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Mild comedy starring Ginger Rogers as a corset shop owner who goes
broke and becomes a traveling saleslady in 1897 Texas. But because she
owes money she ends up selling barbed wire. Very strange premise but a
decent cast and a few good lines here and there save this one.
Rogers' modeling assistant is none other than Carol Channing, in Hollywood after her smash success on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. And she's not bad at all. Channing does a quickie song called A Corset Can Do a Lot for a Lady and she's hilarious, altering between her trademark Channing voice and some basso sounds that sound like Bea Arthur. Too bad the direction--as usual--cuts away from her to show the man behind the desk. Musicals always did this--cut away from the performer to show the audience.
James Arness is the rancher. Barry Nelson is the car owner. David Brian is the steel man. Clint Eastwood is the cavalry man. Robert F. Simon is a henchman.
What helps sink this is the overall cheap look and bad color. Rogers would star in 2 more films and then appear only sporadically. Channing would not appear in a film for another decade but would win an Oscar nomination for it--Thoroughly Modern Millie. And this is NOT Channing's film debut as is often stated. She had appeared in Paid in Full in 1950. But this was Eastwood's first screen kiss---with Carol Channing!
In this day and age of R rated movies with blood and sex and violence, isn't it nice to have a little foolishness and fun in beautiful color. Enjoyed the costuming. Loved seeing Clint Eastwood in his youth. Loved seeing Carol Channing as well. James Arness before Gunsmoke was fun. It was just a fun movie for a rainy Sunday afternoon.The movies with Doris Day, Ginger Rogers, and others at the time brought relaxation and escape. Reality movies like we see today are too real. Our lives are real enough.To go back to a time that was relaxing, funny, and not real is a good break. Nothing wrong with reality movies, but movies like this are a chance to take a breath, smile and enjoy with the whole family.
Just finished "The First Traveling Saleslady" and I want to thank this site for a much more complete synopsis of the movie. I first clicked on Movie Tome and it didn't even list Ginger Rogers nor Carol Channing in the cast!! Watched it with my father (83) and my wife. We all found it to be a nice, enjoyable movie. Not as much singing as I expected with the two female leads and Ginger Roger's speaking voice was unusual (and I've seen a lot of movies with her from all those she did with Astaire as well as "The Major and the Minor"). Sounded like she was trying to do a match for Channing? Anyway, although you pretty much knew Barry Nelson would get here in the end making it rather predictable, it was cute, clean, and a lot of fun. I'd recommend it to anyone who's not overly critical and looking for relaxing, fun movie.
This film is an interesting time capsule. It was made in the late
1950s, and it shows some stars who are on their way up, and one who is
on her way out. An unfair thing to say to Ginger Rogers, but this is
not one of the films (like KITTY FOYLE, her movies with Fred Astaire,
THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR, or ROXY HART) that people remember her for.
Ginger would still be making films until 1965, her last one an Italian
comedy with Ray Milland, but they were all lesser efforts - although
she did deliver good performances.
But three (no, make it four) of the stars actually were on their way up - or seemed to be. They are Clint Eastwood, Carol Channing, James Arness, and Barry Nelson. It was the sixth or seventh movie Eastwood had appeared in, and (I believe) the first one where he 1) had substantial dialog to give his film persona a real character, and 2) he was one of the male leads and was paired with the second female lead whom he romances, kisses, and marries. This is Ms Channing, playing "Molly", Rogers closest friend and partner in the saleslady business. Channing's character actually has better lines (at times) than Rogers did - funnier ones too. She is no budding feminist, but a rationalist (when she and Rogers are threatened for selling barbed wire in cattleman country, she suggests - reasonably - that they leave). It might strike a modern film lover as incongruous that Eastwood and Channing go off together at the end of this film, but in reality it's not so odd. Channing was always a greater Broadway star than Hollywood star (her best screen role would be in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, where she was Mary Tyler Moore's eccentric aunt who trounces Bea Lillie). She did not make more than a dozen or so films in her career. She is not more than five or six years older than Eastwood, and their pairing together is not so unlikely as it seems (the pairing of Nelson and Rogers is more unlikely). She too landed this role because her career (like Eastwood's) was on the rise - she just having won Broadway laurels in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES as "Loralie Lee". Ironically, that performance was not captured by her on film, but Marilyn Monroe performed it. Also ironic is her pairing as Rogers' friend, as one of Channing's later hit performances was as Dolly Gallagher Levi in the original HELLO DOLLY, and she was replaced in it by Rogers.
James Arness had been in films since the late 1940s, appearing in several John Ford films like WAGON MASTER, John Wayne films like ISLAND IN THE SKY as well as THEM and some other science fiction movies. But in 1956, the U.S. public was getting used to Arness in the television western hit GUNSMOKE (as Marshall Matt Dillon). That role of a lifetime (literally) made his name and career - he was on the way to super stardom. So his performance as Joel Kingdom, ostensibly the villain of the film, is balanced by his sense of humor and his interest in possibly marrying Rogers.
