DATELINE: Duke Takes on Shane’s Girlfriend
Well, at least John Wayne is not yet in women’s lingerie in 1943. A Lady Takes a Chance is not exactly High Noon. We hate to say it, but don’t leave this film to chance. Just leave it alone.
Jean Arthur was a big star, and John Wayne wanted to be a big star. Despite his accolades and sensational performance in Stagecoach, Duke Wayne needed to cross-over to become super big. So, he even drives a car.
Someone at the studio figured that he needed to widen his audience to include adult women who admired working-class heroine Jean Arthur, the everyday spunky girl of America.
How would John Wayne do with spunky women? You have an early answer here. He treats them like horses. If we recall our Hollywood history: they shoot horses, don’t they?
Among the pallid jokes is to have Duke don an apron, or to watch Jean Arthur try to sleep uncomfortably under the prairie stars.
Yes, this was a time when you went west on a bus. Jean Arthur must ultimately choose between bookish Hans Conreid, paunchy Grady Sutton, or virile John Wayne! Some choice.
Someone failed to plug this movie. Pull the plug, please.
This early misuse of John Wayne is absolutely fascinating as a studio-system miscalculation. Or was it? Then again, we like disaster movies too. We wanted to see Phil Silvers (Sergeant Bilko) with the classic military cowboy.
The only other time we saw John Wayne in a woman’s comedy, he did a guest star role in the 1970s on Maude with the high-shootin’ Bea Arthur. It was a real showdown. Yeah, he outdrew that Golden Girl of cynical womanhood.
Jean Arthur is the queen bee/big star here, hypocritical with her multiple boyfriends in New York, but indignant that Duke Wayne has a few girlfriends from the rodeo circuit. She treated Alan Ladd just as badly in her next Western, Shane, as Brandon de Wilde’s mother.
If producers were aiming for frothy, as in beer suds, most of it stuck to Jean Arthur’s upper lip. Literally.