You can keep your hat on
In 1919 there came a major turning point in the development of the motion picture. Yup, you’ve guessed it, in that year Cecil B DeMille decided to show, in Male and Female, the big hit movie of that year, a bath scene. He had Gloria Swanson step into the tub. Don’t worry, it was all done very tastefully, with the maids lifting strategic towels at just the right (or wrong) moment. But it was very racy for the time, and the idea was soon taken up by many other directors.
Nowhere more so than in the Western.
Have you ever noticed that no matter how dry the desert terrain, there always seems to be a handily placed pool for the heroine to bathe naked in? Funny, that. But again and again you’ll see a nubile beauty doff her apparel and drop into the convenient water.
Sometimes a man will come along and josh her, perhaps staying there and preventing her from emerging. Of course 1940s and 50s Westerns only showed her shoulders, and perhaps, rather daringly, some unclothed legs stepping in – see, for example, Robbers’ Roost (1955). Bare breasts and so on would have to wait till the 60s and 70s (e.g. Jenny Agutter in Chine 9, Liberty 37 in 1978). Still, though, the 40s and 50s scenes were quite titillating for them days.
In Southwest Passage(1954) unpleasant muleskinner John Dehner leers at Joanne Dru skinny-dipping. In The Yellow Tomahawk the same year Peggie Castle is first discovered by Rory Calhoun bathing in a pool, and love blooms.
In Flesh and the Spur (1956) we see more spurs than flesh but still Jon Agar spies a Havasupai maiden bathing in a pool and being assaulted by a lout, so he goes gallantly to the rescue. John Derek comes across Carolyn Craig bathing in Fury at Showdown (1957). In The Last of the Fast Guns (1958) Jock Mahoney spots Lorne Greene’s daughter Linda Cristal, bathing in a pool and he naughtily pinches one of her undergarments. We sense a romance looming. They wanted a scene like that in the dreadful turkey Mackenna’s Gold in 1969 but had to truck the water into the dry Canyon de Chelly.
In Five Bold Women (1960), and boy, were they bold, you got both a gal bathing and bare legs. See saucy illustration:
And so the list goes on. There are countless other examples.
But what is unusual about the Western genre is how many men you see bathing. Occasionally, the pool scenario above was ‘ironically’ reversed. In Stranger on Horseback (1955) it’s Joel McCrea who is surprised skinny-dipping. In The King and Four Queens (1956) it’s Clark Gable. Well, if husbands in theaters were gazing at beauteous starlets on the screen and wishing that their wives next to them looked like that, for though they would never dare say so, the old girl was putting on a bit of weight these days, little did they know that said spouses themselves had Thinks bubbles above their heads indicating that Joel and Clark were aging a lot more attractively than the husbands next to them, and why couldn’t Clarence look like that with his shirt off?
But it wasn’t usually a dip in a pool for the guys. It was the bathtub. How many male stars can you picture in the tub? Loads. It became a cliché. Or let’s call it a trope. The first one I can think of is the Cisco Kid in 1939. Pretty daring.
But from then on every other cowboy star was obliged to strip off and take a bath. Burt Lancaster in The Hallelujah Trail (1965), Jason Robards in The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), Lee Marvin in The Spikes Gang (1974), Guy Madison in Massacre River (1949) to name but a (very) few. It became a standard scene.
Men in tubs
In the quite realist Western Will Penny (1968) cowpoke Will (Charlton Heston) boasts of his cleanliness, saying that he takes as many as eight or nine baths a year. And it is true that standards of personal hygiene out on the frontier were not quite what we expect today. You’d probably want to stay well upwind of any passing cowboy, and as for the average mountain man… In cattle drive Westerns the first thing the tired and dirty drovers want to do, even before hurrahing the town, is get a bath. Then it’s a beeline for the nearest saloon that takes Texans.
Once in the tub, naked and sometimes in quite a public place, the macho Westerner may feel somewhat vulnerable. That’s why again and again he keeps his hat on. Or chomps on a big cigar. It maintains his Western bona fides, you see. Sam Whiskey (1969) knew that.
Not only hat and cigar. He might well need his six-shooter too. In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Eli Wallach has his under the surface of the (rather sudsy) water. One wonders how well a Civil War revolver would have fired from there, but anyway. The scene was copied in Catlow in 1971.
Glenn Ford delights in shooting cockroaches from the tub in Cowboy (1958). In Big Jake (1971) the bad guys think they can get the drop on John Wayne because he’s in a shower-bath and has left his old yellow-handled .44 hanging on a peg with his clothes. Little do they know… It’s quite unusual to see a shower, though. Usually it’s an old-fashioned tub laboriously filled by pitcher. When the shower door swings open for Duke to shoot (for yes, he has another shootin’ iron in there with him) we glimpse that to save his modesty on the set he is wearing skin-colored tights. Phew, I say.
