Musical Monday: The Girl of the Golden West (1938)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Girl of the Golden West (1938) – Musical #262


Robert Z. Leonard

Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Walter Pidgeon, Leo Carrillo, Buddy Ebsen, Cliff Edwards, Olin Howland, Leonard Penn, Priscilla Lawson, H.B. Warner, Monty Woolley, Noah Beery, Bill Cody Jr., Jeanne Ellis, Brandon Tynan, Russell Simpson (uncredited)

Mary Robbins (MacDonald) traveled out west to California as a child, and now as an adult runs the saloon on the frontier. The masked outlaw Ramirez (Eddy) is wreaking havoc on the countryside as he holds up stagecoaches. After meeting Mary, Ramirez disguises himself as Lieutenant Johnson to get closer to her, and they fall in love. However, Sheriff Jack Rance (Pidgeon) is also in love with Mary and is hunting Ramirez and his gang.

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in “The Girl of the Golden West.”

• Fourth film pairing of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

• Based on the play “Girl of the Golden West,” which opened in 1905. The play was adapted into an operetta in 1911 by Giacomo Puccini called La Fanciulla del west.

• One of four film adaptations of the story. The others were released in 1915 (directed by Cecil B. DeMille), 1923 (co-starring Russell Simpson), 1930 (starring Ann Hardin)

• Ray Bolger was originally cast in the film but his scenes were deleted from the final production.

• Young Nelson Eddy was played by Bill Cody Jr., son of actor and cowboy star Bill Cody.
• Young Jeanette MacDonald was played by Jeanne Ellis. “The Girl of the Golden West” was her first and only film role until a TV movie in 1988.

• Bill Cody Jr. was dubbed by Raymond Chace.

• The film was released in Sepiatone.

• Buddy Ebsen was supposed to since the song “I Own a Palomino,” but it was cut from the film.

• Joan Crawford was campaigning for the lead in “Girl of the Golden West,” to show off her vocal talents, according to Hollywood Diva: A Biography of Jeanette MacDonald by Edward Baron Turk

Notable Songs:
• “Soldiers Of Fortune” performed by Nelson Eddy
• “Shadows On The Moon” performed by Jeanette MacDonald
• “The Wind In The Trees” performed by Jeanette MacDonald
• “Liebestraum” performed by Jeanette MacDonald
• “Ave Marie” performed by Jeanette MacDonald
• “The West Ain’t Wild Anymore” performed by Buddy Ebsen
• “Who Are We To Say” performed by Nelson Eddy

My review:
With a mix of comedy, western and music, this week’s Musical Monday gives a new setting for the fourth film pairing of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

“Girl of the Golden West” (1938) may not be one of the most well-know MacDonald and Eddy pairings, but it is certainly one of the most fun.

MacDonald let’s her hair down as she plays a frontier woman. Her character is independent, owning a saloon and living on her own. While several men admire her, she isn’t willing to settle down with just anyone. Her character of Mary is saucy and also quite funny.

Eddy plays a bandit, and he sings jaunty tunes like “Soldiers Of Fortune.” Though to look at him, Eddy doesn’t look like a hero but this role isn’t unknown to him. In “New Moon” (1940) he plays a political enemy of the king and sings, “Stouthearted Men.” Or in Rose-Marie (1936), he plays a mountie.

The real highlight for me is Walter Pidgeon as the sheriff who is in love with MacDonald. I know we are supposed to cheer for Eddy and MacDonald to end up together, but let’s be real – why would you choose Nelson Eddy over Walter Pidgeon?! (Okay, I do have a huge crush on Pidgeon). The only real issue with Pidgeon’s character is that he calls MacDonald “girl” constantly rather than “Mary.” This drove me nuts.

Jeanette MacDonald and Walter Pidgeon in “Girl of the Golden West.”

This film is so fun, but there are a few issues.

For starters, there seems to be a plot hole. I think the idea is what Eddy’s character of Ramirez is a Robin-hood like character, stealing for rich stagecoach riders and donating it to the church. At one point, Father Sienna, played by H.B. Warner, tells Mary, played by MacDonald, that he received a mysterious donation. I kept waiting for it to be revealed that it was Ramirez donating this money, touched by the Father’s kindness as a child. But this never happens, so I’m not sure why the scene was even used.

Secondly, I felt that Cliff Edwards and Buddy Ebsen were wasted in their roles. Edwards, who years before first performed “Singin’ in the Rain” on screen, didn’t get to sing in this film, and had very few lines. He was more of a background player who hung out in the saloon.

Ebsen briefly sings “The West Ain’t Wild Anymore,” until he’s interrupted by a bandit walking into the blacksmith shop. Ebsen has more screentime than Edwards, but it would have been larger as one of his songs was cut from the film. From 1935 to 1938, MGM was casting Ebsen in some of their large production musical films like “Born to Dance” (1936) and “Broadway Melody” of 1936 and 1938. However, “Girl of the Golden West” seems to be Ebsen’s last shot as a comedic musical star with MGM, particularly because he was replaced later on as the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). Of course, Ebsen went on to find success on TV with Disney’s Davey Crocket and “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but I love this period of his career and wish it lasted longer.

Buddy Ebsen and Jeanette MacDonald in “Girl of the Golden West.”

Despite wanting more Buddy Ebsen and Cliff Edwards, “Girl of the Golden West” is just plain fun. It’s different from the other MacDonald and Eddy costume dramas, but so fun.

(But I still wish MacDonald ended up with Walter Pidgeon).

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