Chester Wooley (Lou Costello) and Duke Egan (Bud Abbott) are traveling salesmen who make a stopover in Wagon Gap, Montana while en route to California. During the stopover, a notorious ... See full summary »
Chester Wooley (Lou Costello) and Duke Egan (Bud Abbott) are traveling salesmen who make a stopover in Wagon Gap, Montana while en route to California. During the stopover, a notorious criminal, Fred Hawkins, is murdered, and the two are charged with the crime. They are quickly tried, convicted, and sentenced to die by hanging. The head of the local citizen's committee, Jim Simpson (William Ching), recalls a law whereby the survivor of a gun duel must take responsibility for the deceased's debts and family. The law spares the two from execution, but Chester is now responsible for the widow Hawkins (Marjorie Main) and her seven children. They go to her farm, where Chester is worked by Mrs. Hawkins from dawn to dusk. To make matters worse, Chester must work at the saloon at night to repay Hawkin's debt to its owner, Jake Frame (Gordon Jones). Her plan is to wear Chester down until he agrees to marry her. Chester quickly learns that no one will harm him, for fear that they will have to ... Written by
"Mrs. Hawkins, marriage is nothing but a three ring circus, first the engagement ring, then the wedding ring, and then suffering."
Abbott and Costello managed to wreak havoc in virtually every type of movie genre, and the Western was no exception. They did it the first time in 1942's "Ride 'Em Cowboy", and came back once more in "The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap". The boys are traveling salesmen for all of about five minutes in the film's introduction, before Lou's character Chester Wooley fires a gun into the air, claiming a victim by the name of Hawkins. When members of a hastily called jury arrive with nooses to determine his fate, Wooley is saved by a Montana law that requires the victor in a duel to provide for the departed's widow and family. In this case the widow Hawkins is Marjorie Main, not terribly upset by her new unmarried status, but determined to wed once again.
Perennial Costello foil Gordon Jones is on hand here as outlaw gang leader Jake Frame, and as usual is largely ineffective in reigning in his nemesis. Eventually Chester is appointed sheriff to clean up Frame and his gang, on the assumption that no one will shoot him because then the wife and child support duties will in turn fall to them. Chester plays it to the hilt with a picture of Mrs. Hawkins and her brood close to his heart, or in his back pocket as it were, lending formidable support to his cause.
If you've seen much of Abbott and Costello in other films, you'll sense something missing here. Their early films tended to include a host of musical numbers, and physical comedy punctuated by at least three or four well choreographed routines. The finale usually turned into a frenetic thrill ride on some appropriately misguided missile appropriate to the movie's theme, in "Ride 'Em Cowboy" it was a stampeding bronco. In this movie you find yourself leaning forward for the payoffs, but they're fewer and further between. The frog in the soup routine is the one recognizable bit, and he comes back for a quick cameo later on.
Besides Marjorie Main, there's not much of a supporting cast here either. "Ride 'Em Cowboy" featured a pair of legitimate "B" Western movie stars in Johnny Mack Brown and Dick Foran. The best this film can do is give us a glimpse of gang members Glenn Strange and Rex Lease, with George Cleveland as Judge Benbow who by film's end winds up with the widow's hand in a Bud Abbott film flam that turns out to be real.
Don't be put off by my lukewarm recommendation here, "The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap" is an enjoyable vehicle for A&C fans, but they've been better in other vehicles. So was the frog.
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