Chester Wooley (Lou Costello) and Duke Egan (Bud Abbott) are traveling salesmen who make a stopover in Wagon Gap, Montana while en route to California. During the stopover, a notorious ...
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Eugene 'Porky' Lee,
George 'Spanky' McFarland
Chester Wooley (Lou Costello) and Duke Egan (Bud Abbott) are traveling salesmen who make a stopover in Wagon Gap, Montana while en route to California. During the stopover, a notorious criminal, Fred Hawkins, is murdered, and the two are charged with the crime. They are quickly tried, convicted, and sentenced to die by hanging. The head of the local citizen's committee, Jim Simpson (William Ching), recalls a law whereby the survivor of a gun duel must take responsibility for the deceased's debts and family. The law spares the two from execution, but Chester is now responsible for the widow Hawkins (Marjorie Main) and her seven children. They go to her farm, where Chester is worked by Mrs. Hawkins from dawn to dusk. To make matters worse, Chester must work at the saloon at night to repay Hawkin's debt to its owner, Jake Frame (Gordon Jones). Her plan is to wear Chester down until he agrees to marry her. Chester quickly learns that no one will harm him, for fear that they will have to ...Written by
A pretty fair romp of a comedy western, "The Wistful Widow Of Wagon Gap" showcases the veteran comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello to winning effect. While the dialogue could be sharper, the boys make the most of a cleverer-than-usual plot where the hangman's rope and the killer's gun mean nothing next to the protection of a formidable widow.
Chester Wooley (Lou) and Duke Eagan (Bud) are travelling salesmen in the Old West who wander into Montana's most lawless community, Wagon Gap. A lucky (or unlucky) shot makes Chester the killer of one of its toughest citizens - and inheritor of his even tougher widow and seven bumptious children. Widow Hawkins (Marjorie Main) gives Chester an ultimatum: Marry her or be her slave. It's a job no sane man would want. Once Chester figures this out, he becomes not only sheriff of Wagon Gap but pretty much untouchable.
Abbott & Costello were still box-office draws in 1947, but their standard formula was getting stale and their odd detours into sentiment - including the under-appreciated "The Time Of Their Lives" - were draining their stature. "Wagon Gap" is a return to their comedy-first form, but like plantonrules points out in a 2009 review here, a decided change-up from prior, routine-laden outings.
You do get some bits recognizable from prior movies. In one, Chester battles a persistent frog in his soup much like the oyster routine he did in "Here Come The Co-Eds." Another is a rehash of the dice-shooting scene from "Buck Privates," except this time the game is poker and Main's the one who knows more than she lets on.
Most of the laughter this time rides on the situation itself, as well as some fresh exchanges of illogic between Duke and Chester, like when Chester discovers Duke is packing a pistol with a longer barrel.
"Yours is much longer than mine," Chester whines.
"So what?" Duke replies. "All you have to do is stand closer to whoever's shooting at you."
While A&C at this time are often described by film historians as waiting for the green arms of Frankenstein to raise them out of the ruts, Main provides a decided lift. Baleful yet somehow endearing, she's every bit as formidable as Bela Lugosi would be, especially when putting the moves on her unwilling beau.
"I'm not a forward woman," she explains. "All my life I've been shy and bashful. Just a rosebud, afraid to bloom. But now, I'm takin' the bull by the horns!" She does, too, alternately threatening and cajoling Chester with the help of a dog who not only can stop a getaway, but spell it, too.
There's also Duke to contend with, true to form resting on a hammock and letting his buddy do all the work. Watching Lou turn the tables on Bud is one of the most satisfying parts of this satisfying film. Bud and Lou may have been having their behind-the-scenes problems, but here they work in tandem quite well, whether Lou is being taken advantage of or else lording it over Bud.
Director Charles Barton knew well the core of what made Bud & Lou funny, and he seems to have fun with the writers (also experienced A&C hands including John Grant, who is usually blamed for pushing too many of the team's standard routines into their films) in exploiting this to novel effect. No time-killing musical numbers this time, and the romantic subplot with the secondary players is kept to a bare minimum, which are welcome reliefs.
Yet I don't think "Wagon Gap" makes the greatest Bud & Lou showcase. At its best, it's more amusing than the kind of laugh-fest you wish it would become, too often leaving it to Lou to make cute faces at the camera in lieu of a good exit line. The ending leaves too many loose plot strands unwrapped for a lame payoff shot.
Still, any fair-minded viewer will see much to smile at, and hardcore Abbott & Costello fans like me will relish the way "Wagon Gap" tinkers with the formula while keeping its central elements intact and sometimes quite fresh. There was still life in these guys six years after their first giant splash on screen, even before they had their famous "comeback."
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