Monday, August 16, 2021

The Joyful Goofiness of Red Garters, 1955


First, the plot: a stranger rides and sings his way into Limbo County looking for the man who shot his brother. It is the "Code of the West." Romance and its inherent troubles are exemplified by a saloon singer who is fed up with her politically minded boyfriend, and with the townsfolk who seem to live for killing and bloodshed followed by a celebratory barbecue. The stranger falls for the pretty ward of the town boss and a staid Bostonian is intrigued by a notorious and handsome bandit.  

Frank Faylen, Jack Carson, Rosemary Clooney, Guy Mitchell, Gene Barry

Why this apparently standard, cliche-ridden plot? It is necessary upon which to hang almost a dozen Livingston and Evans songs, Nick Castle's energetic choreography, some fancy quickdraws, and a lot of handshakings. It also gives the cast of familiar faces and old pros the opportunity to spout some witty dialogue poking fun at the venerable western genre. The script is by Michael Fessier (That's What Happened to Me) and an uncredited animator turned director Frank Tashlin (Artists and Models), whose distinctive comic touch is evident.

George Marshall directed Red Garters and his way with adventure and comedy was well-established by this time. See also Destry Rides Again, The Ghost Breakers, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man, Murder He Says, The Sheepman, and more. 

 

The most individual achievement of Red Garters, originally filmed in 3D but released in 2D, is the unique and Oscar-nominated Art direction by Roland Anderson and Hal Pereira, and Set decoration by Sam Comer and Ray Moyer. The award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color was presented to Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The other nominees in that movie season were Brigadoon, A Star is Born, and Desiree.

The look of Red Garters is highly stylized and accomplished with garish colours and false fronted buildings. It is as if we are watching a live-action cartoon. The performers match the sets with their mastery of the dialogue and their seamless breaking of the fourth wall. 

Rosemary Clooney

Rosemary Clooney is top-billed as Calaveras Kate, the saloon singer with the problematic boyfriend. Rosie looks great in the Edith Head costumes and handles the acting as well as the vocals with her customary warmth and polish. Fan favourite Jack Carson is the town boss Jason Carberry, overly protective of his pretty ward and prone to flirt with all the girls in town despite being in love with Kate. Rosie sings Red Garters.

Pat Crowley, Guy Mitchell

Popular recording star Guy Mitchell is Reb Randall who came to town seeking vengeance ("It's the Code of the West.") and singing A Dime and a Dollar. Guy is quite appealing in this role as he falls in love with Carberry's ward Susan, a pert young woman played by Pat Crowley. Reb also strikes up a friendship with Rafael Moreno played by Gene Barry. Hollywood should have taken more advantage of Barry's musical talent.

Jack Carson, Joanne Gilbert

The bandit Moreno may or may not be the man who killed Reb's brother (who was no good anyway, but the "Code of the West"). Moreno has his own romantic entanglement with an icy gal from Boston. Sheila Winthrop is played by singer/actress Joanne Gilbert. Sheila came west with her bombastic uncle Judge Wallace Winthrop played with all sails flying by Reginald Owen.

Cass Daley, Buddy Ebsen

Truly, the entire cast is in comic support mode but we can add to the ensemble Frank Faylen as the buttinski Billy Buckett, Buddy Ebsen as the dancing Ginger Pete, and Cass Daley as Minnie Redwing. Cass was a popular big band singer who added comedy to her repertoire and found even greater success.

I am assuming that the Minnie Redwing character and character make-up are the reason for the channel's "product of its time" disclaimer prior to my recent television viewing of Red Garters. On one hand, I can't imagine anyone taking anything in Red Garters seriously. On the other hand, I can understand those who would not see the humour in the character. I am one with an inordinate amount of admiration for those who toil for our laughs, and beyond the mugging, Minnie has some potent things to say about Limbo County and its citizens.

Cass Daley and Dorothy Lamour with Whistling in the Light from the western musical Riding High, 1943 directed by none other than our pal George Marshall.


Every movie buff has that period where nothing is working; each new movie seems to disappoint you in the first ten minutes and you don't know what to watch. Channel surfing I came across Red Garters about to start. I hadn't seen it in ages. Did I like it? I must have, after all - George Marshall.

Red Garters, a box office flop in its day proved to be just what I needed. I don't know how long ago I had last seen it, but I must have been dazzled by the design because I had forgotten how pleasant and fun the songs were, how funny the dialogue, and how smooth the performances. It jump-started my movie nights. Perhaps Red Garters will do the same for you when needed, if you are fond of westerns, musicals, laughing, and spending time on the far side of quirky.


The original soundtrack album:



Connect the dots:

Jack Carson worked with George Marshall previously in the 1939 classic Destry Rides Again which the director remade in 1954 as Destry with Audie Murphy, who starred in the 1961 television series Whispering Smith with Guy Mitchell!












28 comments:

  1. I was thinking about BUDDY EBSEN a few days ago! I had already seen THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES and BARNABY JONES when I saw Buddy in an old movie. I saw BANJO ON MY KNEE with BARBARA STANWYCK and JOEL MCCREA. Buddy also worked with SHIRLEY TEMPLE and AUDREY HEPBURN. Many times I smile just thinking of the hillbillies-especially GRANNY(IRENE RYAN). Buddy's favorite episode was the first color one where they thought they were on a yacht but it was a Navy ship! Jed had on an Admiral's uniform. (They thought it was a sailing outfit). Buddy, Irene, DONNA DOUGLAS and MAX BAER were pure magic!

