug

I remember a night sitting in my cozy chair when I wanted some background information on a movie I had just seen. While searching online, I came across the classic movie blogging world, a community of like minded people who were talking about the things I was passionate about. I thought “hey, this looks really great, I want to do this too!”

And so the Muse was born.

Click here for my post on One Touch of Venus (1948), the charming comedy where the “face” of the Muse comes from.

Movies as Medicine

I’m sure you can agree that movies serve many purposes. I almost like to think of them as a prescription – that they can help cure whatever is ailing us.

Personally, this past year has held its worthy share of sorrows and triumphs, and through it all, the magic of classic movies have been a comfort and inspiration that have helped me make it through.

Whether it’s for a good laugh, a much needed cry, a boost of encouragement, or to provoke deep thought and contemplation, my hope is that my blog will point you in the right direction so you can find exactly what you need at any given moment.

Closing

Because I focus on topics which move me in some way, it has been very rewarding starting The Classic Movie Muse and sharing my experiences with you.

My hope is that my blog will be of value as you navigate the myriads of classic movies in search of your desired experience.

Here’s to many more years, and again, a HUGE thank you from me to you!

Check Out My First Posts

Prince of Players (1955): A Shakespearean Ode to the Beauty and Pain of Life

Edwin Booth lived a life few can ever imagine. Born into a renowned theatrical family, he inherits both his father’s genius for stage acting and the demons that plagued him. His success on the stage stirs the envy of his brother, John Wilkes, driving him to a terrible deed that will echo throughout history.

As personal tragedy strikes, will Edwin be able to weather the turbulence in his life or will the angry winds overtake him?

Prince of Players tells this story.

20th Century Fox’s lavish production gains its source material from the best-selling 1953 biography of the same name by Eleanor Ruggles.

The Patriarch – Junius Brutus Booth

Raymond Massey introduces us to the world of Shakespeare when the curtains rise on Prince of Players. Massey doesn’t just play the character of Junius Brutus, the famed, eccentric nineteenth century actor, he becomes him.

Massey carries himself with an air of grandeur as I’m sure a great Shakespearean actor from the past would, and when he is in a drunken stupor and young Edwin must drag him home and tend to him, his affecting performance brings the gravitas of the film to its center, setting in motion the battles Edwin must face.

The Prince of Players – Edwin Booth

Talk about perfect casting, in the 1950’s, Richard Burton was busy establishing himself as a Shakespearean actor, being hailed as the next Olivier, and completed a season with the Old Vic including a successful run of his popular “moody, virile, baleful” Hamlet.

Richard Burton is impeccable in the role of Edwin Booth. I am of the opinion that no other actor of the time could do the complex man justice while fitting seamlessly into the nineteenth century setting.

Sure, Burton is no American. But he possessed a mesmerizing presence, intensity, tortured quality, and a mastery of Shakespeare that even Olivier praised. Also, the way he can hold an audience without saying a word is something to behold/experience.

The Traitor – John Wilkes Booth

John Derek plays the infamous John Wilkes Booth. Since the film focuses on Edwin, we only get a brief outline of John Wilkes and his nefarious motives and actions, but what is there, is done well.

Derek’s characterization contrasts perfectly with Burton. Derek is outspoken, flashy, with an unbridled madness, whereas Burton is quiet, self possessed, and portrays an inward struggle.

The Peacemaker – Mary Devlin

Maggie McNamara is the Juliet who tames Burton’s Romeo with her gentle, comforting presence. You can sense the belief she has in Edwin’s abilities as an actor and as a man.

Burton’s trust in her to be there for him and his love for her is quite moving as he’s had to go it alone for most of his life and he cherishes the relationship that they share. The connection between the two is beautifully portrayed and convincing.

The Bard – William Shakespeare

Prince of Players treats its audience to monologues from Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and Edwin Booth’s signature role as Hamlet, among others.

Since playwright Moss Hart is on board as screenwriter and long time screenwriter Phillip Dunne is at the director’s helm, these scenes don’t feel like add-ons, necessary evils, nor do they stop the action. On the contrary, rather they add relevant poignancy due to their thoughtful placement in the narrative.

For instance when Junius does not want to go on stage, Edwin gives his father a pep talk and pleads with him, “I’m proud of you, father. They’ll be seeing you for the first time. They built this theater for you. You’re going on tour where no great actor has been seen before. They’ve waited a year for your coming.” To which Junius responds positively.

