For Reel


The Cowboy Quarterback (1939)
May 27, 2016, 8:54 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Noel M. Smith
3 Stars
The Cowboy QuarterbackAfter the death of his long-time performing partner Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey attempted a career as a solo act with this remake of the Joe E. Brown vehicle Elmer, the Great. As in the Brown picture, Wheeler plays a small town bumpkin who proves to be incorruptible when his morals are tested with great financial success. If much of the film’s humor involves the simple-mindedness of the country folk, what makes the conceit ascend above cruel mockery is that they are regardless positioned to be innocent and morally just. The film’s best moments involve William Demarest as the coach who recruits Wheeler—there’s an amusing scene early on in a general store in which Demarest is bemused by the paltry earnings of the shop (there is also a good, understated joke as a local comes in to steal prunes). Wheeler and Woolsey’s Hold ‘Em Jail ultimately was a more cynical and biting response to the exploitation of the little man by institutions, but one can read The Cowboy Quarterback as being similarly preoccupied with this conflict between capital and the working class. As a performer, Woolsey doesn’t really come into his own without Wheeler on screen—a more earnest performance, such as Stuart Erwin’s in Make Me a Star, might have aided both the comedy and the emotional impact of the picture. Regardless, the film is peppered with a handful of successful sequences, and Demarest is enjoyable in his small role.

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