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In 1932, Ginger Rogers was still struggling to make a name for herself after three years in motion pictures, freelancing from studio to studio. If the productions she starred in weren't necessarily top drawer, they were just the sort of popular programmers with well-known players that a young actress needed to get ahead in those days. She had just finished playing the female interest in two roustabout adventures starring William Boyd. Not yet playing the role that would make him famous, Hop-along Cassidy, Boyd was nevertheless enough of a draw to make the two pictures worthwhile for Ginger. Then she got the leading lady part in The Tenderfoot, opposite wide-mouthed comedian Joe E. Brown, one of the biggest moneymakers among comic performers in the early 1930s (he is best known today as the millionaire "engaged" to cross-dressing Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, 1959).
Brown plays a country bumpkin with a wad of cash who ends up becoming a successful Broadway producer. Rogers plays the secretary of the man seeking to scam Brown's character out of his money, but she ends up sympathizing with the rube and becoming the star of his hit show. Although little known today, the movie was another good break for Ginger and a happy experience. In her autobiography, she praised Brown's kindness and thoughtfulness. "Though he was the star, he took the time to make sure I was okay and kept thinking of ways to turn my face to the camera," she wrote. "A star actor who was willing to coach his leading lady was very unusual."
Reviews for The Tenderfoot were mixed, but Ginger received some good notices for her attractiveness and appeal, even though her role didn't demand much of her acting talents. Audiences and exhibitors were more enthusiastic than the critics; in fact, one theater manager from North Dakota wrote a favorable letter to the industry magazine Motion Picture Herald calling the movie "just the kind of production my patrons will break away from their radios for."
The Tenderfoot may have been a fairly routine comic programmer for First National Pictures (owned by Warner Brothers), but it had a rather impressive pedigree. The story was based on a play by no less than George S. Kaufman, at that time the reigning king of Broadway playwrights. Under its original title, The Butter and Egg Man, it ran for 243 performances between September 1925 and April 1926. It was Kaufman's first solo playwriting effort, after several years of collaborations with Marc Connelly and one play co-written with Edna Ferber. Kaufman chose familiar territory for his comic story-the mounting of a Broadway production. The title came from a phrase attributed to notorious Manhattan nightclub owner and actress Texas Guinan, which came to mean any nave out-of-towner with a big bankroll and the willingness to spend it.
The play was first adapted to film in 1928 under its stage title. The story was altered for Brown, turning the lead from an Iowa hick to a cowpoke, and Kaufman's trademark sophisticated wit was set aside for the kind of broad comedy the North Dakota theater owner felt his audiences wanted. It was remade as Dance Charlie Dance (1937) and An Angel from Texas (1940), and enough of the plot elements were worked into Hello, Sweetheart (1935) and Three Sailors and a Girl (1953) to warrant a credit for Kaufman's play as a basis of those scripts. An Angel from Texas was directed by Ray Enright, who also directed The Tenderfoot. Enright and Brown worked together on five pictures. The Tenderfoot was obviously enough of a success to warrant pairing Brown and Rogers again very quickly, in You Said a Mouthful (1932).
Actor, writer, and song-and-dance man Richard Carle is credited alongside Kaufman for the "story" on the basis of his 1904 musical comedy The Tenderfoot, which bore little resemblance to this movie beyond the title. It did, however, give birth to the immortal songs (composed by Carle) "My Alamo Love" and "I'm a Gay Lothario."
The Tenderfoot was shot by Gregg Toland, who had not yet achieved master cinematographer status; that would come later with such films as Dead End (1937), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and most famously Citizen Kane (1941).
Director: Ray Enright
Producer: Bryan Foy (uncredited)
Screenplay: Earl Baldwin, Monty Banks, Arthur Caesar (adaptation), George S. Kaufman, Richard Carle (story)
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Editing: Owen Marks
Art Direction: Esdras Hartley
Cast: Joe E. Brown (Calvin Jones), Ginger Rogers (Ruth Weston), Lew Cody (Joe Lehman), Vivien Oakland (Miss Martin), Robert Greig (Mack).
by Rob Nixon