Now that we’ve done one solo film each for Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, our Screen Team Of The Month (and we still have one more solo film for each to finish out the month), it’s time to focus on one of the eight films that they made together! In this instance, it’s their 1938 film The Girl Of The Golden West!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Ace In The Hole (1942)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection from Universal Studios)
(Length: 6 minutes, 48 seconds)
Stable boy Woody Woodpecker longs to fly in the planes, but the bulldog sergeant refuses to let him. My own opinion is that this one is fun, but not quite as good as the previous ones in the set. It’s a wartime short, making it similar to the Disney cartoons featuring Donald Duck in the army (with Pete as a sergeant). I think the humor that comes from Woody trying to deal with the sergeant is fun, especially once he gets in the plane. My biggest problem with this one is the overall concept, since Woody is a bird (and one that can and does fly in other cartoons), so the idea that he wants to fly in the planes (and doesn’t seem to fly on his own, otherwise) just kind of makes this one not work as well. It’s fun, just not as fun and original as it could be.
And Now For The Main Feature…
As a little girl, young Mary Robbins (Jeanne Ellis) loses her parents, and comes west to California on a wagon train with her Uncle Davy (Charley Grapewin). One night, when they are camped, her singing is overheard by a young Gringo (Bill Cody, Jr.), a white boy who has been adopted by the leader of a group of Mexican bandits named Ramerez, who otherwise calls himself the General (Noah Beery, Sr.). When the General decides to ride into the wagon train’s camp, his crew is mistaken for Native Americans, and the General is shot. As the years pass, the young Gringo grows up and takes on the mantle of the Mexican bandit Ramerez (Nelson Eddy), fast gaining the attention of the law. Meanwhile, the now-grown Mary (Jeanette MacDonald) is living near the town of Cloudy Mountain and has taken over the Polka Saloon from her late uncle. She is beloved by all the men in town, but particularly by her friends, Sheriff Jack Rance (Walter Pidgeon) and “Alabama” (Buddy Ebsen). Once, when she takes the stagecoach to Monterey, the stage is stopped by Ramerez, but he is taken by her and allows them to keep going after he takes some of their valuables (well, everyone else’s anyway). Since she seems to be ungrateful for his mercy, he decides to go into Monterey (unmasked) with his friend “Mosquito” (Leo Carrillo) and teach her a lesson. In Monterey, Mary stops to spend some time with her old friend Father Sienna (H. B. Warner), who asks her to sing at Mass. There, she is heard by the Governor (Monty Woolley), who asks her to sing at a ball that he is hosting. Ramerez overhears the Governor sending an army escort to bring Mary to the ball, and he decides to knock out the officer and steal his uniform. Posing as Lieutenant Johnson, he comes to pick up Mary, but drives her out into the country. He tries to kiss her, but she resists, and takes the carriage to the ball without him. However, he still makes it to the ball, and briefly dances with her. When he sees the real lieutenant looking for him, he grabs a horse and gets out of there. When she is back in Cloudy, Sheriff Rance is furious that Ramerez had stopped the coach (and some of his deputies assigned to accompany her to Monterey), and tells Mary that he will spread word that the gold is being stored at the Polka (hoping to catch Ramerez in a trap). Suspicious of a trap, Ramerez has his buddy Mosquito pretend to be him to lead a posse on a wild goose chase, and goes to the Polka. He is surprised to find Mary there (and equally as surprised to find out that she owns the place), and cancels his plan to take the gold, even though the Sheriff and all the other men took the bait from Mosquito. He is invited to come to Mary’s cabin for dinner (much to the chagrin of Ramerez’ girlfriend Nina Martinez, as played by Priscilla Lawson, who decides to turn him in to the Sheriff for the reward money). While Ramerez is at Mary’s cabin, Sheriff Rance and a few men stop by. While Ramerez hides, the Sheriff tells Mary about Ramerez, but, angry though she may be with him, she doesn’t reveal his presence to the Sheriff. However, after the Sheriff and his men leave, she orders him to go away. Upon leaving, shots are fired, and Ramerez comes back into her cabin, wounded. She tries to hide him, but the Sheriff sees his dripping blood and arrests him. Mary tries to play a game of poker against the Sheriff, offering herself in marriage to the Sheriff if she loses. Will she be able to win, or will she have to marry the Sheriff? And will Ramerez survive being shot?
The Girl Of The Golden West came from a 1905 play by David Belasco, and was preceded by three different filmed versions of the tale. Giacomo Puccini had written an opera based around the play that premiered in 1910, but when MGM came around to the 1938 film for Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, that music was jettisoned in favor of a new score by composer Sigmund Romberg and lyricist Gus Kahn. Originally, the intention was to do a Robin Hood operetta, except Jeanette MacDonald didn’t agree to it (not to mention Warner Brothers also came out with their immortal classic The Adventures Of Robin Hood), although some of the idea was retained, with Nelson’s bandit shooting arrows to stop stagecoaches. At the time of filming, Jeanette and Nelson were apparently feuding (resulting in fewer duets in the movie), as Jeanette thought that Allan Jones (her co-star in The Firefly) would have been a better fit as a Mexican bandit than Nelson. As a result, scenes were added at the start to show how he became the “Mexican” bandit Ramerez. Ray Bolger was also to have been in the film, except the film’s length resulted in his scenes being cut for time. In spite of all this, the film still turned out to be profitable for MGM and their screen team.
As I mentioned when I reviewed Deep In My Heart, I didn’t initially care for the music of composer Sigmund Romberg until I finally saw the film Maytime. Once that movie gave me a new appreciation for his music (and Deep In My Heart), the next two Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy films that I wanted to see were the other movies with music by Romberg (The Girl Of The Golden West and the 1940 New Moon). Now, given what I said before about the two stars feuding during the making of The Girl Of The Golden West (resulting in barely any duets in the movie), one would think that that would make this film an odd choice to pick for my one team-up in this month’s Screen Team blogathon. But, having reviewed their first three films together (the best movies in the series, in my opinion), I would say that The Girl Of The Golden West is my favorite of the remaining five films (besides being the fourth film in the series). The music is one of the reasons, with the songs “Señorita” and “Mariache” (at least, I think that’s the spelling for this song’s title, according to IMDb and Wikipedia at the time of this writing) being quite memorable from the two leads, plus Buddy Ebsen singing “The West Ain’t Wild Anymore” as well. It’s also quite entertaining watching Jeanette MacDonald tackle a slightly different role in this film, as her character seems less refined than what I’m used to from her, not only in her speech, but in her way of moving around as well. Nelson Eddy may not be quite as good (since he’s playing a character pretending to be Mexican when hiding behind a mask), but he (and Jeanette) are still in fine voice here. The film is certainly far from perfect, as one still can’t help but wish that they had had more duets in this movie. I also sometimes feel like some of the songs are cut short, and I wish that some of them were a bit longer. Regardless, though, this film is still quite entertaining as an entry in the MacDonald/Eddy series of movies, and I have no problems whatsoever in recommending this one, too!
This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection, either individually or as part of the four-film set Jeanette MacDonald And Nelson Eddy Collection: Volume 1.
Film Length: 2 hours, 1 minute
My Rating: 9/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Maytime (1937) – Jeanette MacDonald
Maytime (1937) – Nelson Eddy – Balalaika (1939)
Big Brown Eyes (1936) – Walter Pidgeon – Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)
Born To Dance (1936) – Buddy Ebsen
Monty Woolley – The Man Who Came To Dinner (1942)
Maytime (1937) – Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy (screen team)
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