Today is July 3, the third day of #CleanMovieMonth here at the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. Click here to read more about this month-long celebration and join it yourself. We are enjoying this celebration of sealed cinema, which has introduced us to two new Code films so far. On July 1, we considered a youthful musical about three sisters who scheme to mend their broken home, Three Smart Girls from 1936. Yesterday, for the Third Annual Olivia de Havilland Blogathon, we examined a serious historical drama about a forbidden love of Queen Elizabeth I, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex from 1939.
Today’s selection is a much more carefree one than yesterday’s. It’s a sentimental, romantic comedy from Sam Goldwyn’s studio, made in 1938. In standard Depression style, it analyses the relationship of the common man and the powerful elite. The movie is The Cowboy and the Lady, starring Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon. It was directed by H. C. Potter.
Horace Smith is a prominent politician who is positioning himself for a presidential nomination. When he hears that his daughter, Mary, was present at a gambling raid, he doesn’t believe it. However, his carefree brother, Hannibal, merrily assures him that the story is true, since he himself took Mary to the nightclub. He thought that his beautiful young niece deserved a chance to go out on the town and have some fun dancing. Mr. Smith is horrified, since he is afraid that such news could ruin his chance of an important endorsement. He immediately sends Mary to Palm Beach so that he can say she’s been there for weeks. The kind young woman wants to make her father happy, so she obliges him. The poor girl is terribly bored there, with only two maids to keep her company. Finally, she gets tired of building houses of cards, so she asks her maids, Katie and Elly, to take her on a blind date with them. When she finds herself liking Stretch, the handsome but bashful cowboy who is her date for the evening, she determines to win him over. To earn his sympathy, she makes up a story about being a poor lady’s maid who supports a drunken father and four sisters. It works a little too well, however, and she soon finds that she has gotten tangled in her lie. Meanwhile, she and Stretch are falling in love. Will he still love her if he finds out that she is just a rich glamour girl? Will her father be able to understand her love for a common cow hand? Watch the movie to find out!
Stretch Willoughby is played by Gary Cooper. Mary Smith is played by Merle Oberon. Horace Smith is played by Henry Kolker. Uncle Hannibal is played by Harry Davenport. Katie is played by Patsy Kelly. Elly is played by Mabel Todd. Their cowboy dates are Buzz, played by Fuzzy Knight, and Sugar, played by Walter Brennan.
The Cowboy and the Lady has a definite Code Depression feeling. It’s the sort of thoughtful feeling which you find in movies like Mr. Deeds Goes to Town from 1936, You Can’t Take It with You from 1938, and Holiday from 1938. During the Depression, common people had less than ever before, so they naturally questioned why the rich should have so much without working for it. However, this view of life was not anti-capitalist. It was wholly in support of the American way of living. It was against selfishness, greed, and laziness. The message that films like this sent was that everyone, including the rich man, needed to do his share of the work and help his fellow man as much as he could. That’s the only way we could survive and recover from the crisis of the Great Depression. The crash in 1929 really came from selfishness, recklessness, and lack of regard for principles. Because of that, there was great hardship throughout the 1930s. However, we were able to pull through it and grow stronger by it. Most importantly, we learned to value the sensibilities, morality, and the ideals which we had tossed aside in the twenties. The Code helped us do this, since it encompassed the return to decency which people wanted.
This movie has the good, clean, wholesome feeling which is singular to the Code era. The romance is so sweet and decent. This is the sort of romance which encourages marriage and maintains the American family. Stretch’s behavior is truly that of a gentleman. When he realizes that he loves Mary, he knows that he wants to marry her. He doesn’t wait or suggest some sort of trial relationship. Our country today could use that kind of example of courtship and marriage. I whole-heartedly recommend this movie to everyone. It is endearing, sweet, amusing, and nostalgic. It doesn’t require a very large amount of time. It is a simple, unassuming love story which will lift your spirits with its charming plot and excellent, sincere acting. Don’t miss it!
Come back tomorrow for a special Independence Day article about a patriotic Code film. Don’t miss the daily articles throughout July for #CleanMovieMonth. Every day, there will be a review and recommendation of a different Code film from the Breen era to celebrate clean movies!
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