The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 29, 2015

This film is always pegged as being a near-last gasp from a once great filmmaker. Well the scale is small, and everyone strains overly to shoot Porter Hall in the rear end for that third time at the film’s conclusion. But mostly, where’s the decline? If this isn’t prime Sturges, then it’s still clearly, satisfyingly, brilliantly Sturges. Listen to that dialogue! Look at that lovely cast of eccentrics—as usual, if you look closely, it’s actually a cast of diverse Americans that are accepted and valued for their variety and particularity. (In other words, actual Jews. Also, note the critique contained in this Conchita/San Juan character, or the fact that Cesar Romero is left to speak for his own intelligent and charismatic self, regardless of his actual ethnic roots). Consider how Sturges’ conspicuous intelligence is grounded by his joyful physical comedy. He would be forbiddingly quick, if it weren’t for the fact that pratfalls get everyone in the end.

Also, here’s some more, way more of his own unique form of superbly staged and genial chaos. We’re moving into real provocation here, as in the guy who gets shot off of that roof in exactly the same way four straight times, or the combatant having all that trouble at the horse trough. At the end of these remarkable cultural runs—Renoir, or Frank Capra in the 1930s, Godard, or Jerry Lewis in the 1960s—we get all petty and complaint-prone. And then what happens? No one funds an able-bodied Orson Welles, and he doesn’t get a single thing made for the last fifteen years of his life. Serves us right!

The prologue, in which Russell Simpson teaches his little granddaughter how to shoot things, is equal parts funny and tender. It’s not just the casting that summons John Ford-like associations. These too are legitimate pioneer roots. Grable is lots of fun, kind of/wonderfully reminscent of Betty Hutton (cf. Sturges, 1944). I should mention the Basserman twins, as essayed by Sterling Holloway and Danny Jackson. They are quite shockingly unhinged. It might even be a directorial lapse, an inconsistency or overreach that should have been tempered a bit. Good thing that it wasn’t, though; they’re quite amazing, a two/red-headed explosion of comic id that almost seems to threaten the entire institution. These sections, as well as the contributions of their slightly comical/really malevolent father, actually prefigure what Sam Peckinpah would end up doing to the Western. Look out!