The Olivia De Havilland Centenary Blogathon: Dodge City

Friday, July 1, 2016 one of the last actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age of Movie Making celebrated her 100th birthday! Olivia De Havilland, best known as Melanie in Gone With the Wind, reached that majestic milestone and with that in mind, two wonderful classic film fan bloggers decided to host a blogathon, looking at Olivia’s acting roles.  Be sure to visit Crystal at In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies to read other bloggers’ posts about Olivia De Havilland’s films.

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Warner Brothers Studio had made a wonderful discovery when their 1935 film, Captain Blood, yielded a big box office profit.  The discovery was that the two young leads, Olivia De Havilland and Errol Flynn, were a popular duo in action/romance films and the studio kept the pair busy, co-starring them in 7 more films.  I decided to review their 5th film, 1939’s Dodge City, and some say the Western that later inspired Mel Brook’s comedic spoof, Blazing Saddles!  220px-Dodge_City_1939_Poster

Dodge City begins in 1866, with a proud Col. Dodge arriving for the celebration to honor him and the fact that  the railway has now built its way to Dodge City.  Amongst the happy crowd are 3 cowboys who helped keep the rail workers fed with their skills at hunting buffalo: Wade Hatton, Rusty Hart, and Tex Baird.  Shortly before the celebration began, these 3 helped the U. S. Marshall catch baddie Jeff Surrett and his gang for illegally killing buffalo, just for their hides, and leaving the remains to rot on the prairie.  This first encounter of the 3 good guys with the baddie will become a major thread throughout the film.

Tex, Wade, and Rusty, the 3 cowboy-heroes

Tex, Wade, and Rusty, the 3 cowboy-heroes

Time marches forward and now there’s a screenshot explaining it is 1872, and that Dodge City is rolling in the dough due to cattle drives arriving there, the cattle then being sold, and tired cowboys, with pay in their pockets, looking for relaxation and fun.  Another screenshot shows a number of saloons that pepper the town, and one, The Gay Lady, is owned by the baddie we met earlier in the film, Jeff Surrett.  Surrett is wealthy and dishonest.  How does he do it? By bidding on cattle, paying part of what he owes for the cattle he buys, and weasling out of paying for the rest of his bill;sometimes the men he owes are shot and die, thus they don’t need to be repaid, others are run out of town and too scared to challenge Surrett for what he owes them.  Surrett’s wealth is also supported by the gambling that happens at his saloon as “the house” never loses much.  Yancey is the head of Surrett’s henchmen, and these henchmen are Surrett’s eyes, ears, and evil force.  Sheriffs for Dodge City have been weak and ineffective at stopping Surrett which means there is no law in the town, just anarchy.  I did have to smile as many scenes show the men in town suddenly pointing their guns in the air and just firing away-reminded me of a couple scenes from Blazing Saddles.  

Surrett, the villain of Dodge City

Surrett, the villain of Dodge City

Yancey, lead henchman for Surrett

Yancey, lead henchman for Surrett

Ruby, bad guy Surrett's star entertainer and girlfriend

Ruby, bad guy Surrett’s star entertainer and girlfriend

20-25 minutes pass before we meet a beautiful lady , Abbie Irving, who will figure prominently in the plot of trying to bring down Surrett and  his gang.  Abbie will also become the main love interest for Wade, of course, as he is the man Dodge City turns to  in a last-ditch attempt to rid themselves of the lawlessness that has gripped their community for too long.  Abbie and her younger brother, Lee, are moving to Dodge City from TX, as their father has died, and he had arranged for his two children(actually young adults) to move in with their aunt and uncle, Dr. and Mrs. Irving.  The two siblings sign up to travel with a cattle drive which just happens to be led by Wade and his 2 pals.  However, Lee is a hazard to the entire group as he is constantly drunk and then carelessly shoots his gun at targets, eventually causing a stampede which ends in his death.  Abbie is heartbroken with this event, and she blames Wade for her brother’s death: Lee, angered at being told to put his gun away, aims at Wade to shoot him and Wade fires back at Lee in self-defense, then the stampede begins.  It looks as if any future romance between Wade and Abbie is doomed.  We can tell Wade is attracted to Abbie as he gallantly offers to carry her heavy bucket of water.  Abbie is feisty, insisting she can carry her own water, but when Wade isn’t looking, she smiles to herself in a knowing way.  Despite her independent air, she is also attracted to Wade.

