Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Cowboy and the Lady (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon charm as THE COWBOY AND THE LADY (1938), a new release from the Warner Archive. The movie is part of the Archive's line of Samuel Goldwyn Classics.

THE COWBOY AND THE LADY is a "must see" for anyone who loves the lead actors or '30s romantic comedies. It's a favorite of mine, which I first reviewed here in 2008.

Oberon -- who incidentally is TCM's March Star of the Month -- plays Mary Smith, whose father (Henry Kolker) wants to run for President.

Mary is banished to Palm Beach to help cover up the fact that Mary and her rascally uncle (Harry Davenport) were at a nightclub raided by the police. The bored Mary goes out on a blind date with her maids (Patsy Kelly and Mabel Todd) and immediately meets tall, handsome Stretch (Cooper), a cowboy.

Mary tells Stretch she's a lady's maid supporting her family, but while that's a whopper, her love for him is the real thing. Before Mary can work up the courage to tell him her identity, the two of them are being married by a ship's captain on the way to Galveston. Can true love survive Stretch finding out Mary is actually a wealthy "show horse" rather than a hardworking maid?

Cooper and Oberon are adorable together. They might not seem like a match on paper, but their characters and portrayals really work here. Mary might be refined, but she's no stick in the mud, with a sense of humor and a "can do" attitude. And Stretch may be shy, but he doesn't hesitate to propose to Mary when they've scarcely just met!

Cooper and Oberon's scenes blend some wonderful physical comedy and funny dialogue with achingly lovely romance. The longing they convey for one another on the fog-shrouded boat lingers in the memory -- as does Cooper's hilarious reaction when Stretch, thinking he's lost Mary, discovers her in the kitchen on his ranch! They have a marvelous chemistry.

There's a dream of a supporting cast, starting with Harry Davenport as Mary's delightful uncle and Walter Brennan as Stretch's pal. Kudos also go to Kolker as Mary's father, who (along with the writers) takes a stock character and fleshes him out into something more sensitive.

Along with Kelly and Todd as the maids, the cast also includes great faces like Emma Dunn (Mrs. Kildare in the Dr. Kildare series), Fuzzy Knight, Eddie Acuff, Irving Bacon, and George Chandler. When a gangly cowboy looks Mary over when she's out on her date with Stretch, it's a young Hank Worden, in a wordless bit.

The good script, based on a story by director Leo McCarey, was written by at least 15 people, including famous names such as Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, Anita Loos, and Robert Riskin! With that many contributors one might think the script would be a mess, but it works beautifully. The running time is 91 minutes.

H.C. Potter directed, and IMDb indicates that an uncredited William Wyler and Stuart Heisler also put in some time working on the movie.

The film was shot in black and white by Gregg Toland.

Like the Archive's 2014 release of Cooper's THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH (1926), THE COWBOY AND THE LADY was originally available on DVD in the 2007 Gary Cooper MGM Legends Collection. That set is now out of print, but happily three of the four films in the set can now be obtained from the Archive. Also available is THE REAL GLORY (1939), with only VERA CRUZ (1954) not currently available from the Archive.

This Warner Archive release is an especially lovely print. The disc includes the film's theatrical re-release trailer.


Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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