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J. Walter Ruben
The red flags went up the moment I spotted William A. Wellman's name as the director of this hybrid western/musical which has RICHARD DIX as an Australian bandit named "Stingaree" who also happens to be a noticeably ungifted song writer responsible for some of the numbers IRENE DUNNE is forced to sing in this film. He's a bandit who finances the career of a pretty operatic singer. (One number, in particular, gets quite a tiresome workout from Dunne's quavering soprano).
Wellman's name is usually associated with much sturdier material than he has here--films like WINGS, BEAU GESTE and THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY. On the other hand, STINGAREE is not a formulaic musical so perhaps he knew what he was getting into.
While Miss Dunne is one of my favorite actresses (and I know she was chosen to play Magnolia in James Whale's SHOW BOAT), she has never been one of my favorite sopranos and this film didn't change my mind at all. Indeed, the film itself does nobody any great favor because the plodding script goes off in so many different directions, you're never quite sure whether it's meant to be serious or comic. Only when ANDY DEVINE and MARY BOLAND give out with some non-subtle comic relief in supporting roles can we be sure what the intentions are.
Let's just say that not every film that turns up on TCM's "lost and found" package of RKO films deserves to be resurrected--nor are they necessarily classics, so to speak. STINGAREE is one of them, best forgotten as an outmoded and lumbersome sort of film easily ignored unless you happen to be an ardent admirer of either Miss Dunne or Mr. Dix, both of whom have done better work elsewhere.
Dunne excelled in the '30s and '40s as a woman who was usually one step ahead of, and smarter than, the man (a more feminine version of the characters Katharine Hepburn often played). As the ingenue of a mixed up western, she's not exactly in her element and Richard Dix (even with a mustache) is just as hard to believe as a bandit as Nelson Eddy was in THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST. At least he and Jeanette had some good songs to sing.
For comic relief, we have reliables like ANDY DEVINE, MARY BOLAND (a stridently over-mannered performance), HENRY STEPHENSON and UNA O'CONNOR on hand, but nothing really helps.
Summing up: A curious misfire that must have had a target audience once upon a time in pre-code 1934, but that audience no longer exists outside a small clique who love anything made in the '30s, whether good, bad or indifferent, as long as TCM presents it. The title song sounds suspiciously like a Rudolf Friml reject.
Trivia note: Dunne and Dix were both better received in CIMARRON made three years earlier and without music.
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