Lovely Abbie Irving on the cattle drive

Lovely Abbie Irving on the cattle drive

Wade trying to carefully explain to Abbie that perhaps she should stop acting cold towards him!

Wade trying to carefully explain to Abbie that perhaps she should stop acting cold towards him!

Reacting to Lee's death by stampeding cattle

Reacting to Lee’s death by stampeding cattle

Wade, with pal Rusty as his deputy, begins the immense task of cleaning up Dodge City.  Tex, the third amigo in this group of pals, isn’t quite ready to become a deputy as he is having too good of a time at The Gay Lady saloon.  He loves to watch Ruby’s song and dance numbers and he is the cause for one of the best saloon brawls ever filmed by Hollywood!  After being forced to cool his heels in jail, where Wade has locked up at least 60 lawbreakers(the cells are incredibly full), Tex becomes a deputy, too.   Wade imposes several laws: no guns allowed north of First Street-have to turn them in at the sheriff’s office and gunowners can have them back as they leave town, gambling has to stop by 2 am, taxes will be collected.  The laws work wonderfully well, and Dodge City gains a new reputation for being dullsville!  The laws also lead Surrett and his henchmen to plan how they will take out Wade and his deputies, and end the rule of law that has cramped their style.

Will Surrett and his gang succeed in ridding themselves and Dodge City of Wade, Rusty, and Tex?  Will Wade successfully woo and win Abbie?  Will Abbie and her boss, newspaperman Joe Clemens, be able to provide vital evidence through articles as to the corruption and crimes Surrett is behind so that a trial can happen to send Surrett and his henchmen off to prison and probably off to the death penalty? Will Dodge City fully embrace their new “dull” reputation or go back to lawlessness?  Find a copy of this film to find out the answers to these questions!  It is available to watch via Amazon’s instant rent, and Friday, July 8th, it will air on Turner Classic Movies at 2:15 am EST/1:15 am CST, and again on October 1st, at 2:00 pm EST/1:00 pm CST.

What else is there to like about this film,  Dodge City? Well, it was made in 1939, which is often called Hollywood’s best year as so many award winning movies were made then.  It’s in technicolor, theres the stirring musical score by Max Steiner, excellent direction by Michael Curtiz, who could handle action sequences as well as quiet scenes,  and of course the entire cast,  the leads as well as supporting players.  Errol Flynn is perfect as the handsome hero, and gives an intelligent read of Wade.  He doesn’t hide his accent, the plot explains that he is a transplanted Irishman who’s come to the Western US.  Olivia De Havilland is beautiful Abbie, and plays her as a strong woman, not a wilting, weak of heart lady.  It was refreshing to me to see an independent woman in 1872, one who works at the newspaper, and who scoffs when Wade questions her as to why she isn’t at home doing needlework?  Sidekicks Alan Hale Sr. and Guinn Williams are superb as Wade’s pals.  They’re big men, good humored, often with smiles on their faces.  Tex is obviously having a blast during that barroom brawl, and Rusty gets a fun side plot as he’s tired of the bar scene and accidentally wanders into a “Pure Praire League” temperance meeting, and the ladies there all think him quite a catch!  Bruce Cabot, who had played the hero in 1933’s King Kong gives a strong performance as the evil kingpin Surrett.  He squints his eyes, calmly barks out his orders, and they’re carried out.  He tries to make a deal with Wade, but of course, that won’t go anywhere.  Victor Jory plays Yancey, the dark and slimey head henchman.  1939 was Jory’s year to play baddies as he was also the slimey overseer Jonas Wilkerson in Gone With the Wind.   Gorgeous Ann Sheridan, despite her prominence on some of the movie posters, is a minor character in this film.  Her song and dance numbers are good, and she aquits herself well in those scenes.  Only one scene of her and Flynn, when he barges into the saloon and asks if she’s seen Surrett.

The supporting cast is a who’s who of some of the best character actors and actresses: Henry Travers(Dr. Irving), Frank McHugh(Joe Clemens), John Litel(Matt Cole, cattle buyer not afraid of Surrett and dies for trying to get all of his fee), Gloria Holden(Cole’s widow), Bobs Watson(Cole’s son, and can that kid cry!), Ward Bond( a minor henchman who later gets a good scene with Flynn, trying get information about Clemens murderer), William Lundigan(drunk as a skunk Lee,) Clem Bevins as the town’s barber, and Henry O’Neill as Col. Dodge, founder of the town.

