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Joseph M. Newman
Steve Dailey is in the Abilene, Kansas jail waiting to be hanged when Judge Carr brings Cheyenne O'Malley into his cell and says that Dailey can go free if he marries the girl, without knowing her name, because she must have a husband to claim an estate. Dailey agrees and gets a letter of pardon from the Judge, who plans to kill him, but Dailey, with the help of his friend, Podo, escapes the jail and the Judge's hired killer, "Slow" Karp. He sets out to find his new bride but is captured and taken to the mansion of John Parnell. The latter tells Dailey that Cheyenne is actually a half-breed who runs a fur-trading company and needed a husband because of provisions in her father's will. Parnell is also a fur-trader but he wants Dailey to take over her business so they can work together. Dailey agrees, trails the wagon train and takes over but not before Cheyenne bull-whips him. Meanwhile, Karp has been hired by Judge Carr to kill Dailey and hired by Parnell to keep him alive. He plays ... Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
During the exterior shot of the judge; Julia and Pine Hawk opening the front door of the Sheriff's office and entering, we see that behind the door is a corridor with a flight of stairs on the left leading upward. In the next shot, an interior shot showing them entering the Sheriff's office through the front door, we see that it is one room, with no sign of any flight of stairs, let alone a corridor. See more »
"Bullwhip" is a romantic comedy with a Western setting. The hero, Steve Dailey, is in jail waiting to be hanged on a charge of murder- he says it was self-defence- when he is offered his freedom on condition he marries an unknown young woman. According to the Judge she needs a husband in order to fulfil and condition of her late father's will, which stipulated that she could only inherit his estate if married.
Unsurprisingly, Dailey accepts this offer, setting in motion a plot particularly convoluted even by the standards of rom-coms. The unknown woman turns out to be Cheyenne O'Malley, the half-Indian daughter of an Irish fur-trader and heiress to a considerable fortune. Cheyenne is a tough, independent woman- the film's title derives from the whip she always carries- and she and Dailey take an immediate dislike to one another, thus setting up the standard rom-com cliché that true love always follows hatred at first sight. In another complication, Dailey is being trailed by a hired gunman who has been hired not only to kill him (by the Judge, who wants his part in the murky affair hushed up) but also to keep him alive (by another fur trader who is hoping to go into partnership with Dailey once he has taken over his wife's business).
The film contains echoes of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew", with Dailey as Petruchio and Cheyenne as Katharina. The Western was, generally, a male-dominated genre; I can think of plenty of well-known examples without a single significant female character, and plenty more where the female characters are only there to provide the hero's love-interest or to be protected by the hero against the villains. There were, of course, Westerns with a strong female lead- Joan Crawford in "Johnny Guitar" is a good example- but these tended to be the exception rather than the rule.
Even films which did have a leading female figure could end by reasserting traditional gender roles; the hard-bitten heroine of "Calamity Jane", for example, ends up by swapping her buckskins for a frilly dress and settling down to married life, an ending for which we have already been subconsciously prepared by the casting of Doris Day, an actress better known for romantic comedy as an action-adventure heroine. "Bullwhip" tells a similar story, the transformation of its heroine from a proud, independent woman to a submissive, domesticated wife, as Cheyenne learns to accept her husband's authority. She tries to use her bullwhip on him, but soon wishes she hadn't.
There will doubtless be many today who would regard the attitudes revealed by films like this as offensive, but they were fairly commonplace in the cinema of the fifties, and not only in Westerns. Even when judged by the standards of the fifties, however, "Bullwhip" does not work particularly well as a film. A romantic comedy on the "Taming of the Shrew" theme needs a much more dominant hero than the rather colourless Guy Madison, an actor whom I had not come across before except for a minor role in "Since You Went Away". (If this film is typical of the standard of his work, it is hardly surprising that he is no longer a household name). Rhonda Fleming is better as the fiery red-headed Cheyenne, although she is not good enough to carry the film on her own. Her looks, moreover, do not really suggest the Indian blood with which she is credited by the script.
"Bullwhip" is typical of the many Western B-movies that were churned out by the studios in the fifties. Such films were rarely spectacularly bad, and this one is not. Technically, it is competently made, the actors for the most part play their parts adequately if not particularly well. Nevertheless, it never rises far above the level of the mediocre, which it might have done had there been a greater rapport between the two leads. 5/10
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