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A tough, womanizing high-stakes gambler known only as Tennessee has an uneasy relationship with Duchess, madam of a thinly-disguised bordello, and no other friends at all. But he's saved from murder by a lonesome cowpoke ('My friends call me Cowpoke'), in town to meet his fiancée Goldie on the steamboat. When she arrives, there's a mysterious undercurrent between Goldie and Tennessee, whose newfound friendship with Cowpoke is destined to be severely tried... Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
You're rotten, Tennessee, dirty. And what's more, you like it that way.
Tennessee's Partner is directed by Allan Dwan and collectively adapted to screenplay by Milton Krims, D.D. Beauchamp, Teddi Sherman and Graham Baker from a short story written by Bret Harte. It stars John Payne, Rhonda Fleming, Ronald Reagan and Coleen Gray. Music is by Louis Forbes and cinematography by John Alton.
We are in a gold mining town in California and Tennessee (Payne) is an excellent poker player operating out of Elizabeth 'Duchess' Farnham's (Fleming) bordello. But when you are so good at cards you make enemies fast and Tennessee is only saved from being killed by the intervention of a stranger named Cowpoke (Reagan). The two men quickly become friends, but that friendship is sorely tested when Cowpoke's intended bride to be turns out to be a no good gold digger whom Tennessee knows well.
Producer Benedict Bogeaus once again assembles the principals that made the excellent Silver Lode the previous year. Dwann directs Payne while Alton photographs and Forbes drips his Western flavoured music over the top of things. Although this is not in the same league as Silver Lode, it's a hugely enjoyable movie in spite of adhering to a formula so rife in B Westerns of the 50s. The plot has enough going for it to keep it from ever feeling lazy, at its heart is a friendship under pressure from matters of the heart, but there is also gold in them thar hills, and with that also comes greed and irrational behaviour. With all hostile roads leading to Payne's gambling anti-hero.
The friendship between Tennessee and Cowpoke is very engaging. Tennessee has no friends, his line of work and his womanising ways have ensured that is the case, but Cowpoke is an amiable fella who only judges what he sees at first hand, and Tennesse welcomes this with open arms. But Cowpoke is gullible as well, especially where viper in the nest Goldie (Gray) is concerned. With Payne making Tennessee calm and slick, and Dwan able to get a very human aw-shucks performance out of Reagan for Cowpoke, they are interesting polar opposites, but still it's very easy for the audience to care what happens to them. While Fleming's Duchess is beautiful and brainy, and she's the glue holding firm while the town comes apart.
The French Region 2 DVD is not a perfect print, but it has transfered well enough to see the benefit of having John Alton on photography. Filmed out of Iverson Ranch, the film barely sets foot out of the confines of the town, so this is all about close character filming and sumptuous Technicolor lenses, and here Alton excels. The costuming (Gwen Wakeling) is first rate, especially for Fleming, who gets to don a number of knockout dresses, with a red one eye poppingly gorgeous, and the set design for the bordello/gambling den is wonderfully ornate. So with a good blend of quality aesthetics and weighty plotting, Tennessee's Partner easily shakes of its "B" budget beginnings to become a safe recommendation to the Western lover. 7.5/10
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