Pennsylvania, 1859. Railroad tycoon Brennan (Alan Hale) is muscling in on oil-drilling farmers, led by Peter Cortland (Randolph Scott). Cortland must try to save their oil business, while also saving his marriage to Sally (Irene Dunne).
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The setting is a small town in 1870s Pennsylvania. Sally Waterson and her father have stopped in town with their traveling medicine show, but when their wagon catches fire, they find themselves stranded. They're taken in by Mrs. Cortlandt and her grandson, Peter, who is trying to set up a pipeline that will supply oil throughout the state. Sally and Peter soon fall in love and marry. Neither their marriage nor Peter's pipe dreams flow too smoothly. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <email@example.com>
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High, Wide, and Handsome is a forgotten gem of a movie from 1937. Jermone Kern and Oscar Hammerstein created this sprawling musical adventure for the screen following the popularity of the 1936 film version of their musical, Show Boat, which also starred the great Irene Dunne.
Here Dunne plays a singer in a traveling snake oil show run by her father (Raymond Walburn). They bottle "rock oil" and sell it as an elixir. Dunne sings and dances in the show while daddy hawks the tonic. William Frawley plays a fake Indian who is also part of the show. After their wagon burns down, they are taken in by a local farmer (Randolph Scott) and his grandmother (Elizabeth Patterson). Of course Scott and Dunne fall in love, but Scott is sidetracked by his ideas for drilling for oil in 1850s Pennsylvania.
Songs, romance, and action combine to make this an unusual film as the couple battles the local bible thumpers as well as the crooked railroad men, led by Alan Hale. Along the way Dunne rescues a saloon singer (Dorothy Lamour) and runs away with a traveling circus. They pack a lot of story into this 112-minute film.
Dunne is, as always, a total pleasure to watch. She gets to sing almost all the songs in this musical (Scott never sings) and duets with Lamour on "Allegheny Al." The best song is the wonderful "The Folks Who Live on the Hill," which Dunne sings in closeup with a gentle breeze rustling apple blossoms and her lace bonnet. Scott is good in a role usually played by Joel McCrea, but Scott and Dunne have good chemistry. They also worked together in Roberta and My Favorite Wife.
Supporting cast is fine, headed by Patterson as the feisty grandmother, Walburn as the father, Frawley as the Indian (he also gets a number), Ben Blue as a mute, Lamour as the dumb-cluck who sings "The Things I Want" in fabulous close-up, Hale as the corrupt railroad man, Helen Lowell as a gossip, Irving Pichel as the bible thumper, and Akim Tamiroff as the saloon owner. Also of note is Charles Bickford is the bully. Bickford had starred with Dunne is the previous No Other Woman.
Worth looking for.
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