The fourth figure was Barry Nelson. Nelson is an interesting person. He was a capable performer, and he did have one real good comic lead part in MARY, MARY. But while respected in the industry, Nelson never made it with the public. He was good looking but not striking (Arness has a more rugged handsome appearance, which stood him well in GUNSMOKE and other western roles).
Upon some reconsideration one can add a fifth figure - David Brian. A good looking man, who always looked like he had just left a hefty Board Room conference with fellow company directors, he gave some excellent performances in his career as good guy (he ends up with Joan Crawford in FLAMINGO ROAD) or bad guy. But like Nelson, while he was always employable he never caught on with the public. Here, he too is interested in Rogers. He reluctantly agrees to her selling the barbed wire in Texas, but he does so because when she fails he plans to marry her. All this does in the end is lead to him and Arness having a fistfight, but both discovering that Nelson has outmaneuvered them with another sigh of progress - Nelson's horseless carriage.
It is a sweet little film, but no more than that. My favorite moment comes in the hotel sequences. Rogers and Channing trick Arness into giving up his use of the PRINCE OF WALES suite in a cattle town hotel. They are looking forward, after dinner, to sleeping in this fancy room. They find a bald, bearded fat man snoring in the bed. It turns out it is Prince Albert Edward (the future King Edward VII) who has come to town after all, and has a running right to the use of the room.
This was Ginger Rogers last movie for the studio in which she was a
star, RKO Radio. In fact, most of the interest in watching this weak
attempt at comedy is the cast that was put together for the film.
Director Arthur Lubin seems to have been directed by remote control and
the screen play Devery Freeman and Stephen Longstreet supplied was not
interesting. It's a mystery how this film was made, at all.
Unfortunately, the film doesn't offer much to Ginger Rogers in the way of an colorful role to play. She was a much better actress that deserved better than this Rose Gillray, the corset maker turned barb wire saleslady. Barry Nelson is the man who believes in the future of the automobile and whose path to California keeps meeting Rose in the most unlikely places. Ms. Rogers and Mr. Nelson don't show much chemistry between them, and probably this is where the film fails, something than with another director, could have been solved, but which Mr. Lubin ignored.
The film offers performances by Carol Channing, a Broadway star that never made it big in the movies. She plays Molly, Rose Gillray's assistant. In fact, she has the best lines in the film. A young Clint Eastwood is seen as Lt. Jack Rice, a member of the Rough Riders that Rose and Molly meet at the hotel. James Arness, another television idol, plays the rich landowner Joel Kingdom. Lastly, David Brian, an actor that tended to be seen in heavy roles, makes a good appearance as James Carter, the barb wire manufacturer.
This is a film to be watched as a curiosity.
Take dancing queen Ginger Rogers; pair her with dizzy queen Carol Channing,
and you've got one of the oddest teamings in film history.
Ginger and Carol must have had some laughs over this one years
when Ginger prepared to take over the role of Dolly Levi from
on Broadway in "Hello, Dolly!". This is one of RKO's last films,
how sad it must have been for Ginger to return to the studio that
her a star when it was on the verge of becoming the property of
Ball and Desi Arnaz. She had not made a film there in ten years, so
must have brought back some long-forgotten memories.
The film is a period comedy about corset saleswoman Rogers who wants to make it in a man's world by selling barbed wire after previous salesmen were either lynched or run out of town. Channing is her pal, a ditzy gal who sings the show-stopping "A corset can do a lot for a lady" to advertise their colorful girdles. (With this song out there, why "Que Sera Sera" won best song in 1956 makes no sense to me!) Together, they join forces to take on the men of the wild west, especially brauny James Arness. Then, there is Barry Nelson as the wisecracking man who keeps crossing Ginger's past. Serious dilemnas arise: will Ginger and Carol emancipate the west from cattle barons like Arness who refuse to allow barbed wire onto their lands? Or will they end up lynched or thrown out of town with their corset stays between their legs? Which man will Rogers choose, Arness or Nelson? And then, the most important question: will Clint Eastwood (as Channing's beau) ever crack a smile? All these questions end up being answered in a trial that would make Frank Capra jealous.
OK, so "The First Traveling Saleslady" is no "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town", or even a "Mr. Winkle Goes to War". But its the type of comedy that older leading actresses like Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne, Rosalind Russell, and Rogers were being given towards the end of their career. The comedy isn't classic, but it isn't low. It produces smiles, a few groans, and one or two major chuckles. If you compare this to most other RKO features of the mid 1950's, its barely better or worse than the others. Rogers and Channing, sadly, did not photograph too well; the men were much luckier.
