When we were looking the other day at the 1950s Westerns that Paramount put out (click the link for that) I mentioned as one of the studio’s 1953 offerings, Those Redheads from Seattle, though I added the rider that it “was a musical comedy, only barely a Western.” Barely, indeed. IMDb classifies it as Musical, Western but in truth the picture falls into the void between those two genres, being neither fish nor fowl and not succeeding as either, as any passing ichthyologist or ornithologist will readily attest.
Not that I am an expert on musicals. Au contraire, I rather look down on the genre. Not my cup of tea at all. I do enjoy a Western with songs. That’s different. Not so much the singing cowboys. I always thought they were a bit wet, even when I was a boy. But when a saloon gal gets up and trills a racy tune, that can be a lot of fun.
Still, I’m not qualified to judge whether a picture is a good musical. I wouldn’t know. I’m not even sure there’s such a thing. But when most of the chansons are frankly dire and the lead stars (in this case Rhonda Fleming and Gene Barry, who actually both had fine singing voices) don’t even get a song, well, that’s not a good musical, is it?
It most certainly isn’t a good Western, I can tell you that. The opening and final scenes are quite Western. In the first reel we are in the Klondike and arson and murder are committed, as the Dawson newspaper owner, who is a dead ringer for Mr Neville Chamberlain but is in fact Frank Wilcox, is slain, for his forthright denunciations of criminality. And the last reel gives us a Western-style showdown with the bad guys, who are, naturally, vanquished. But all the rest, in between, is cheesy second-rate comedy.
I’ve always been a fan of top-billed Ms Fleming. In fact she may soon deserve an entry into our The Westerns of… lexicon. She was very beautiful and a good actress. She did twelve feature oaters and was especially memorable in Gunfight at the OK Corral, Alias Jesse James, Tennessee’s Partner, and another ‘redhead’ picture, The Redhead and the Cowboy with Glenn Ford – though we had to take the redheadedness on trust in that one because it was in black & white. The Technicolor of Those Redheads from Seattle showed la belle rousse in all her glory, however.
Her co-star Barry, as the louche saloon owner who develops a conscience, known for his “effortless class and elegant charm”, as the IMDb bio puts it, was a violinist and singer who became (for me) Bat Masterson, a role in which he gave full rein to that effortless class and elegant charm, though less to violin playing and singing. I loved that show in my youth. Mr Barry is rather overshadowed in this picture.
Gene is backed up by singer Guy Mitchell, for me forever blessed for Singin’ the Blues, who was, you will recall, George Romack, Audie’s partner on Whispering Smith. He gets the best song, I Guess It Was You All the Time, by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, on which he duets with Teresa Brewer, whose voice was too harsh for my taste though doubtless she has her fans.
Probably the best actor on the set was Agnes Moorehead as the redheads’ mama. Ms Moorehead (another trained singer who doesn’t get a song in this one) was most memorable for me as Frank and Jesse James’ mother in The True Story of Jesse James (which wasn’t but we’ll let that pass). She was also terrific in Station West.
I spotted Stanley Andrews as the sheriff and Paul E Burns as the hotel manager, so that was something, I suppose.
The picture was (poorly) directed by Lewis R Foster, who helmed a few John Payne Westerns and one with Rhonda again, and a plodding Ronald Reagan, in the plodding The Last Outpost. Perhaps Lewis was good at musicals.
It was shot in 3D, all the rage in ’53, though of course most saw it in humbler two dimensions.
It was a Pine-Thomas production. William Pine and William Thomas, known as the Dollar Bills, rarely lost money on a movie. They produced a remarkable 81 pictures for Paramount. Twelve were Westerns, often with Cecil B DeMille, unfortunately. Albuquerque with Randy was about their best.
On Those Redheads there was minimal and perfunctory location footage, lifted from other movies, it looked like, while most was done in the studio, often with almost MGM-level soundstage + back-projection shots – though maybe not quite that bad. Probably the Dollar Bills got that from DeMille. Anyway, there’s nothing visually attractive enough to detract from the overall direness of the rest.
Well, well, perhaps fans of musical comedies will enjoy this one. Good luck to ’em.