While on stage though, Junius begins to forget his lines, leading to this heart wrenching scene while Junius and Edwin are playing Richard III.

Richard (Massey):

And thy assistance is King Richard seated.
But shall we wear these glories for a day,
Or shall they last and we rejoice in them?


Buckingham (Burton):
Still live they, and forever let them last.

Richard (Massey):
Ah, Buckingham, now do I play the touch,
To try if thou be current gold indeed:
Young Edward lives…

(Junius, forgetting his lines, is prompted by Edwin)

Think now what I would speak.

Buckingham (Burton):
Say on, my loving lord.

(Whispering admiringly and sadly) Say on, my loving lord.

(Another prompt from Edwin)

Richard (Massey):
Why, Buckingham, I say I would be king.


Buckingham (Burton):
Why so you are, my thrice-renownèd lord.


Richard (Massey):
Ha! Am I king?

(Searchingly, to his son) Edwin, am I…king?

The Supporting Players

The reliable Charles Bickford gives a solid performance as Dave Prescott, the Booth’s crusty, demanding manager who over time becomes their trusted friend.

Elizabeth Sellars plays Asia Booth, the sister caught between the opposing brothers, and gives a sincere portrayal of concern and care.

Esteemed stage actress, director, producer Eva La Gallienne is credited as the technical consultant for the Shakespearean scenes. She also appears opposite Burton as a fiery Queen Gertrude in Hamlet, marking her film debut.

The Score – Bernard Herrmann

Director Phillip Dune chose Bernard Herrmann to provide the score for Prince of Players based on his experience with the composer on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and as usual, Herrmann’s stirring music fits like hand in glove.

According to Herrmann’s biographer, Steven Smith, since childhood Herrmann had nurtured a love of English literature and theater and relished working on the project.

The opening titles sound a fanfare of trumpets and a dignified American march that sets the tone for what’s to come – the grandeur of the theater.

The music takes a different turn as the film goes on underlining the overwhelming drama. Herrmann’s cues resemble Vertigo in the scenes between Junius and Edwin, and Herrmann nails the psychological tensions that belie their relationship.

The love theme for Edwin and Mary is bittersweet and portrays the blissful love and devotion they share.

The Visual Style

Prince of Players handsomely recreates the mid-late nineteenth century through Mary Wills’s costumes (Hans Christian Andersen) and Lyle Wheeler’s art direction (Gone With the Wind), and includes a recreation of the fateful night at Ford’s Theatre. Charles G. Clarke’s cinematography (Miracle on 34th Street) has some particularly striking moments and is very appealing.

Conclusion

Prince of Players is a moving depiction of Edwin Booth’s early-mid life and the emotional pain that befell him as he endured a miserable childhood, struggled to maintain his own sanity and the guilt and shame of his family name, and the ray of light that helped him overcome.

In this way, Prince of Players is a fine study of the struggle of managing and overcoming family ghosts and one’s own personal demons, the importance of purpose, and finally, acceptance of life and that purpose.

Edwin Booth as Hamlet

Edwin’s daughter, Edwina Booth Grossman, on her famous father and his defining role:

…It was long before I could thoroughly disassociate him from the character of Hamlet, it seemed so entirely a part of himself. Indeed, in that impersonation, I think, his confined nature and pent-up sorrows found vent. He told me that the philosophy of Hamlet had taught him to bear life’s vicissitudes.

If that isn’t beautiful, I don’t know what is.

To buy or not to buy

You can find this film here on Amazon. Hopefully one day the powers that be will restore Prince of Players to its former glory and present it as it was originally filmed in Cinemascope. But for now, any form of this hidden gem is worth seeing. Enjoy!

(Note: I am not an Amazon affiliate.)

About Edwin Booth

Enjoy this informative video and learn more about the Booth family’s history while touring Edwin’s beautiful home in which he established The Players – a private social club bringing together creatives and industrialists – in Gramercy Park, New York.

This is my contribution to The Biopic Blogathon hosted by Hometowns to Hollywood.

Thanks for having me, Annette! Head on over and read the rest of the entries here.

