List: Comedy Westerns

Posted on May 28, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Movies and westerns were made for each other.  Hollywood came along not long after the era of westward expansion and access to the stunning landscapes of Monument Valley and endless vistas of desert and sagebrush was nearby.  The earliest commercial films were cowboy stories and by the time Hollywood hit its stride in the 1930’s-50’s the western was the perfect metaphor for the American experience.  Most were action films and dramas, but there were a few comedies, like this week’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”  Some of the best include:

Cat Ballou  Jane Fonda stars as a young woman determined to get revenge for the murder of her father (John Marley, the horse head in the bed guy from “The Godfather”).

A Big Hand for the Little Lady  This neglected gem has an all-star cast and one of the greatest plot twists ever, in the story of a devoted wife and mother (Joanne Woodward) who takes over for her ailing husband (Henry Fonda) in a high-stakes poker game.

The Paleface and Son of Paleface star Bob Hope, Roy Rogers, and Jane Russell in a pair of western spoofs, with the Oscar-winning song “Buttons and Bows.”

 

Ruggles of Red Gap Charles Laughton plays a very proper gentleman’s gentleman who teachers the rough westerners a few things about their own heritage.  It was remade with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball as “Fancy Pants.”

Blazing Saddles Mel Brooks’ classic is one of the funniest films ever made, funnier every time you watch it.  My favorite part is Madeline Kahn as the dance hall girl.

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Tribute: Jane Russell

Posted on March 2, 2011 at 12:21 pm

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We lost a true Hollywood icon this week when Jane Russell passed away on February 28 at age 89. Russell had brassy, good-natured quality that made her seem like the girl next door — if the girl next door had a sensationally curvy figure.

She was born in Minnesota, the oldest of six children and the only girl. She was discovered by Howard Hughes, who signed her to a seven-year exclusive contract and famously used his skill as an engineer to design a bra for optimal display of her generous bust. (She later said it was so uncomfortable that she tossed it away). Her bust was also the focus of a widely distributed publicity still for “The Outlaw” and for the film itself — today no one remembers much about it except that its release was held up for two years over debates about the display of Ms. Russell’s cleavage.

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What Hughes didn’t seem to notice was her talent as a comic actress, singer, and dancer. After her contract with Hughes was up she made her best-known films, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as the wisecracking sidekick to Marilyn Monroe, and The Paleface and Son of Paleface with Bob Hope.

In her later years, she continued to perform, making her Broadway debut at age 60 and recording pop, standards, and Christian music. Her great heart and generous spirit shone through all of her work and she will be missed.

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