Friday, July 22, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Lady From Cheyenne (1941)

Loretta Young is THE LADY FROM CHEYENNE, a giddy, idealistic force of nature who improbably brings women's suffrage to Wyoming in the 1860s.

Young gives a charming comedic performance in a role the TCM database says at one time was envisioned for Carole Lombard. Young's Annie Morgan is at times breathlessly clueless -- for instance, she doesn't seem to realize her new friends in Cheyenne are saloon chorus girls, which leads to some wonderfully mixed-up conversations -- yet her honesty and rock-solid principles always leave her coming out on top of difficult situations.

Steve Lewis (Robert Preston), who starts out as the shady attorney for small-town boss Jim Cork (Edward Arnold at his slimiest), doesn't know whether he's coming or going when he's talking to Annie; before long he's putty in her hands and on the way to reforming, even if it takes him a while to realize it.

The sweetest moment in the movie is when Steve kisses Annie and she gasps that she feels "like giving everybody presents." It reminds me a bit of Young's dazzled "Thank you!" when Gary Cooper kisses her in the later Western comedy ALONG CAME JONES (1945). The script by Kathryn Scola and Warren Duff is above average, with some very good bits of dialogue.

The film is distinguished by its fine cast. In addition to Young, Preston, and Arnold, the players include Gladys George as the saloon floozy befriended by Annie; her coworkers include Gladys Blake, June Wilkins, and Iris Adrian. Frank Craven, Jessie Ralph, Spencer Charters, Samuel S. Hinds, and Jeff Corey (FOLLOW ME QUIETLY) are also in the film.

It was particularly refreshing seeing Willie Best break out of his sometimes overly stereotypical roles, playing the attendant at the state legislature who advises Annie on the intricacies of lobbying and the passage of bills.

A note of trivia regarding the title: Annie is not actually from Cheyenne; a recent citizen of Laraville, she goes to Cheyenne for part of the movie. Still, the title sounds nice even if, strictly speaking, it's not accurate. As far as shooting the film itself, no one went near Cheyenne; according to TCM, the Laraville set was constructed in Mojave, California.

THE LADY FROM CHEYENNE was directed by Frank Lloyd. Lloyd was best known for specializing in period dramas, including the Best Picture winner MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935), as well as BERKELEY SQUARE (1933), MAID OF SALEM (1937), WELLS FARGO (1937), and THE HOWARDS OF VIRGINIA (1940). He won Oscars for THE DIVINE LADY (1929) and CAVALCADE (1933).

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, while calling the film "slight fare," opined that director Lloyd "displays perfection in the sureness of his directorial touch" and said the film "guarantees to divert."

The movie was filmed in black and white by Milton R. Krasner. The musical score was by Frank Skinner. Young's costumes are by Vera West. The film runs 88 minutes.

The Lux Radio Theater production of THE LADY FROM CHEYENNE, with the three lead actors reprising their roles, is available for download online.

Sadly, this Universal film is behind "the Paramount/Universal wall" which keeps so many wonderful movies of the '30s and '40s from being easily seen by the general public, and it's not available on DVD or VHS. I was able to enjoy this film, which has long been on my wish list, thanks to my friend Carrie. What a treat!


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