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Synopsis: Frenchie Fontaine (Shelley Winters), a successful New Orleans casino owner whose infamous reputation precedes her, arrives in the Western town of Bottleneck where she decides to open a new gambling palace. Frenchie's motives, however, are guided by revenge. She has returned to her former hometown to settle an old score with Pete Lambert (Paul Kelly), the man who murdered her father, Frank Dawson, over a business deal. Frenchie's plans not only threaten the business interests of Lambert in the rival town of Chuckaluck but encounter resistance from the local law-abiding citizens. Sheriff Tom Banning (Joel McCrea) tries to keep the peace and pressure Frenchie to leave town but once he learns her true identity, his feelings toward her become more ambivalent.
Frenchie (1950) was the second of three Westerns Joel McCrea made for Universal in the early fifties and they performed so well at the box office that Universal offered McCrea another three-picture contract. Filmed on location near Bishop, California, the film shares several similarities to Destry Rides Again (1939) in terms of the storyline but it was not an official remake - Universal would make a new version of it in 1955 with Audie Murphy in the title role. While Frenchie cannot compete with George Marshall's superior Destry Rides Again with James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich or even the Audie Murphy remake which was also directed by Marshall, it does have its virtues. Shelley Winters is appropriately feisty and combative in the title role and a lively match for McCrea. She also has a memorable catfight scene with Marie Windsor that mirrors the Marlene Dietrich-Una Merkel free-for-all in Destry Rides Again. In addition, the supporting cast is a cut above the usual Western programmer and includes Paul Kelly, Elsa Lanchester, John Russell and Regis Toomey.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, former model Dorothy Hart (I Was a Communist for the FBI, 1951) was originally cast in the title role of Frenchie but released from her obligation after objecting to certain aspects of her character. At one time, George Sherman was also assigned by Universal to direct Frenchie but Louis King took the helm instead. King, a former character actor in the silent era, began directing shorts in the early twenties and later specialized in B movies for several studios. Among his better known films are Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935), Thunderhead - Son of Flicka (1945) with Roddy McDowall and Mrs. Mike (1949) starring Evelyn Keyes and Dick Powell.
Producer: Michael Kraike
Director: Louis King
Screenplay: Oscar Brodney
Cinematography: Maury Gertsman
Editing: Ted J. Kent
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, Bernard Herzbrun
Music: Hans J. Salter
Cast: Joel McCrea (Sheriff Tom Banning), Shelley Winters (Frenchie), Paul Kelly (Pete Lambert), Elsa Lanchester (Countess), Marie Windsor (Diane Gorman), John Russell (Lance Cole), John Emery (Clyde Gorman).
by Jeff Stafford
Last of the Cowboy Heroes: The Westerns of Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and Audie Murphy by Robert Nott (McFarland & Company)