For a great Western, glorious and large, with lots of action and a romance that only Flynn and De Havilland could deliver, see Dodge City!  I’ll close out this post with a clip from Youtube of that infamous barroom brawl.

 

 

 

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21 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve just been reading about Dodge City in the book Sixguns and Society by Will Wright — that book plus your post have convinced me I need to find this and see it! I do love a good western 🙂

    Reply

  2. I have only seen this film and Blazing Saddles each once so I will have to revisit them and see if I can see the similarities. I just wrote a post for the Mel Brooks blogathon comparing his Robin Hood to the Flynn version.

    Thanks for joining this blogathon with a great post on a great film!

    ~ Phyllis

    Reply

    • Thank you, Phyllis. It was a lot of fun to be part of such a momentous blogathon! I’ll try to read your post on Robin Hood for the Mel Brooks blogathon. I haven’t seen Blazing Saddles in a long time, I need to revisit it now that I’ve watched Dodge City, to look for the spoofed parts. 🙂

      Reply

  3. Thanks so much for joining in on the blogathon with such a great post. I don’t think I’ve seen this film, but after reading this, I will make a point of seeing it. Don’t forget to check out my article for the blogathon

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/happy-100th-birthday-olivia-de-havilland/

    Reply

  4. This is one of my favorite large-scale Technicolor westerns. Your review rightly points to the wonderful cast. I had not thought of it as a precursor of Blazing Saddles. I’ll have to watch both close together. Good review.

    Reply

  5. Very nicely written. I wasn’t aware of this one and her starring next to Errol Flynn once again.

    Reply

  6. I just watched this recently too and found it highly entertaining. I especially appreciated Alan Hale here–he was so funny and dominated his scenes. It was great to see de Havilland get to assert herself. I think she will remain Flynn’s equal partner as they ride into the sunset.

    Reply

  7. Ooh, another movie for my To Watch list. Sounds great!

    Reply

  8. One I’ve never seen, and you’ve now reminded me it stars (or sorta stars) one of my favorites, Ann Sheridan. Sounds like a good one!

    Reply

    • Yes, Ann Sheridan is one of my faves, too. I haven’t dug in yet to discover why her role was so small in the film, why a love triangle wasn’t developed between her, Flynn, and De Havilland’s characters. Perhaps it was an early role for Ann and the studio boss didn’t want to give her a bigger part?

      Reply

      • You might be right: I just looked at Ann’s filmography, and it looks like her career was just taking off about this time (although she had parts in many smaller films before this one).

  9. This is one of those movies that I love to watch periodically. I just got a new TV (my old one was small and terribly dated), so perhaps this film is due soon for a re-watch!

    I didn’t realize it was the inspiration for Blazing Saddles, either. I’ve been planning on watching Blazing Saddles for the first time, but perhaps I should watch this one first. 🙂

    Reply

    • Yes, watch Dodge first. Blazing Saddles, while a great spoof, it’s humor is definitely not politically correct. As an aside, one character is named “Hedly Lamar”, played by Harvey Korman. In the film, several characters are constantly goofing up his name and call him “Hedy” and in real life, the actress filed a lawsuit against Brooks and the studio over this!

      Reply

  10. “Dodge City” is the kind of movie you can lose yourself in on a rainy Saturday. So many of those familiar faces from the Warner Stock Company make it that way. And Olivia and Errol are gorgeous.

    Reply

  11. I remember the barroom brawl as being amazing! This is a great Western. Enjoyed reading your take on it!

    Reply

    • Thanks, Judy. In reading up on this film, I was surprised to learn it was Brook’s inspiration for Blazing Saddles. I am now thinking his spoof of the brawl is the sequence in his film that ends up as a studio’s cafeteria brawl. 🙂

      Reply

      • I haven’t seen Blazing Saddles, but if I do will watch out for this scene!

      • Blazing Saddles is a funny film as it pokes a lot of fun at classic westerns. I really wonder if it could be made today as there are a lot of racial jokes made in it, including the use of a word that is verboten to speak in some circles of society.

  12. […]  Portraits By Jenni tells us what happens during Olivia’s visit to Dodge City […]

    Reply

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