Occasionally, though, no tub is available. There can’t have been that many in the Wild West. Sometimes cowboys are reduced to using a horse trough. Sam Whiskey did that. So did Jock Mahoney in Joe Dakota (1957) and Dale Robertson in Dakota Incident (1956). It seems to have been a Dakota thing. Perhaps bathtubs hadn’t arrived in Dakota yet.
Other receptacles were pressed into service. Barrels were popular. Think of Kirk Douglas and Henry Fonda in There Was a Crooked Man (1970). Chill Wills observes Clamity Jane cleaning up in a barrel in Young Guns of Texas (1962).
Now and then there was the fellowship of the bath. That famous scene with the two Mavericks, Mel Gibson and James Garner, in Maverick, for example, in 1994. It was copied in Shanghai Noon in 2000.
In Cowboy, Glenn Ford’s bath stood alongside Jack Lemmon’s (he too learned to shoot cockroaches).
The men bathe together in Forty Guns (1957). And in Kit Carson (1940).
The old rascal Harry Spikes (Lee Marvin) shares his ‘wisdom’ with his young followers while bathing in The Spikes Gang (1974).
The scene goes on too long in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972) – but then all the scenes do. In In a Valley of Violence (2016) the hero and his dog take baths alongside each other. It’s comradely.
Ladies can take comradely baths together too, as in Pony Express (1953):
Sometimes men taking a bath are surprised by other men. Bob Ford rather creepily scrubs Jesse James’s back in I Shot Jesse James in 1949, while it’s Bob who is surprised in the tub in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 58 years later. It’s not usually a homoerotic episode, though. Western heroes are too macho for that.
Jack Nicholson traps the foppish Marlon Brando in the bath in The Missouri Breaks (1976), though regrettably doesn’t shoot him. If he had, we would have been spared reels and reels of Brando hamming. At least Jack shoots a hole in the tub, emptying it.
Of course women can take proper baths too. Think of Claudia Cardinale in that fancy bathroom in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).
Or Shirley MacLaine in Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970). In that one Clint ends up in there with her, spurs and all. In Hannie Caulder (1971) director/writer Burt Kennedy Burtishly had Raquel Welch take a bath in skin-tight buckskins.
But it was the male bath that became standard, for some reason.
I think maybe that nineteenth- and twentieth-century ideas of cleanliness being next to godliness (myself, I always thought ungodliness was next to godliness but hey) added to the idea that being clean was an urban thing, a part of the incoming civilization of the barbarous frontier, part of the ‘taming’ process, meant that a thorough wash was a passage of the wild Western frontiersman towards respectability. It was progress. When sweaty, dusty and unshaven Wyatt Earparrives in Tombstone in My Darling Clementine (1946) he gets a bath, a shave and a haircut in the Bon Ton Tonsorial Parlor, and puts on a suit and tie. He is uncertain of the hair dressing (it smells of honeysuckle) and asks the barber, “You don’t think it’s too…?” “Oh, no!” is the reply. For Wyatt looks like a gentleman now. An Easterner, in fact.
And one day I’ll do another post about barbers, because they are key Western figures too. You see, I have written about other key elements of the Western, without which the genre would be unthinkable, such as the derringer, the hats, the horses, and so on. I thought I better add soap and water.
Hats off again for this spectacular thematic compilation ! I am surprised not to see a mention of the famous Wild Bunch scene when all your readers know how much you like this masterpiece… JM
Yes, THE WILD BUNCH a good example of the comradely bath/sauna.
Hats off again for this spectacular and daring thematic compilation ! I am surprised not to see a mention of the famous Wild Bunch scene when all your readers know how much you like this masterpiece… JM
Calamity Jane (Jane Russell) used a bath to ambush would-be assassins in The Paleface. Maybe that is where Big Jake got the idea.
Yes, I'd forgotten that! There are so very many other bath scenes in Westerns. Impossible to list them all.
