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Cowboy and the Lady The (1938)

Cowboy and the Lady The (1938)

Produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by H.C. Potter with a story by Leo McCarey & Frank Adams and contributions from several other writers including S.N. Behrman & Sonya Levien (State Fair (1933)) who received the screenplay credits this average romantic comedy won an Academy Award for its Sound; its title song and Score were Oscar nominated. According to Goldwyn biographer A. Scott Berg McCarey told a story off the cuff to a bunch of the producer’s writers one evening who then had to write the screenplay from what they’d heard. It stars Merle Oberon as the sheltered wealthy daughter of a man (Henry Kolker) who’s seeking his party’s nomination for POTUS. Concerned that her actions like an appearance at a nightclub which was raided while she was with her fun-loving uncle (Harry Davenport) might jeopardize his standing with an influential power broker (Berton Churchill) her father sends her to their vacation home in Palm Beach Florida. While she’s there she meets a rodeo cowboy played by Gary Cooper and the predictable happens.

Oberon plays Mary Smith daughter of Horace (Kolker) and niece of Hannibal (Davenport). Irving Bacon appears uncredited as Smith’s secretary. Bored of being sequestered (e.g. in Florida) she goes with her two servants Katie (Patsy Kelly) and Elly (Mabel Todd) on a blind date to a rodeo where she awed by the talents of one of the cowboys she later meets a reluctant ‘Stretch’ Willoughby (Cooper). Katie’s date is another cowboy named Sugar (Walter Brennan) and Elly’s is Buzz (Fuzzy Knight). As far as the three cowboys know the three girls all work for an absent wealthy woman. Inexperienced in dating Mary follows the other girls’ advice and tells an untrue sob story to Stretch about how she’s taken care of her four siblings and aging parent. So he believes he’s finally found what he’d always been looking for in a woman a “workhorse” in lieu of a “show horse” the type of woman he’d always seemed to find in the past. In fact he thinks Mary is a younger prettier version of Ma Hawkins (Emma Dunn) the mother figure who takes care of his Montana ranch. Love struck he asks for her hand. Though she thinks it’s all too soon he tosses her in the swimming pool which (somehow!) convinces her to follow him to the dock where his rodeo show is packed up and ready to leave for Galveston by boat. She impulsively decides to go along one thing leads to another and the next thing you know the two of them are saying “I do” in front of the ship’s captain (Frederick Vogeding) … despite the fact that Mary’s yet to tell Stretch that she’s a “show horse”.

After a brief “fish out of water” sequence in Galveston where Mary gets her one dress dirty and torn she receives a call from Katie who informs her that her father and Oliver Wendell Henderson (Churchill) are coming to Palm Beach for a visit. Though Mary tells Katie she’s married Stretch she asks her to keep it a secret. She then tells Stretch that she’s got to return home to tell her employer et al and promises to meet him in Montana the following week. Stretch then puts Mary on a bus (driven by Eddie Acuff uncredited) home. Once there she tells her uncle everything; he is understanding and tries to help. Her father of course is furious but accepts her situation if she promises to help with the Henderson dinner during which he expects to receive the man’s endorsement for the Presidential nomination. Meanwhile back at the ranch Stretch is getting everything ready for Mary’s arrival. There are two scenes which must have been funnier when McCarey told them than when they were realized on screen: Stretch’s playful (endless) pulling of Ma’s apron strings causing it to fall and his pantomime “dinner” with the other incredulous cowboys as guests in his to-be-completed house’s framing.

The Henderson dinner causes Mary to send Stretch her regrets and promise to come later but he decides to visit Palm Beach again to find her instead. Naturally he walks in during the big event finds out the truth about his wife (e.g. being a “show horse”) and in the film’s best scene ends up giving an everyman speech after being “talked down to” by the upper crusts. But never fear. Made to feel guilty by his brother Hannibal Horace makes things better in the end with a surprise visit to Montana. Stretch then witnesses Mary doing domestic chores under Ma’s direction gets slapped on the back by Hannibal and the movie fades out with the newlyweds kissing in the kitchen.

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