Sunday, June 17, 2018

'The Wide Open Spaces' is filled with funny

The Wide Open Spaces (1931)
Starring: Dorothy Sebastian, Ned Sparks, Antonio Moreno, and George Cooper
Director: Arthur Rossen
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A corrupt sheriff (Sparks) will go to any lengths to destroy the romance between the lovely Miss Rose (Sebastian) and the dashing John Smith (Moreno).

"The Wide Open Spaces" is a short film that lampoons just about any and every trope of westerns from the silent film and early talkies era that you can think of. It starts with a series of sight-gags and jokes revolving around gun-happy townsfolks, transitions into a series of gags based around the stereotypical wild west saloon, and ultimately settles into a spoof of melodramas with a love triangle involving the tough-as-nails-but-sexy saloon girl Rose (played by Dorothy Sebastian with perfect comedic timing), the crooked Sheriff Jack Rancid (played by Ned Sparks who does everything but twirl his mustache), and the mysterious Mexicano named John Smith (the romantic lead and mostly straight-man, played by Antonio Moreno).

While some jokes are funnier than others, there aren't any that fall flat--and that includes one involving Sebastian that I assume was somewhat shocking back in the day. One of the funniest is set up early in the picture and pays off at the very end when the evil sheriff gets his well-deserved come-uppance... while one of the most mysterious is the presence of a cross-dressing actor in black face portraying Rose's maid. This character is so strange and so out-of-place that I assume it's a reference to something contemporary audiences would have understood but is lost on me. (I have a couple ideas about what it might mean, but I can't help but feel that I'm looking at the scene with 21st century eyes and therefore imposing something on that wasn't there when it was filmed. If anyone has seen the "Wide Open Spaces" who wants to comment on cross-dressing maid in blackface, I'd love to hear your thoughts.)

All-in-all, this is another great bit of fast-moving, whacky fun from the Masquers Club... and one that I think will be as entertaining to the modern viewer as it was to audiences back in 1931.

Dorothy Sebastian is not impressed.

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