Debbie Reynolds, who had made a hit in MGM’s Singin’ in the Rain in 1952, had never done a Western, and indeed in her whole career would only do three, none of them any good. But in 1961 the studio cast her in The Second Time Around, a comedy-romance more than a true oater, and altogether pretty forgettable. You know instantly from the early-60s titles what you are in for.
It’s a ‘late’ Western, based on the novel Star in the West by Richard Emery Roberts (whose 1947 book was the basis of The Last Frontier in 1955). It is set in Arizona on the verge of statehood. But you wouldn’t know it really from the action because AZ is populated by classic Westerners in Stetsons and those absurd 1950s low-slung gun-belts.
In New York, Lucretia ‘Lu’ Rogers, recently widowed, leaves her two (disgustingly cutesy) small children with her severe mother-in-law (Isobel Elsom) to go out by train (Lu is impressed that it only takes four days) to Charleyville, AZ, where she has been promised a job in a store. When she gets on her feet, she says, she’ll send for the children. Unfortunately, she arrives just in time to see the casket of her would-be employer being loaded onto the train, so she is without means of support.
At the station, she meets the handsome and debonair (if slightly disreputable) gambler Dan Jones (Steve Forrest, ruggedly handsome action man of the 1960s and ’70s, as the IMDb bio calls him, who had been ‘Clint’ the year before in both Flaming Star and Heller in Pink Tights).The song The Second Time Around had been a success in Fox’s High Time in 1960, crooned by Bing Crosby (I prefer the Sinatra version):
Love is lovelier the second time around
Just as wonderful with both feet on the ground
It’s that second time you hear your love song sung
It makes you think perhaps that love, like youth, is wasted on the young.
So audiences of the film The Second Time Around had a pretty shrewd idea already of what was going to happen. It duly does. The end.
Desperate for work, Lu convinces a skeptical rancher, Aggie Gates (Thelma Ritter, the best thing about the movie – she and Debbie would be back the year after in another big yawn, How the West Was Won) to give her a job as a ranch hand.
Much of the ‘comedy’ (I put it in inverted commas with reason) is pratfalls, with Lu falling over while trying to do the job. There is one painfully obvious moment when we see a mud hole in an otherwise arid yard which studio hands have quite clearly specially prepared and which Lu is most certainly going to fall into and which she duly does, yawn.
A lot of this was down to bad directing, which was by Vincent Sherman, probably best known for being a friend of Errol Flynn and having affairs with the likes of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Rita Hayworth, but as for talent in directing, well… He didn’t do Westerns in any case – he was known as “a woman’s director”, a title he hated. He did apparently helm some scenes of The Hanging Tree when Delmer Daves was sick, and he also directed an episode of Alias Smith & Jones but this was hardly Western glory. His biggest contribution to the genre was Lone Star, Metro’s Clark Gable/Ava Gardner picture in 1952, which wasn’t too bad. The direction of The Second Time Around is plain clumsy.
The picture was produced by Louis B Mayer’s nephew Jack Cummings, who probably does not deserve forgiveness for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Many Rivers to Cross.
There’s a rival for the favors of Lu, a dumb local rancher named Pat, played by Andy Griffith (this was the year after The Andy Griffith Show started and he was already pretty popular). It was his first Western (unless you count The Andy Griffith Show, which I don’t). He would later be one of the good things about the rather charming Hearts of the West. In the end he’ll have to be satisfied with second-best Juiet Prowse as the saloon gal Rena.
So the only vague modicum of interest about The Second Time Around was guessing who will win Lu’s hand, that or maybe guessing how many times she would fall over.
The local sheriff (Ken Scott) is a crook, Lu exposes him and a grateful town (mainly the womenfolk) elects her sheriff in his place.
The dispossessed lawman attacks the town and kidnaps Lu. Dan, Pat and the townsfolk make up a posse and rescue her. Lu falls into handsome Dan’s arms and tosses her sheriff’s badge not in the dirt but to Pat.
It was shot by Ellis W Carter in Color De Luxe and CinemaScope, but I don’t really know why because there are no sweeping vistas or anything.
At best, you would call this picture silly and inconsequential but harmless. At worst, and if you hold with Sturgeon’s Law (see our last post) you’d say it was crap. You be the judge.