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    1. I enjoyed The Beverly Hillbillies when I was a kid. The memories of those laugh-out-loud programs is a treat. I watched Barnaby Jones, and all the Quinn Martin shows. I'm a particular fan of Jerry Goldsmith's theme for the show.

      Banjo on My Knee is a wacky movie but very entertaining. I believe the first time I saw Buddy Ebsen in a classic movie it was Broadway Melody of 1936 with his sister Velma. I recall his character wore a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt. It is funny the things you remember.

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  2. This looks like a lot of fun, Paddy. I've seen it floating around on Prime but after seeing those costumes and the stylized nature of the film I will have to give it a watch!

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    1. The movie's only goal is to amuse (and maybe they really wanted that Oscar), but in the fun category they hit all the right buttons. Enjoy.

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  3. I watched Red Garters a few months ago and even wrote a review (not published yet). I agree that it's a fun, quirky musical. Given that it was filmed in 3D, it's odd that Red Garters is one of the most stagy musicals ever made. (I haven't seen Coppola's One From the Heart in decades, but seem to recall it was stylized in very much the same way. It's a shame Rosemary Clooney didn't have a longer film career.

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    1. Looking forward to your review. I imagine Red Garters is not to all tastes, but it should find its audience. It certainly found a fan in me.

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  4. Like you, I saw Red Garters once many (MANY) years ago and I recall being puzzled by it, especially its stylized sets and humor. However, your great review prompts me to give it a second look - thanks!

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    1. Red Garters (like most movies just a bit more) has to hit you in the right mood. When it does, it will stick.

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  5. I've not heard of this one, but I think I'll enjoy it very much.

    I know what you mean when you talk about phases when "nothing is working". I'm going through one of those now. However, reading your reviews this morning has inspired me, so thank you for that. :)

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  6. I think Red Garters will appeal to your goofy side.

    Glad I could help. So often you have inspired me. And entertained my family when I send them links.

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  7. Smashing post, but dang, I have never seen it. Must remedy that soon. Thanks!

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    1. Maybe I should get a tee-shirt that reads "Embrace your inner Goof! Watch Red Garters!" Surely no one would find that strange.

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    2. So tell me about Rosemary Clooney. I’ve heard some of her songs. I know she’s George Clooney’s aunt. I doubt she had a great deal to do in this one, but was she worth watching?

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    3. Rosemary Clooney is popular in this house. We named our cat Rosemary (2002-2021) after her.

      I really enjoy her singing. She had a rich full voice and impeccable phrasing, especially in recordings produced by Nelson Riddle. She also did an album with Duke Ellington. She didn't make many movies but White Christmas is popular a certain time of year, and as you can tell I like Red Garters.

      Caught Rosie live here in Toronto and while she was past her prime as a vocalist, she was an entertainer to her fingertips.

      The Rosemary Clooney Show was a syndicated variety show from back in the 1950s. It ran on a channel we used to have that focused on "Jazz." It was my happy place during my cancer recovery years ago.

      Check out some YouTube. I would place Rosie among the tops at her game along with Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and Jo Stafford. (Yes, we all know I live in the past.)

      In her later years, Rosie toured with her daughter-in-law Debby Boone. She was also an inspiration to jazz singer/pianist Diana Krall.

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  8. CAFTAN WOMAN,as you know, ROSEMARY was married-twice-to JOSE FERRER. I've mentioned that he guest-starred on COLUMBO and MATLOCK. He also did an ep of MURDER, SHE WROTE. Jose directed the movie RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE(61).

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    1. Jose Ferrer was multi-talented. He was spoofed by the Jack Buchanan character in The Bandwagon. In the latter part of his career he was hysterically funny on Newhart as Arthur Vanderkellen.

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  9. Rich, I recommend reading her biography, "Late Life Jazz" by Ken Crossland and Malcolm MacFarlane - it's an entertaining and informative read.

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  10. I am extremely disturbed by the fact that I have NEVER heard of this movie before, and it is obviously something I would LOVE. I mean, what is wrong with the world that it has been hiding this level of fun from me? I'm off to see if I can't get a copy asap.

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    1. I know! We're nice to the world. Why wouldn't the world want to be nice to us! I'm glad I could bring this movie to your attention. Have fun.

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    2. I located a copy, so I hope to watch it soon! :-D

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  11. Update: I watched and enjoyed. That opening song has been happily stuck in my head. Caftan Woman, as always, you have done your job!

    Also, I'm hosting my first blogathon and would love to have you join if you're interested.

    https://theclassicmoviemuse.wordpress.com/2021/08/15/announcing-the-bernard-herrmann-blogathon/

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  12. You have made my day!

    A Bernard Herrmann blogathon. An idea that is past due. I will have to narrow down the subject but I will definitely be joining the tributes.

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  13. I have never seen this movie. Who do you think would have also been good in it? DORIS DAY? Maybe GINGER ROGERS or BETTY GRABLE? HOWARD KEEL? GORDON MACRAE?

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    1. Those are some mightily talented musical performers you mentioned, and I know they could handle the comedy, especially Howard Keel. However, I wouldn't change a thing about Red Garters.

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  14. As you know PAT CROWLEY did an ep of MURDER, SHE WROTE. It was a really good episode about a former comedy duo played by STEVE LAWRENCE and BUDDY HACKETT. Pat played the wife to Steve. Their son was played by...GEORGE CLOONEY, the nephew of ROSEMARY CLOONEY! RED GARTERS is before George's time. He was born in 1961.

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    1. I enjoy when the MSW episodes reference older movies. In this case it was Rage in Heaven. PS: the episode is better.

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