Red Garters Holds Up - Barely

Red Garters Holds Up - Barely
In the 1950s, the popularity of musicals set in the wild west resulted in several memorable films with sturdy storylines and snappy songs.

Films such as Annie Get Your Gun and Calamity Jane did well at the box office by telling the stories of real-life western legends Annie Oakley and Jane Cannary, albeit with some creative embellishment regarding their respective lives. Still, audience members were entertained and left the theaters with more than one winning tune to hum on the way home.

The 1954 western-musical Red Garters takes a different approach.

Instead of basing the film on legendary characters, Red Garters openly declares that it is a fiction from the very first title card. It gently advises that the audience that nothing serious is going to happen and the film keeps this promise.

The action takes place in fictional Limbo County, California, where a cartoonish saffron-colored sky blends seamlessly into the dusty saffron-colored earth. If the color yellow makes you squeamish, you might want to pass on this one because it’s everywhere.

The rest of the set adds to the fiction by offering two-dimensional trees and shrubs, and facades painted like storefronts. In fact, the scenery is reminiscent of a high school production of Oklahoma!.

The film’s intent to poke fun at the cowpoke – and the wild west in general – unfolds as Reb Randall (Guy Mitchell) rides into town crooning one of the films forgettable tunes. On his way to his brother’s funeral, he meets and falls for Susanna (Pat Crowley), the ward of Limbo’s lawyer, Jason Carberry (Jack Carson).

To add a little bit of cayenne to the chili, Reb – the fastest gun these parts have ever seen – is there to avenge his brother’s death. Even though his brother was a no-account scoundrel, Reb is forced to find his brother’s killer and do him in, due to the “Code of the West.”

Then there is Calaveras Kate (Rosemary Clooney), the saloon singer at the Red Garter tavern. She’s in love with Carberry, but has had it up to here with the “Code” and refuses to marry Carberry until he stops all of the revenge killing.

All of this is infused with some singing, some dancing, and some one-liners.

While the film promises to offer whimsy, wrapped in a cowboy, it only partially delivers. It is, indeed, whimsical, and the cast is extremely talented and committed to the tongue-in-cheek humor. Unfortunately, the film lacks a good score and the amazing voices of the talented performers are somewhat wasted.

Choreography is executed well, but with few exceptions, the dances are nothing that couldn’t be done by an enthusiastic community theatre group. You do get to see Buddy Ebsen do some hoofin’ with the dance hall girls which is entertaining.

All in all, Red Garters isn’t a bad film; it just misses the mark. Watch it for free and you will most likely enjoy it, especially if you are a fan of Rosemary Clooney.

The film also features such notables as Cass Daley, Frank Faylen, Gene Barry, Reginald Owen, and Richard Hale.

NOTE: I screened this film at my own expense and not at the request of any outside company or service. Free-to-view versions might be available digitally. This film may also be available for purchase or through subscription-based services.

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