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Star of the Month: Dick Powell
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Cowboy From Brooklyn

In the light-hearted musical Cowboy from Brooklyn (1938) from director Lloyd Bacon, Dick Powell stars as Elly Jordan, a city slicker musician from Brooklyn who is transformed into the singing cowboy "Wyoming" Steve Gibson after he lands on a dude ranch in the West. The trouble is that he's about as much of an authentic cowboy as Babe Ruth and harbors a paralyzing fear of all creatures, great and small. As his popularity with the public grows, the deception gets out of hand when he is forced to prove his mettle as a true cowboy at a Madison Square Garden rodeo with humorous results.

By the time Cowboy from Brooklyn was in production, its star Dick Powell was ready for a change. The boyishly handsome actor had made many successful early musicals for Warner Bros., but the parts were fluffy, and he was getting older and was ready to move on to more substantial roles. In addition, the reign of the lavish musicals Warner Bros. usually produced was coming to an end, and the studio didn't quite know what to do with their aging singing star. Powell had been one of the studio's top box office draws for years, and he felt that this status would give him some leverage about what roles he would take. Warner Bros., however, believed that a star should stick with the kind of material that had made him popular. He was stuck, and just two years later Powell left the studio permanently to broaden his horizons as an actor.

Richard Whiting and Johnny Mercer were hired to write the songs in Cowboy from Brooklyn, and the pair completed such tunes for it as "I Got a Heartful of Sunshine," "Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride," and "I'll Dream Tonight", sung by Powell. When Richard Whiting suffered a fatal heart attack during the film's production, however, songwriter Harry Warren was brought in to complete the remaining songs with Johnny Mercer. The remarkably talented and prolific Warren, who was born in Brooklyn himself, co-wrote "Howdy Stranger" and the film's title song "Cowboy from Brooklyn" with Mercer.

Cowboy from Brooklyn has a fine supporting cast including the always reliable Pat O'Brien as the fast-talking talent scout Roy Chadwick, Priscilla Lane as Powell's love interest Jane, Ann Sheridan as Chadwick's sister Maxine, and a young Ronald Reagan as press agent Pat Dunn. Pat O'Brien was an old standby for this kind of slick fast-talking role, and Cowboy from Brooklyn marked his sixth and final film opposite Dick Powell. Ronald Reagan, who was still green as an actor when he appeared in this film, would go on to count both Dick Powell and Pat O'Brien among his best friends.

Cowboy from Brooklyn was clearly meant as a good-natured jab at the new breed of "singing cowboy" movies that had brought stars like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers to the masses. The radio show in the movie, Captain Rose's Amateur Hour, was meant as a spoof of the popular long-running radio show Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour, whose most famous discovery was Frank Sinatra. Cowboy from Brooklyn was remade at Warner Bros. in 1948 as Two Guys from Texas starring Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson.

Producer: Louis F. Edelman, Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Screenplay: Robert Sloane, Louis Pelletier, Earl Baldwin
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Film Editing: James Gibbon
Art Direction: Esdras Hartley
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Dick Powell (Elly Jordan), Pat O'Brien (Roy Chadwick), Priscilla Lane (Jane Hardy), Dick Foran (Sam Thorne), Ann Sheridan (Maxine Chadwick), Johnnie Davis (Jeff Hardy).
BW-77m. Closed captioning.

by Andrea Passafiume



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