TAKE ME TO TOWN is a thoroughly delightful piece of Americana starring Ann Sheridan and Sterling Hayden, directed by Douglas Sirk. I just saw this film for the first time and found it to be a wonderful little surprise.
The movie feels similar in tone to I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951), albeit with more humor. Mae Madison, aka Vermilion O'Toole (Sheridan), is a saloon singer on the run from a marshal who arrested her for a crime she didn't commit.
Vermilion needs a place to stay, and providentially three small boys (Lee Aaker, Harvey Grant, and Dusty Henley) take a shine to Vermilion, thinking the lively redhead is a much better candidate to marry their widowed father than a sourpuss neighbor (Phyllis Stanley) who is a little too eager to be their mother. Vermilion agrees to stay with the boys until their father Will (Hayden) returns from his job in a logging camp.
Will arrives home to quite a surprise when he discovers the gorgeous Vermilion whipping up a tasty dinner in his kitchen. And Vermilion also has a surprise in store, when she discovers that Will isn't just a lumberjack, he's the town preacher. Will initially tells Vermilion she'll need to leave, but she quickly proves her worth and matters proceed as viewers might expect.
This is a charming, colorful family film blending humor, music, kids, and deftly expressed thoughts on Christian love and charity, all against a lovely Western backdrop. (The location of the future church near a waterfall is particularly evocative.) One of the things I liked is that the film, like Vermilion herself, is very straightforward; there is no information hidden between Vermilion and Will, no secrets or hurt feelings. The characters communicate clearly with one another and deal with problems together as they arise.
Sheridan is completely believable as the saloon gal turned mother figure, wryly laughing at herself and the change in her circumstances as she can't help herself from mothering the little boys. Hayden isn't always the most expressive actor, but I thought he was just right in this, in a very sincere performance.
The young boys are cute and natural. The eldest, Lee Aaker, also appeared in HONDO that year.
Familiar faces in the cast include Lee Patrick, Phillip Reed, Larry Gates, Lane Chandler, Dorothy Neumann, Ann Tyrrell, and Frank Sully. It's fun to spot Guy Williams (Disney's ZORRO) as the townsman who plays the hero in the melodrama near the film's conclusion. IMDb says that Fess Parker is in the film, but I didn't pick him out on the first viewing.
TAKE ME TO TOWN was shot in Technicolor by Russell Metty. It runs 81 minutes.
Sirk directed a number of other period pieces at Universal in the early '50s, including HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY GAL (1952), MEET ME AT THE FAIR (1953), and ALL I DESIRE (1953). I'm looking forward to catching up with those I haven't yet seen.
There's more on the movie in an article on Douglas Sirk at Bright Lights Film Journal, where Robert E. Smith says TAKE ME TO TOWN "is positively lyrical, Sirk's most hopeful picture of life and love. Even the children, who get such a vicious going-over in most of Sirk's films come off here as delightful and charming."
The last couple shots of this movie left me with a big smile on my face. It's a shame this film isn't better known. I hope one day in the future this movie, which is not currently out on DVD or VHS, will be widely available -- perhaps in a set of lesser-known films directed by Douglas Sirk? We can hope!