This is a fun thread,sadly in THE YELLOW TOMAHAWK Peggie complained to the producers that she was showing too much,hence those crude faked in shadows,just where were the objects blocking the light source. Trivia note: one of Howard W Koch's earliest gigs in the business was as Selander's assistant on the Eagle Lion B Western THE RED STALLION.Koch co founded Bel Air and Selander became more or less their "house" director on their Westerns at least. Later,when Koch was head of production at Paramount he brought Selander on board for several of the A.C.Lyles Westerns including the best one TOWN TAMER. At the moment I cannot think of any additions to your impressive bathing/skinny dipping gallery although I'm sure there are many more. In the European full length version of OLD SHATTERHAND (1964) there is a full frontal scene where Daliah Lavi goes skinny dipping by a waterfall but sadly this scene was axed from the shorter USA/UK version APACHE'S LAST BATTLE. OLD SHATTERHAND was directed by Hugo Fregonese and is far and away the best of the popular Winnetou series. In addition to Lex Barker OLD SHATTERHAND also starred Guy Madison.I hope that Jeff Arnold's West can go even kinkier in a later edition and feature Westerns with whipping scenes Selander's pictures in particular have many such scenes.
I am enjoying this now Jeff has dragged his fine blog down to my level. In THE BATTLES OF CHIEF PONTIAC (1952) a colonial Western, there is an extended scene of ladies bathing in their underwear. The film is an early effort from legendary schlockmeister Herman Cohen (I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF,HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM) There is a watchable version of THE BATTLES OF CHIEF PONTIAC available on line. In the dire Euro Western THE DESPERADOS (1969) there is an almost topless Sylvia Syms bathing scene. Henry Levin,Jack Palance and Neville Brand are light years away from their previous effort THE LONELY MAN. Actors like Vince Edwards and George Maharis are hopeless as Western leads. Producer Irving Allen should have stuck to making those dire Matt Helm pictures.
I shall probably be adding to the 'baths' post in future, as and when I come across more Westerns with bathing scenes.
Now that JEFF ARNOLD'S WEST has been lifted to John K's level.
Thinking about it a bit I don't think my "Whips in Westerns" is such a bad idea after all it was a standard weapon in many Westerns especially with characters like Zorro,Lash Larue and Whip Wilson among others. Also many Westerns feature whip wielding females and in most Westerns it's males that are on the receiving end of these whips. The film STRANGER ON HORSEBACK that you mention has bathing scenes and whips. Oddly enough I caught up with two Westerns recently that I've never seen before firstly BADLANDS OF DAKOTA where Frances Farmer playing Calamity Jane lets Fuzzy Knight take it on the butt with her bullwhip. I must admit Fuzzy looked as if he enjoyed it! In COUNT THREE AND PRAY which is more Americana than Western Alison Hayes horse whips James Griffith who certainly did not enjoy it. Those pictures come to mind because I've only recently caught up with them but there are countless others too many to mention,and just think of the wonderful picture gallery Jeff could assemble…forget Derringers; whips rule!!
Mmm, not sure about whips. That might be a step too far. Actually I also hated the whip, especially when used on animals. But you are right, the whip is a common feature of our splendid genre.
Just thought of another bathing scene in THE TALL STRANGER where Virginia Mayo goes skinny dipping ogled by nasty Michael Ansara. There is a very long shot of a nude Mayo or more to the point a body double in a flesh toned body stocking which the UK censor decided had to go otherwise it might corrupt the wayward youth of England. In UK cinemas the cut is very crudely done as Mayo approaches the water next thing we see is McCrea and Ansara in the middle of a punch up by the banks of the stream. UK TV showings of the film have the censored scene included.Regarding whips I've no problem with them being used on two legged animals which they usually were in Westerns..i.e nasty bad guys. Quiet a few Selander flicks have whip wielding females going right back to THE ROUND UP where Patricia Morison fends off a male assailant with a horse whip. In COW COUNTRY there is a remarkable POV shot where Peggie Castle really lets Robert Lowery have it. In THE BROKEN STAR Lita Baron is yet another of Selander's whip wielding women. In DESERT SANDS not a Western but a foreign legion romp second billed Mala English strides into the picture after 45 minutes and for no reason whatsoever strikes Ralph Meeker across the face with a riding whip.DESERT SANDS was Bel Air's most ambitious picture in color and Superscope but did not do much at the box office possibly due to Meeker's lack of box office clout. Meeker was a fine actor but sadly Robert Mitchum was beyond Bel Air's budget.Selander made so many pictures I'm sure there are other women with whips in his films,he certainly liked strong strident women in his pictures-a sort of Howard Hawks of B Movies if you will.
Not sure to have seen Brigitte Bardot bath in Shalako here ? You have recently reworked your post on it.
Not sure if Bardot and Moreau went bathing in Louis Malle's Viva Maria, but BB had one with Claudia Cardinale in the poor Les Petroleuses – don't know the english title if any…- directed by Christian-Jacque in 1971. It was maybe the major asset of the movie…