User ReviewsReview this title
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!
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.
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.
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 dilemmas 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. In a sense, too, it's ahead of its time on the subject matter of women's lib, even if how it tells the story is extremely silly. References to David Belasco and Carnegie Steel are smart and sassy.
Now that's not a profession truly open to women. If you remember The Music Man and that famous scene of all the salesmen talking to the rhythm of the train wheels or Elmer Gantry where Burt Lancaster hung out in all kinds of disreputable places before he started selling religion it is clear that this is a male preserve.
But if you sell things like corsets back in the days when women really wore them I guess it could be tolerated. But Rogers and Channing in The First Traveling Saleslady take on a real challenge. They're going to sell barbed wire in Texas. Rancher James Arness is going to stop them selling the wire David Brian's company makes. Both of them would like to make Rogers though. But a funny thing, Barry Nelson in that new horseless carriage contraption keeps showing up just when Rogers and Channing need help.
As for Channing she's got an admirer in newly returned Rough Rider Clint Eastwood in one of his early screen roles. As for Channing she never quite made it on the big screen so this is a rare opportunity to see a unique performer. Pity she never did do one of her noted stage roles for movies.
A pity a lot of talent gets wasted here in The First Traveling Saleslady. It's not a really bad film, but it is a mediocre one.
(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.
I am a fan of Miss Rogers, but I was disappointed by her performance in this silly comedy. When she first spoke, I questioned if the character was supposed to be drunk. I think she was deliberately changing her voice to create her character, but I am not sure. The portrayal is uneven--like the entire film. There were moments I enjoyed and others that had me scratching my head in perplexity.
Clint Eastwood (as Lt. Jack Rice) appears in one of his first credited roles as a fresh-faced Rough Rider who instantly falls for Molly. Barry Nelson plays an entrepreneur (Charlie Masters) who might be an intermittent love interest for Rose as he literally comes into and out of the film repeatedly.
The film contains some interesting content regarding a "Purity League" that safeguards the morals of society and some mentions of Women's Rights, particularly Women's Suffrage.
There are some cute references to how the country has changed, like the mention that traveling over the road at 12 MPH is thrilling.
James Arness portrays Joel Kingdom, owner of most of Texas it seems. When he is on screen, he has a strong presence and he energizes those scenes.
As a whole, this film drags at times and often seems a parody of the type of film it is. It feels like the direction is most to blame.
The film is about a lady who is trying to make a go of her corset company and later a barbed wire company. And, to help make a go of it, Rose (Rogers) goes on the road to market the products. Not surprisingly for the turn of the century, she encounters hostility from many of the men in the field as well as a bit of romance. And, along for the ride is Carol Channing who is mostly annoying in the role of Rose's friend and business partner. Oddly, Channing's love interest in the film is played by Clint Eastwood...in his first credited movie.
I am pretty sure by now you realize that I was not in love with this film. Too often, I found myself bored by it and found the story uninvolving. Additionally, while Ginger Rogers could be amazingly good in films, here she seems a bit out of her element...and perhaps it was made worse by Channing who seemed out of place in so many ways. All I know is that I found myself wanting to just turn it off after a while and cut my losses. A sad finale for RKO...and perhaps my score of 4 is a bit charitable.
By the way, this film was parodied on "Green Acres" in the episode entitled "The Old Trunk".
"The First Traveling Saleslady" is no great shakes as westerns go, but it is definitely amusing fluff.
The movie itself is a mild comedy which is pleasant enough for an hour or so before becoming quite tedious during its final half hour. THE FIRST TRAVELING SALESLADY ranks low on everyone's resume though probably not at the bottom of anyone's. It's a harmless way to while away the time, but that's about it.