What’s The Story? Joan (played by Joan Crawford) and her sister Elizabeth are heading west to their family ranch in Montana. They are bunch of wealthy folks, being all wealthy, and Elizabeth has the hots for Jeff, a fellow wealthy dude. Jeff has the hots for Joan, which doesn’t settle well with her. During a stop along the way, Joan has had enough and sneaks off the train and doesn’t tell her rich dad. After chatting with a very strange train clerk, Joan walks through the woods and finds cowpoke Larry (played by football player-turned-actor John Mack Brown, Joan’s co-star in Our Dancing Daughters). Larry and Joan have instant chemistry and flirt their way through the night. He even asks Joan to bed, and she begs him off as she’s devouring him with her eyes. They quickly marry (off camera) and then the film shifts to being a fish-out-of-water comedy as Larry tries to assimilate with Joan’s rich friends as she tries to get accustomed to his cowboy ways. She flirts a bunch with Jeff, even kissing him at one point. This pisses Larry off and she sends him away, but then within moments, she begs him back. All hope seems to be lost, and she’s on a train back to New York when a bunch of bandits (!) rob the train and take Joan hostage. Their leader? Larry in disguise. And then a happy ending.
The film is weird, is what I’m saying.
Montana Moon is apparently Hollywood’s first singing cowboy picture. Larry’s fellow cowboys sing a bunch in the movie, and Joan chimes in from time to time. The film lurches from melodrama to comedy to romance to musical with not a lot of aplomb. But there’s a good deal of charm to go around. Adding to the film’s odd nature is that the Production Code demanded a lot of changes to the script. But production had already begun on location in Montana, and it was too late to change the scenes. This is an example of “we’ll fix it in Post” is a huge problem. Due to Prohibition, lots of shots of drinking had to be cut as to a bunch of jokes and shots regarding Joan’s and Larry’s marriage and wedding night. So, tonal unity goes out the window when you have to edit things out that are rather key. Still, the film is fun and engaging.
Oh, And How’s Joan? Joan is pretty good! She’s in her rich girl flapper mode from Our Dancing Daughters, which is the exact opposite of Joan’s upbringing As Joan went on in her career, she specialized in tough classy women who had cores of steel. In Montana Moon, she’s playing more of a spoiled coy rich girl, a role that Jean Harlow would play. The character is more Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby than Mildred Pierce, and it shows that Joan actually had a good range. The presentational style that was the norm of 1930s film acting is done to a minimum in her performance and she has genuine chemistry with John Mack Brown. She handles the comedy and the pathos with skill. She’s very charming and even when the character is annoying, Joan Crawford isn’t. She is the center of the film; if she wasn’t giving such a charm attack, this film would fall apart.
Should I See It? Sure! Just go in knowing that a lot of the film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but Joan and crew seem to having a ball and that enthusiasm is pretty infectious.
How Can I See It? It’s available for rental on iTunes. You can find it here.