Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

Blue Steel, 1934

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Poster for Blue SteelThis is another Lone Star Productions flick, one of John Wayne’s Poverty Row pictures, and it’s better than Sagebrush Trail was. There’s also a dirty joke in it that somehow got past the Hays Office. ((It might just be an issue of timing. The Production Code office went into full gear in July of 1934, whereas the official release date for Blue Steel, according to IMDb, was in May of that year. The opening titles say that it passed the Board of Review, but if the release date is right, then this is actually a pre-Code picture. ))

Yucca City is an isolated place (what makes it isolated is not in fact made clear) with, apparently, only one way in or out. This despite the fact that it’s surrounded by homesteads and there fore lots and lots of arable land. Anyway, some bad guys have cut the town off from its supplies, while the town rich guy offers everyone a hundred dollars for their land, so that they can leave with a little money. (He’s claiming to be a nice guy. Since he’s the town rich guy, though, we know he must be evil. And he is.)

Meanwhile, in a hotel that’s located… somewhere, John Wayne sneaks in while the manager’s sleeping in a chair in the lobby, and camps out in the closet under the staircase to the second floor. Then a payroll is delivered, the manager wakes up, and puts it in the safe. This is observed from two vantage points — by Wayne from under the stairs, and by someone outside, through the window right near the safe. The someone outside (Yakima Canutt again, still not a very memorable actor) notes the combination by writing it on the glass with his finger.

The local sheriff (GABBY HAYES!!!!) ((He’s not quite the Gabby character he is famous for, here, but close. )) arrives needing a room from which he can see everything, and the manager gives him one with a peephole in the floor, from which most of the lobby can be seen. John Wayne hears the whole conversation about the peephole, clearly knows that the lobby can be watched, and doesn’t seem bothered by it. In fact, seems glad.

Then Yakima comes in, pops open the safe, and makes off with the payroll, leaving behind the spinning part of one spur without realizing it. He does it without racket, but makes a noise just as he’s leaving, waking up John Wayne, who goes to the safe, which is left open, finds the spur part, then goes out into the night to chase the Polka-Dot Bandit (which is who Yakima is). But the noise also woke up the sheriff, who observed Wayne kneeling at the open safe, and concludes that Wayne must be the bandit. So he takes off, too, pursuing John Wayne.

The sheriff catches up with John Wayne, who doesn’t realize he’s a suspect, and they decide to ride together for a while.

Then a supply wagon, with three escorts, tries to make it in to Yucca City. It’s ambushed by bandits, and two of the escorts ride ahead to get help, The Girl, Betty (played by Elinor Hunt, one of the Maxim’s girls from The Merry Widow, my second all-time favorite musical) and her pa. Her pa gets shot, and she rides onward, at full speed, pursued by a bear the bandits.

It just so happens that she rides right up to John Wayne’s cabin, where Wayne and the sheriff mount and come to her aid. They pursue the bandits, kill some, and then the sheriff gets winged by one and falls unconscious into a river. Wayne dives in and saves his life, thus earning the sheriff’s trust, even though the sheriff still thinks he’s the thief.

From there, the girl gets kidnapped, a plot to to bilk homesteaders out of gold on their land is revealed, chases happen, dynamite blows up rocks right on top of some bad guys, and lots of other fun stuff happens, all in 54 minutes or so. It flows a lot better than Sagebrush, and except for Wayne and The Girl not having any time to actually have a basis for riding off into the sunset together at the end (oops, sorry), it all works really well. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Once again, the title has nothing to do with anything in the story. It got used because it sort of sounded like a western, I guess.

Anyway, to that dirty joke I mentioned. In the early scenes of the picture that take place in the hotel that gets robbed, a newlywed couple checks in.

Here’s the dialogue when they sign in:

“Just sign Mr. and Mrs. right there. I suppose you folks would like the bridal chamber?”
“How much?”
“Well, we always get two dollars for the bridal chamber. You see, it’s the best in the house.”
[Bridegroom pays]
“And please be as quiet as possible! The man next to you gets up at five.”

OK, a touch risqué, but not really dirty. Just suggestive. But then, a bit later, the bridegroom comes downstairs looking sheepish, and the inkeeper says to him:

“Well, speak up, young man. What is it?”
“I can’t find it.”
“You can’t?”
“Well, whatever have you lost?”
“I ain’t lost nothin’!”
“Well, what in the world is it you can’t find?”
“Well, ah, you see it’s, ah…”

That’s actually two dirty jokes, since the young man certainly has not lost anything (although he was trying to!). 😀


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