The unrated version of a Gypsy Rose Lee movie might sound titillating, until Appellate Judge James A. Stewart points out that it would have been rated "G."
"If it's Blood you want,
You're in the wrong Theater, Brother."
Remember Louise Hovick? The actress who slipped into Hollywood in 1937 to appear in You Can't Have Everything might as well have joined the Witness Protection Program. She'd changed her stage moniker at the insistence of studio execs who were concerned about her Minksy's career (which led H.L. Mencken to coin the term "ecdysiast"). Starting with Belle of the Yukon, she took off the name Louise Hovick and dusted off the more familiar moniker of Gypsy Rose Lee. A Rose by another name was just as sweet, but didn't get many roles. Now you're interested, aren't you?
Here, Lee plays Belle Devalle, who arrives in the Yukon with her "show troupe" during the Canadian Gold Rush. What's she walking into? Judging by the opening words emblazoned across the screen (and introducing this review), nothing too serious.
In Seattle, John Calhoun (Randolph Scott, Man in the Saddle) was in trouble with the law, but in the Yukon frontier town of Malamute, he's "Honest" John Calhoun, saloonkeeper and trusted banker. When former partners in crime come his way with a scam, it turns out that Calhoun is working hard to make sure those quotation marks fade away.
Meanwhile, Pop Candless (Charles Winninger, Destry Rides Again) is fretting about the budding romance between daughter Lettie (Dinah Shore, The Dinah Shore Show) and piano player Steve Atterbury (William Marshall, State Fair). Pop, a former lawbreaker himself, knows a troublemaker when he sees one. The letter he intercepts, which suggests that Calhoun's not the only one with a record back in Seattle, makes matters worse.
If you're looking for something spicy, keep looking. Unless a glimpse of stocking is still really shocking to you, there's nothing salacious here, just a few glimpses of showgirls' legs during the Can-Can or similar numbers. You'll glimpse a bare shoulder here and there, too. You get plenty of wisecracks (which are actually what gained Lee her renown), as she answers her ex-flame's claims of honesty with a deadpanned, "I'm sweet sixteen and I've never been kissed." Later on, you get a mild chase scene with pursuers bursting into women's bedrooms in search of a fugitive. In short, you get the suggestion of something risqué—a tease. Losing interest, are you?
This corny movie—with Lee forever bopping her love on the head with crockery—has some charm among the clichés as it makes the case (later argued much more successfully by Bret Maverick and other James Garner vehicles) that every Western town needs its rogues.
What kind of actress is Gypsy Rose Lee? Judging by this movie, she's quick with a quip, but she projects her lines to the unseen audience as if on stage. Lee brings to the movie a world-weary, cynical persona that comes through in scenes such as the one in which she consoles Shore, who asks her how to heal a broken heart. "Time. Diamond bracelets speed things along. A new hat. The best thing's to get mad. Break something. Over the guy's head, if possible," Lee answers. She does it to poor Scott several times in this one, to decreasing effect. Lee's style works decently here, with the set-bound, stagey Technicolor musical tailor-made for her.
I got some chuckles from the way Scott, as Calhoun, handles scoundrels, betting on some bogus reliable weather information to snare crooked gamblers and staying one step ahead as they turn their attention to bank robbery. Bob Burns (Wells Fargo) as Sam Slade has a good comic turn, as he keeps distracting a slow-witted lawman with drawling stories so he can crack a jug over the lawman's head and make his getaway. As Lettie, Dinah Shore is mostly here for her singing voice, but she gets a good scene late in the film, feigning a conversation with male and female voices to confuse the manhunt for her beloved.
The Technicolor transfer has a yellowish tint that sometimes left people looking a little jaundiced. Although it's billed as full frame, there are very slight bands above and below the picture to give audiences a full 1.33:1 image. The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack has no problems, but is unremarkable. I'll note that a Web search turned up no definite answer as to which version of Dolby Digital Mono this is.
Belle of the Yukon is a featherweight farce that's probably not on anyone's must-see list, but it'd be watchable even without the curiosity value created by its Belle star. Guilty, but with a suspended sentence.
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