Yvonne beats the tough guys
But enough of this lack of gallantry. I will at least say that although her second 1949 picture, The Gal Who Took the West, is little more than a silly Western rom-com, it is saved by the excellent performance of two convincing tough guys, John Russell and Scott Brady as the warring O’Hara cousins of Arizona. It also has high Universal production values, with lovely Saguaro National Park locations shot in bright Technicolor by William H Daniels. And there are some very good Western character actors in support. So you could watch it.
I always liked John Russell. He was, as you know, Marshal Dan Troop in ABC’s Lawman from 1958 – 62 but he also did a lot of big-screen Westerns. This one was only his second (he had been Lengthy in Yellow Sky the year before). He was in Frenchie, Saddle Tramp, The Last Command, Fort Massacre and many others, and always memorable. His last Western was one of his finest, as ruthless mercenary Marshal Stockburn in Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider in 1985.
Scott Brady, Lawrence Tierney’s brother, was famously arrested for narcotics possession in 1957 (charges were dropped and Brady maintained that he was framed) and later he was allegedly involved in illegal bookmaking activities but he was a choirboy by comparison to his boozing, brawling brother. In any case he was excellent as a heavy or tough good-guy. He too was a Western TV star, in Shotgun Slade from 1959 to 61 but he too did a good number of feature Westerns. He was Bloody Bill Anderson in Kansas Raiders (1950), the Dancin’ Kid in Johnny Guitar (1954) and that year started leading in Westerns when he was Billy the Kid in Columbia’s The Law vs. Billy the Kid.
Russell and Brady make this picture watchable as the bellicose cousins who both fall for De Carlo. They are believably tough and their fight (staged with no stunt doubles), though doubtless carefully choreographed, looks really good. (Jock Mahoney stunt doubled Brady in other scenes, though).
It’s one of those pictures that starts in the present day (late 1940s, that is) with a journalist interested in the 1880s O’Hara story plying three old-timers with booze to get the lowdown. Good news: said aged gentlemen are played by Clem Bevans, Houseley Stevenson and (wait for it) Russell Simpson! Clem was always excellent as old-timer, with that white hair and lugubrious face, and as for Russell, well, he was totally great – as John Ford understood. The gimmick is that all three tell their tales (in flashback, obviously) and all three, Rashomon style – though a year before Rashomon – are different. The first has De Carlo as a delicate beauty, the second says she was a drunk and the third that she was a gold-digger.
Elsewhere you can spot James Millican as the O’Hara foreman (Clem Bevans’s younger self), John Litel as the Army colonel, Paul Brinegar (Bones from Rawhide) as the uncredited tailor, Jack Perrin as an equally uncredited barfly and, oh joy, Glenn Strange the Great as a cowhand. An excellent line-up.
I must say, to be fair to Ms De Carlo, her version of Frankie and Johnny was pretty darn hot.
The whole shebang was directed by the rather grandly named Frederick de Cordova (it was actually his real name), pictured below, Universal’s specialist in musicals and comedies. It was his first Western and he did OK. The following year he would direct De Carlo again in the pirate epic Buccaneer’s Girl. Bet you can’t wait to see that one.
I suppose those of a feminist persuasion might delight in De Carlo holding her own against two alpha males. Maybe.
John Russell – highly-underrated actor, I always think. Never less than excellent and terrific as Marshal Troop, of course. Maybe he wasn't very ambitious or maybe he just didn't get the right breaks. Pity.