A wealthy New York socialite falls for and marries a cowboy while out West. Her father disinherits her, and after trying to make a go of it as a cowboy's wife, they agree to divorce and she...
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A wealthy New York socialite falls for and marries a cowboy while out West. Her father disinherits her, and after trying to make a go of it as a cowboy's wife, they agree to divorce and she returns back east to her family. However, she soon changes her mind and determines to get her husband back.Written by
A FORGOTTEN CLASSIC WITH BOTH STARS AT THEIR VERY PEAK
Lombard is rich, spoiled heiress, and dad is really mad about her latest escapades. He demands that she go out west to their ranch or be disinherited. Her boyfriend suggests an alternative: they could get married and sail for Europe. Which will it be? Unhesitatingly, she chooses the ranch! These scenes are lightly played; will this be an "heiress and the cowboy" romantic comedy? No; it's something more than that! When she arrives at the western station, it becomes an altogether more subtle, more serious, far more interesting film. The man to meet her isn't there, and she impatiently honks the car horn. (There's a kid in the next parked car, and he thinks this is grand fun, honking the fancy horn on his own car.) When Cooper shows up, he ignores Lombard of course, but it's not done with standard "writers' business." Cooper piles into the front seat with another girl, and the two have an inconsequential conversation about shopping. (The girl is not seen again.) The next day, when the boss picks a man to show Lombard around, she surreptitiously fingers Cooper. And when he makes her look foolish, she first goes to the foreman to have him fired, but abruptly changes her mind: "No, it was my fault." The question the hands ask each other is, is she like her dad, or is she like her granddad, the grand old man they admired. They think maybe the latter. She tells her city companion that she's decided to make Cooper fall in love with her before they leave. This situation has been played out a thousand times in films and light fiction before and after this film was made, but never as simply and starkly as here. All of that "writers' business" is just canned and the scenes are pared down to the simplest, briefest moments. When the time comes for her to reveal her trick, the scene is short and elliptical. He starts leading up to ask her to marry him. She laughs, turns and steps away. From this he instantly understands the whole situation, and his one simple line of dialogue shows what he thinks of the trick. So she's going back east, and at the train she tells him, "I'm running away from you, but I won't forget you for a long time to come." Then at the last minute she gets off the train. And they get married. The heiress living in a one-room shack on a cattle farm in the middle of nowhere through a midwest winter; what are the odds of any realism? Against all odds, this film again comes through. Lombard is superb. She hates it but she bears it, she doesn't take it out on him. Her sense of fair play, of realizing his needs, of understanding that this is exactly what she signed up for, is so well articulated that, although it's obvious that she's having a tough time, still, when she pours out to a neighbor woman her utter feeling of desolation and her plan to leave as soon as possible and never come back, it comes a shock how deeply she feels it. She sees him through the winter, but then skips out, leaving him a letter. Back east, the film still doesn't falter. Her old boy friend asks, "Would you still marry me?" and she answers with a heartfelt yes. Then, in the same sincere and friendly tones, as only Lombard could, she says, "Tell me why I don't love you..." When Cooper shows up, he's never made to look foolish by the society folks, because he can't be made to look foolish. In fact, he has a good scene with the boy friend, where he effectively tells him to buzz off. OK, so the very end (which I won't detail here) isn't perfect; it's not exactly a letdown either.
An extraordinary film! Basically, it's an impossible story, but the singular way it's handled, from the directing, to the great spare, lean script, to, especially, the performances of the two leads, make it exceptional. The dialogue between the two throughout the film is so laconic, so simple; it pares away everything but what's absolutely necessary. Yet never does anyone avoid saying what he or she thinks. Cooper was a star presence but not yet an actor in WINGS and THE VIRGINIAN. Here he's learned the art so well that this is one of the best roles of his career!
And Lombard in these early "serious" roles is so much more interesting than her comedy turns. What's great and unique about Lombard is her obvious intelligence and maturity. Everything her characters do is thoughtful, even when her emotions are in play, but never intellectualized. She is never "feminine" in the way of other players of intelligent women from the period such as Claudette Colbert. I respond to her as a modest and unassuming person with great maturity and character. Someone you'd really like to know very well.
Apparently, this became an "orphan" film when the rights reverted to author Mary Roberts Rinehart. The original negative and all supporting material was shipped back to her but she had no interest in it and it all disintegrated, except for one 16 mm acetate print, from which it has been restored. How incredible that such a major film might have been lost! And what other treasures are there still to be found from the pre-Code Parmount era?
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