Nineteenth century Wyoming: the wild West. Mild-mannered Tom Healy has a two-wagon theater troupe hounded by creditors because Angela, his leading lady and the object of his affection, constantly buys clothes. In Cheyenne, they meet with applause, so they hope to stay awhile: the theater owner likes Angela, and she keeps him on a string. She's also the object of the attentions of Mabry, a gunslinger who's owed money by the richest man in Bonanza. Complications arise and the troupe heads for Bonanza, through hostile Indian territory. Is the troupe doomed to a peripatetic life, is Mabry in danger, and does Tom stand a chance with Angela, a hellion in pink tights? Written by
This is George Cukor's sole attempt at a western. As is typical of Cukor, instead of doing a western like Ford or Hawks or Curtiz as a look at men fighting men against pure nature backgrounds we have Cukor looking at the coming of culture to the West (here in the acting troop led by Anthony Quinn and Sophia Loren), and how it is doomed to triumph over the individualist (here Steve Forrest, a desperado who ends up accepting his defeat). It is not a great western (Ford and the others were better at that type), but it a worthy exception to the rule (Ford did deal with culture twice, using Alan Mowbray in "My Darling Clementine" and "Wagon Master" as a fading Shakespearean - although he pulls himself together in the second film). Cukor loves the theater (his one film noir, "A Double Life" is set in a theater in New York City). Here some of the most interesting things are the company rehearsing (in one scene they are putting on Offenbach's "La Belle Hellene"). But what is most interesting is their guaranteed show stopper - "Mazeppa".
It was a popular play in the middle 19th Century, based on an incident of the wars between Peter the Great and Charles XIV of Sweden. Mazeppa, a "hetman" of the Ukranian Cossacks, was captured by his enemies, tied naked to a wild horse, which was released into the forest. Mazeppa died as a result. The play was a big success for Adah Mencken, a poet and actress who was prominent in the 1860s on both sides of the Atlantic, and was briefly married to John Heenan, the leading heavyweight champ of America (bare knuckles days). To tittle-late the men in the audience she wore skin colored clothing, so that it looked like she was naked. Sophia Loren puts on similar (pink colored) tights - hence the films' title - and does the scene on a real horse and a moving stage. It certainly is interesting to see a brief glance at a 19th Century dramatic highlight, even if it seems rather silly to us today.
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