Hot Water (1924): Harold Lloyd’s Thanksgiving-ish Comedy I Didn’t Know I Needed

Let’s play a game…What comes to mind when you think of turkeys, mother-in-laws, and car rides? For Americans there is only one answer – Thanksgiving.

In Hot Water, Harold Lloyd does battle with the three trappings that come with the iconic holiday. Although it’s never stated that this is the film’s setting, in my mind it is a match made in the cinematic heavens – so much so that Hot Water should be as essential to the classic film fan’s Thanksgiving celebration as pumpkin pie.

My path into silent film began with Charlie Chaplin, Metropolis (1927), Buster Keaton, and then curiosity struck me (in the form of a blogathon) as to who this fellow Harold Lloyd was. Next thing I know, I’m in Hot Water and instant love with the plucky comedian who donned horn rimmed glasses and a warm, friendly smile.

Hot Water unfolds in an episodic fashion with each of the segments being able to stand on its own, while also fitting surprisingly well into the overall narrative. Harold Lloyd thought he could release the segments separately as two-reelers if the film was not successful.

Spoiler alert: He needn’t have worried! The film was loved by both critics and audiences and tied for fourth place with Girl Shy for most popular film of 1924 with Hot Water inching slightly ahead at the box office.

It all begins when Harold is taken by surprise by a pair of “soft-boiled” eyes, those of Jobyna Ralston, Lloyd’s leading lady of six films. Next we see Harold, he is picking up groceries – a clear indication he’s tied the knot – for Wifey (Ralston) which leads him to an encounter with a live turkey. Off on a streetcar he goes with too many bundles to carry, plus that troublesome turkey…

Domestic bliss is quickly interrupted by a visit from the insufferable in-laws, Wifey’s mother (Josephine Crowell) and two brothers (Charles Stevenson, Mackey McBan).

Crowell is the ultimate embodiment of a bossy mother-in-law. Imposing and judgmental, her curmudgeonly ways make us feel for poor Harold as he can’t even be comfortable in his own home (especially after his exhausting trip home on a crowded streetcar – not to mention the turkey).

Crowell’s expressive face says so much with a side glance or a scowl and I particularly love when she deviously, but hilariously, plays on Harold’s fears as the film goes on.

On the other hand, Wifey is sweet and loving as could be, though she does give Harold some grief with her mile long grocery list. Ralston has such lovely chemistry with Lloyd and the adoration they feel for each other is evident, leading to a very funny car ride scene in their brand new “Butterfly 6.” Harold, so overcome by love, takes his eyes off the road, only to leave them on Wifey and the car is left to navigate the road on its own. You can imagine what happens next.

The third segment of Hot Water is when everything goes off the rails and is, more or less, a screwball comedy. Not to give it all away but it includes chloroform, sleep walking, and priceless pantomime from a guilt ridden and fear stricken Harold who wrongly assumes he’s killed his mother-in-law.

While Hot Water was released during the golden years of Harold Lloyd’s career, today the film is not as respected by historians as his other output, although at showings it is eaten up by audiences. One of the reasons could be because of the formatting and the lack of a strong storyline since it is primarily a “gag picture.” However, the strength of this film lies in doing just that – providing gags from beginning to end that build on themselves sequentially, leaving the audience roaring with laughter that the concept of a storyline becomes a distant memory as much as a troublesome necessity.

 

A New York Times critic from 1924 summed the film up like this:

“Hilarity is rife in Harold Lloyd’s new picture . . . Although this production is not as subtle as ‘Girl Shy,’ it has a fund of original and ludicrous ideas, which as they are worked out defy one to keep a straight face even when the action drops to nonsensical depths. Humor is cleverly coupled with the absurd, and as the later may appear while one is still bubbling with merriment at the former, it is apt to inspire a fresh explosion of mirth, because of the utterly ridiculous situations in which Mr. Lloyd as a young husband becomes involved. Hence this hilarious contribution probably will cause as much mental sunshine as ‘Girl Shy’.”

Since viewing Hot Water I’ve seen other Harold Lloyd films, including Girl Shy. It will be interesting to see if things change over time, but for right now Hot Water holds a special place in my heart, and sticking with my theme, I’m grateful for the “mental sunshine” that it and Harold have brought me.

What is your favorite Harold Lloyd film? And how are you celebrating the inauguration of National Silent Movie Day?

