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!

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

    1. That’s a great tidbit about Penny Singleton. Lovely Grace Kelly was also born in Philly. What a cool place to have roots in! 🙂

      I agree with you. Singleton is a joy to watch on the screen and lights up every scene with her indomitable presence. Seeing her singing and dancing skills on full display in the film was a real treat.

      Like

  1. evaschon98

    Looks like a very fun movie (I’ve actually seen the first half or so of it), and I like that you pointed out Walter Plunkett’s involvement–he’s a great costume designer! Thanks for participating in the blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve introduced me to yet another film that’s totally new to me. 🙂 (I’ve actually never heard of it, Penny Singleton, or Blondie.)

    Speaking of new-to-me movies, Easy to Wed was my work entertainment the other day (it recently aired on TCM) – and I tried it specifically because of your love for Esther Williams. 🙂 Have you seen it?

    I thought it was really charming and lots of fun. 🙂 I even played it twice before it expired! The duck hunting escapades lost my interest both times (though I must say, “Fetch It” may be the world’s-best name for a dog!), but every scene with any combo of the four leads just sparkles. ❤

    Esther doesn’t swim much in this one – although she does ski down a water slide, which is pretty awesome. She looks beautiful, of course, and I thought her acting was quite good. She’s so self-assured. 😀 I want to use her line “Certainly. I’m a very remarkable girl.” sometime. 🙂

    If you have seen it, do you know if Esther, Van Johnson, and Lucille Ball did their own singing? I sorta doubt it (I’ve always assumed Lucy couldn’t sing) – but if they didn’t, that’s the most realistic dubbing I’ve ever heard! 😀 Keenan Wynn, a favorite of mine, rounds out the foursome – but is the only one without the opportunity to sing (and I know he couldn’t!). He and Lucy are ADORABLE together by the way (as they were in the Hepburn / Tracy film, Without Love). I wish they’d had a starring vehicle of their own. 🙂

    In short, I enjoyed it very much. 🙂 And I’m not sure it would’ve caught my attention without you. So, thank you for the indirect recommendation! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad to hear that, Jillian! Go West, Young Lady is a lot of fun, as is Penny Singleton 🙂 She’s quite a tough little lady with an adorable personality. I recommend catching a Blondie film sometime. There are a bunch on YouTube and I believe the first one is on Amazon Prime.

      Yes, I have! Easy to Wed is not my favorite Esther movie, granted I’ve only seen it once, so I will need to give it more of a chance. Wow, I didn’t even catch the dog’s name, but that’s pretty hilarious! 🙂

      Great question! In Esther’s autobiography she said that Carmen Miranda taught her and Van how to sing in Portuguese for the movie. One of Esther’s husband’s, Ben Gage, was a professional singer and they made some records together. Despite all of that, sometimes MGM still dubbed Esther’s singing, but thankfully they didn’t in Easy to Wed!

      Van could sing very well, coming from a musical theater background. (I recently learned he was the understudy for Gene Kelly in Pal Joey!) And yes, Lucy was dubbed. Don’t you just love her number and purple costume? By the way, have you seen the Van Johnson episode of I Love Lucy, The Dancing Star? It’s so great to see them back together again and it’s such a charming and hilarious episode! 🙂

      Keenan Wynn is always a joy, and I haven’t seen Without Love yet. Thanks for the recommendation!

      I’m thrilled to hear that, Jillian! 🙂 Thank you for the sweet comment ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I thought of that episode while watching the movie! 😀 Generally, I Love Lucy isn’t one of my favorites (which feels sacrilegious to admit), but there are certain episodes I adore – and that’s one of them. 🙂 I’ve always thought Lucy and Van seemed to genuinely enjoy each other, and now I see why! Of course, they are actors, so it’s hard to know for sure – but they really did seem to have fun working together. ❤

        And even if singing wasn’t one of her many talents, Lucy was quite the showgirl! 😀 Her number is a lot of fun. And I’d love to know who sang for her, because they did an incredible job! 😀 They weren’t overly proper like most dubbers – and they matched Lucy’s own voice so well, I actually considered that it might be her. 🙂

        Wow – that is so neat that Carmen Miranda taught Esther and Van to sing in Portuguese! 😀 They did it very well. (Singing in Portuguese and kissing underwater – that seems above and beyond even for MGM’s jack-of-all-trades stars. 😀 Very impressive!) I’d like to watch that number again, now that I know that and know it really was Esther singing. And I’d love to hear her sing with her husband, too. (I love performing couples.) ❤ I may have to do some investigating on YouTube. 😉

        Some interesting / sad info about Van and Keenan that makes Easy to Wed all the more interesting: They were best, BEST friends, but eventually, Keenan’s wife left Keenan for Van in 1947. The details as to why and how are murky (at least, as far as I can tell) – but it seems to have been a rather long and involved saga, and not a spontaneous decision. Since Easy to Wed was released in 1946, I can’t help but wonder what the status of their friendship was during filming. :/

        I wouldn’t say Without Love is my FAVORITE Tracy / Hepburn film, but it’s still good. I recommend it more for the chemistry than the story…You can’t go wrong with those two. ❤ Plus, Keenan & Lucy are VERY funny (separately and together), and they actually get more of a love story. And like in Easy to Wed, everyone works so well together and seems to enjoy it. (Keenan’s second son, Tracy, was named for Spencer Tracy.) So, it’s a fun foursome all the way around! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The Dancing Star is one of my favorites, too 🙂 I love that Lucy got to do a “real” vs silly number! 🙂 I agree. Her chemistry with Van is excellent, as evidenced by the Ophelia scene from Easy to Wed!

        Oh wow, yes, that must have put a strain on their friendship! Very sad.

        Without Love sounds adorable and I love the fact that Lucy got to work with Hepburn and Keenan again! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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