The Fabulous Forties #22: Adventures of Gallant Bess (dir by Lew Landers)


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For nearly a month now, I’ve been making my way through the 50 films included in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set.  Like most Mill Creek box sets, the Fabulous Forties is full of public domain films.  Some of them are surprisingly good and some of them are surprisingly bad.  And then there are others that are somewhere right in the middle of bad and good.  These are films that may not be great works of cinematic art but, at the very least, they serve as a time capsule of the period in which they were made.

The 22nd film in the Fabulous Forties box set, 1948’s Adventures of Gallant Bess, is just such a film.  Obviously made to appeal to family audiences, Adventures of Gallant Bess tells a fairly predictable story.  Cowboy Ted Daniels (a youngish Cameron Mitchell) captures a wild mustang named Bess.  Ted and Bess soon become inseparable but, during a visit to the local town, Bess gets riled up and destroys a few cars.  Ted is told that he has to pay for the cars but he doesn’t have any money.  So, he enters the local rodeo.

However, the rodeo is operated by the evil Bud Millerick (James Millican) and Bud wants Bess for his own.  So, he arranges for Ted’s leg to be broken by a bull.  Injured and unable to work, Ted is forced to sell his beloved Bess to Bud.  Once Ted recovers, he discovers that Bud is abusing Bess and forcing her to perform in a demeaning rodeo show.  What’s a cowboy to do but steal back his horse?

You can probably guess everything that happens in Adventures of Gallant Bess just from reading the plot description but it’s still a pretty likable film.  Bess is a wonderful horse and there’s something oddly endearing about the obviously cheap sets and the often melodramatic performances.  Cameron Mitchell, of course, is best known for appearing in films like Blood and Black Lace, The Toolbox Murders, The Demon, The Swarm, and Space Mutiny, so it’s definitely interesting to see him playing a simple and honest cowboy here.

(It’s actually difficult to recognize Mitchell until he smiles.  Once you see that smirk, you know exactly who is playing Ted Daniels.)

Adventures of Gallant Bess was filmed in color, which was a big deal in 1948.  Seen today, it is so saturated with color (and so obviously filmed on sound stages) that the movie actually looks like a live action cartoon.  Seen today, it’s perhaps a little too easy to be dismissive of this old-fashioned film but I imagine that, in the 40s, it was quite a fun movie to watch.

And you can watch it below!

Cleaning Out The DVR: Yankee Doodle Dandy (dir by Michael Curtiz)


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So, today, I got off work so that I could vote in Texas’s Super Tuesday primary.  After I cast my vote (and don’t ask me who I voted for because it’s a secret ballot for a reason!), I came home and I turned on the TV and I discovered that, as a result of spending February recording countless films off of Lifetime and TCM, I only had 9 hours of space left on my DVR.  As a result, the DVR was threatening to erase my recordings of Bend It Like Beckham, Jesus Christ Superstar, American Anthem, an episode of The Bachelor from 2011, and the entire series of Saved By The Bell: The College Years.

“Acgk!” I exclaimed in terror.

So, I immediately sat down and started the process of cleaning out the DVR.  I started things out by watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, a film from 1942.

Yankee Doodle Dandy is a biopic of a songwriter, signer, and dancer named George M. Cohan.  I have to admit, that when the film started, I had absolutely no idea who George M. Cohan was.  Imagine my surprise as I watched the film and I discovered that Cohan had written all of the old-fashioned patriotic songs that are played by the Richardson Symphony Orchestra whenever I go to see the 4th of July fireworks show at Breckenridge Park.  He wrote You’re A Grand Old Flag, The Yankee Doodle Boy, and Over There.  Though I may not have heard of him, Cohan was an American institution during the first half of the 20th Century.  Even if I hadn’t read that on Wikipedia, I would have been able to guess from watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, which, at times, seems to be making a case for sainthood.

And that’s not meant to be a complaint!  74 years after it was originally released, Yankee Doodle Dandy is still a terrifically entertaining film.  It opens with George (played by James Cagney) accepting a Congressional Gold Medal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  (We only see Roosevelt from behind and needless to say, the President did not play himself.  Instead, Captain Jack Young sat in a chair while FDR’s voice was provided by impressionist Art Gilmore.)  Cohan proceeds to tell Roosevelt his life story, starting with his birth on the 4th of July.  Cohan tells how he was born into a showbiz family and a major theme of the film is how Cohan took care of his family even after becoming famous.

The other major theme is patriotism.  As portrayed in this biopic, Cohan is perhaps the most patriotic man who ever lived.  That may sound corny but Cagney pulls it off.  When we see him sitting at the piano and coming up with the lyrics for another song extolling the greatness of America, we never doubt his sincerity.  In fact, he’s so sincere that he makes us believe as well.  Watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, I found myself regretting that I have to live in such an overwhelmingly cynical time.  If George M. Cohan was alive today, he’d punch out anyone who called this country “Murica.”

Yankee Doodle Dandy is an amazingly positive film.  There are a few scenes where Cohan has to deal with a few Broadway types who are jealous of his talent and his confidence but, otherwise, it’s pretty much one triumph after another for Cohan.  Normally, of course, there’s nothing more annoying than listening to someone talk about how great his life is but fortunately, Cohan is played by James Cagney and Cagney gives one of the best performance of all time in the role.

Cagney, of course, is best remembered for playing gangsters but he got his start as a dancer.  In Yankee Doodle Dandy, Cagney is so energetic and so happy and such a complete and totally showman that you can’t help but get caught up in his story.  When he says that, as a result of his success, things have never been better, you don’t resent him for it.  Instead, you’re happy for him because he’s amazingly talented and deserve the best!

Seriously, watch him below:

James Cagney won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance here.  Yankee Doodle Dandy was also nominated for best picture but lost to Mrs. Miniver.

I’m really glad that I watched Yankee Doodle Dandy today.  In this time of overwhelming negativity, it was just what I needed!