Belle of the Yukon Reviews
Recently, I read a comment wherein Richard Roeper defended giving an as-good or better (I can't remember which) review to [i]Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter[/i] as he had to [i]The Hobbit[/i]. The issue, he said, was about expectations. [i]Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter[/i] was exactly what he'd expected it to be; [i]The Hobbit[/i] wasn't as good. Yes, it was arguably a better film, but it still failed on a level the worse film did not. My own habits on the subject are a bit erratic, but I agree in principle. I can't go into specifics on that case, having only seen one of the movies, but that's kind of why I'm giving this the same review as I did [i]The Hobbit[/i]. This movie is uneven at best. It fails to make sense in several major ways. The filming is certainly nothing special. But it does give you exactly what you'd expect from a musical set in Gold Rush-era Yukon and starring Gypsy Rose Lee.
There is a really impressive saloon and theatre in the town of Malamute. (Actually, I think they spell it differently, but whatever.) It's mostly run by "Pop" Candless (Charles Winninger), whose daughter, Lettie (Dinah Shore), is the singing star. She is being wooed by the pianist, Steve Atterbury (William Marshall), and Pop disapproves. However, the big excitement in town is the arrival of a group of lovely women, who are the new entertainment. They are led by one Belle De Valle (Gypsy Rose Lee herself), whose name is every bit as real as Gyppie's. (That's the nickname she uses in her book, as I recall.) It turns out that she once once the sweetheart of the theatre's owner, "Honest John" Calhoun (Randolph Scott), when he was a crook in Seattle called "Gentleman Jack." There are shenanigans and double-crosses and musical numbers, not to mention an appearance of Bob Burns (as a character called Sam Slade) and his famous bazooka.
I admit it's strange to come away from a movie starring Gypsy Rose Lee thinking about how much you love her clothes, but there we all are. She really wears some fabulous costumes in this movie. She's obviously the most stylish character in the movie--a fashion plate of the Gay Nineties. Lettie is wholesome; Belle's maid, Viola Chase (Florence Bates), is wearing clothes too young for her; the other women are by and large indistinguishable from one another. I'm pretty sure Belle never sings or dances, but she's the best-dressed woman for probably hundreds of miles. With very few exceptions, she is even actually wearing the kind of clothing a fashionable young woman of the era would wear on the streets of a real city, too, though some of the colours may not be quite accurate. (Dyes came a long way in just fifty years!) In her dressing room, she's not, but she's wearing period undergarments and negligees, not the kind of thing you expect to see on the famous ecdysiast--though she never quite stripped as much as most strippers for all that.
Were it not for her appearance, the movie would be fairly forgettable. As it is, most people today don't know that the weird wind instrument Bob Burns plays is the original bazooka. Dinah Shore is about the only person who sings in this "musical," though Gyppie does give a "lecture" with a chorus and one of Dinah's numbers is a duet. There isn't a whole lot of dancing, either, though we end with a cancan because why not. The story, as I said, does not entirely make sense. There's an elaborate con planned, and I think most of the characters miss exactly how elaborate it is. (You don't develop a reputation as the only honest man in town quickly, and it all seems to have been building up to the events we see here.) The resolution of the Steve-and-Lettie subplot doesn't seem as though anyone put a lot of thought into it, though it does also help the main plot as well. However, the sequence of events is illogical and unnecessary. It isn't even all that funny.
However, a lot of the rest of the movie was. I enjoyed the back-and-forth between Sam Slade and Sheriff Mervin Maitland (Guinn "Big Boy" Williams). Belle has a zingy, Mae-West-but-classy quality to her. Sure, it's an anachronism, but it's still fun. I'd say that the other difference between Gyppie and Mae West is that Gyppie is perfectly willing to let other people share the scene with her. She's the sexiest and usually funniest thing in it, and she knows it, so why should she be fussed if anyone else gets attention, too? While the characters in this movie may be fighting, the performers never are. Director William A. Seiter was prolific, if not terribly famous; I think one of the only other movies of his I've seen is [i]Four Jills in a Jeep[/i], which I didn't much like. He wasn't, I think, a great director, but he did a good enough job with this. It's not a classic, but it's better than it could have been. And, yes, it's about what I expected going in.