This post is my contribution to The Silent Film Day Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Silent-ology given in honor of the first ever National Silent Movie Day, September 29, 2021! Thank you for having me, ladies! Check out this page for more silent film goodness.

An All-Star Cast Makes Monkey Mayhem in Gorilla at Large (1954)

Detective Garrison (Lee J. Cobb) investigates a crime scene at the Garden of Evil carnival. His job becomes more interesting when he learns there are a number of suspects among the carnival’s employees – human and animal – each with sufficient reasons for murder.

From the opening credits, you can sense this is a unique film. With large red letters popping off the screen accompanied by a wild gorilla’s roar, we are taken into a world where spectacle reigns supreme.

Made by Panoramic Productions and distributed by 20th Century Fox, Gorilla at Large was released during the 3-D craze and as such, it is a feast for the eyes. Luscious Technicolor takes centre stage bringing the carnival to life in vivid shades of blue, red, and yellow. Shimmering lights reflect on sequined costumes, a fur covered paw reaches out to a shrieking girl, fireworks burst brightly in the night sky above a whizzing roller coaster.

While Gorilla sparkles with life, personality, and individuality, what makes the whole thing work is the cast. And let me tell you, it is quite the line up.

Lee J. Cobb plays a cool detective – calm and composed – with a studying eye he examines each of the suspects. In the same year he would transform himself into a very different character, corrupt union boss Johnny Friendly in On the Waterfront. As the mysterious carnival owner, Cyrus Miller, Raymond Burr keeps us guessing as he would a few months later in Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

Just a year prior to Gorilla, Cameron Mitchell convinced Marilyn Monroe she looked beautiful with glasses in How to Marry a Millionaire. As the young and handsome carnival barker, Joey Matthews, he is eyed by the women, namely his sweetheart Audrey (Charlotte Austin) and sultry trapeze artist Laverne (Anne Bancroft).

Bedecked with glamour in Renie’s costumes (Cleopatra, 1963), Anne Bancroft is the unmistaken star of the show. (Sorry, mister gorilla.)

Anne made her film debut only two years before Gorilla, yet her ease and grace before the camera is evident. Her work here is subtle, but effective, and demonstrates the talent that would lead to her Tony and Oscar wins for her performance as Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker and the continuation of her legendary career.

Peter Whitney’s character, Kovacs, is one you wouldn’t want to be left alone with, while Lee Marvin’s role as silly, absentminded police officer Shaughnessy provides the laughs. And we can’t forget the titular gorilla given a distinct personality by an uncredited George Barrows in a gorilla suit.

Lending an air of authenticity by filming at Nu Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach, California, Gorilla puts the audience right where they need to be – in the middle of the action – whether swinging wildly from a trapeze or being chased through a maze of dizzying mirrors.

I particularly enjoy how the script by Leonard Praskins (Call of the Wild, 1935) and Barney Slater (The Tin Star, 1957) informs personality quirks and characteristics, such as the sarcasm of Detective Garrison.

Joey Matthews: We’re trying to save enough money so that we can get married, is that any crime?

Garrison: Marriage isn’t but murder is, although sometimes I think it should be the other way around.

And the light hearted Shaughnessy…

Shaughnessy: What do you feed him [the gorilla]?

Kovacs: Bananas, apples, grapes.

Shaughnessy: Oh you do? Bring me some too. He don’t drink coffee, does he?

Kovacs: Of course not.

Shaughnessy: Well I do! So get me some.

Other 3-D films that were released in 1954 included Dial M for Murder and Creature from the Black Lagoon. While both films have gone on to attain status as classics, Gorilla retains its B standing; however, the film does have its devoted fans due in part to its airing in the 1980’s on television.

Compared to The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Gorilla at Large looks at the dramatic lives of the carnival workers on a much smaller scale. It still provides plenty of dazzling sights, but because of the size of the production and the 83 minute running time we aren’t left with any extras.

Gorilla at Large is a prime example of a talented cast elevating what would be subpar material (in less able hands) into highly enjoyable fare. Each character has their time to shine and the actors make use of every second. Collectively, they have an easy rapport that works. With a mystery begging to be solved, complete with twists and turns, the result is a wildly fun ride that packs a lot into a small package.

This post is my contribution to The Anne Bancroft 90th Birthday Celebration Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

Thanks for letting me take part, Crystal! See more posts honoring the lovely Anne Bancroft by clicking HERE.