I first saw this as a teenager, and really enjoyed it. As a young adult, I got some amusement out of it, and recently thought, "What the heck did I find so amusing?" So I must admit, the more sophisticated you get, the less you will laugh.
A dull little situation comedy made at the end of RKO's reign, and it looks desperate -- the patently false production values, the cheesy Americana, the mid-century niceness that dates so many '40s and '50s movies. However, and I can say this with authority: It's the only movie you will ever see where Clint Eastwood ends up paired with CAROL CHANNING. The Fifties were strange times, children.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a lightweight but fun comedy with a seasoned (44) Ginger
Rogers, who in 1897 is billed as the first traveling saleslady, selling
corsets with steel reinforcements. Having trouble selling corsets in
the conservative new west, because the townswomen protest, she
overhears a big steel boss lamenting the fact that his barbed wire
salesmen keep getting shot and killed. Undaunted and seemingly willing
to face any challenge, the bigger the better, Rose Gillray (Rogers)
steps and convinces a reluctant boss to let her sell barbed wire.
(Most cattle owners, especially the smaller ones, wanted a good way to pen in their cattle. But the big ranch owners who wanted to preserve open spaces and free grazing were against it, and tried to convince everyone that the cattle would cut themselves up with barbed wire.)
This is a comedy all the way and Ginger Rogers is in fine form. Her voice and delivery of lines reminded me of Lucille Ball who most of us know from more contemporary TV series. But the movie, in Technicolor, is especially enjoyable to see so many stars when they were younger, plus a mature Ginger Rogers.
SPOILERS FOLLOW. Down in Texas the local biggest rancher and town boss Joel Kingdom (James Arness) had Rose and her assistant Molly (Channing) locked up as a way to preserve their status quo. But after Rose's friend and admirer Charles Masters (Barry Nelson) bailed them out, Rose enlisted the help of a traveling marshal, and got a trial set up to settle the issue. In a somewhat hokey scene, with barbed wire protecting the court house, the townswomen drove a large herd of cattle towards the courthouse and showed that the cattle would stop at the barbed wire and not cut themselves up. Barbed wire sales boomed!
Clint Eastwood was around 25 here, in his first movie role that had any continuity through the story, as Lt. Jack Rice, a member of the Roughriders. When Molly first meets him she swoons for him, and eventually they end up together. Joel Kingdom tries to neutralize Rose by getting her to marry him, and be his housewife, but she will have none of that. The movie ends with Rose and Charles off towards California in a sputtering motor car, soon to be married, and musing about what sales opportunities she can find there.
One of the final RKO radio films produced in the last leap of faith in 1956. THE FIRST TRAVELING SALESLADY is a very enjoyable light comedy. What sets it apart from TV shows like PETTICOAT JUNCTION or films like OKLAHOMA both of which it strongly resembles is the A studio production values which allow the film to take on a lavish western look more akin to CALAMITY JANE. It is a jalopy western set in the horseless carriage days of 1899. Ginger Rogers was 43 and Carol Channing was 35 in production and given the mature age of both and the feminist slant of the story, it makes for a liberating tone for a film of the mid 50s. It is well worth looking at the last 20 films made at the RKO studio in this period by RKO TELERADIO PRODUCTIONS who revived the label after Howard Hughes trashed it. All 1955-58 RKO films are very well made, above the prior years of Hughes. TRAVELING SALESLADY is beautiful to see and has visuals cluttered with style and color. I thought it quite lavish in some scenes with overstuffed furniture and antiques that must have helped see unloved props get a final airing. In widescreen and technicolor it must have resembled GIGI or THE MERRY WIDOW. The most hilarious scenes to really really lap up involve a very young Clint Eastwood (25 years old) kissing Carol Channing! Fantastic! They elope together in the last reel! The railway station Ginger arrives at earlier at is the same as seen in OKLAHOMA, the last big musical distributed by RKO; Their very last film a minor but snazzy musical was THE GIRL MOST LIKELY also beautifully produced. Shame they gave up, but their films of the time, terrific as they were and modern in tone, just did not include respectable profits to continue. All other studios big and small had at least one blockbuster in this period, but alas RKO and Republic did not and folded.
Was that Bob Hope I glimpsed as an Indian whom Ginger Rogers encounters out in front of the hotel when she arrives in the West? I didn't get a good look, but could swear it was him mugging. This is an easy film to relax and enjoy, if you don't expect too much. Carol Channing is a hoot, especially when she is singing. (I think she improved some by the time she did Hello, Dolly.) Clint Eastwood has come a long way since this performance. And I don't think I've ever seen James Arness in anything outside of Gunsmoke. The movie is full of strained jokes and unlikely coincidences, all contrived to make the best of an obviously limp script and a cast of stars. Watch it if you have a couple of hours to kill.
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