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Women of the West
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Women of the West - 3/22 (Daytime)


Think of the average Western movie and the images that come to mind are likely to be rugged landscapes populated by hard-riding cowboys. But some Hollywood films have considered the Women of the West, who were often forced by circumstances to be as tough and resourceful as their men. Whether finding their own independent way or establishing a household and raising a family, these women coped with harsh living conditions, frequent lawlessness and, in the early days of settling the West, gun battles and raging conflicts with the land's natives. TCM presents a series of films that look at the legendary American West with a focus on the female perspective.

Montana Moon (1930) is a pre-Code Western romance and an early sound vehicle for Joan Crawford. As a wealthy and impulsive party girl living the high life in New York City, she returns to her family ranch in Montana and has a fling with one man (Ricardo Cortez) but marries a Texas cowboy (Johnny Mack Brown). Crawford gets to sing and dance here, while Cliff Edwards introduced the concept of the singing cowboy to the movies.

The Renegade Ranger (1938) is a low-budget Western made by RKO and featuring Rita Hayworth a few years before she became a major star at Columbia Pictures. Hayworth plays outlaw queen Judith Alvarez, an accused murderess leading a gang in a range war against crooked government officials. George O'Brien and Tim Holt costar.

Gentle Annie (1944) has Marjorie Main in the title role as a gruff but loving Southern woman who settles in the West after the Civil War with her two grown sons (Harry Morgan and Paul Langton). After the boys are involved in a train robbery, a U.S. Marshall (James Craig) investigates. Donna Reed costars.

Westward the Women (1951) is a surprisingly gritty MGM Western, directed by William Wellman and starring Robert Taylor as the leader of a wagon train filled with various types of pioneer women of the 1850s, who are traveling to California to become mail-order brides. One of Taylor's best vehicles, the film also provides a showcase for the actresses involved including Hope Emerson, Denise Darcel and Julie Bishop.

Many Rivers to Cross (1955) also stars Robert Taylor, this time as a Kentucky trapper of 1798 who is determined not to marry. Eleanor Parker shines in this lively backwoods comedy as the tomboyish beauty who simply won't take no for an answer. The movie is dedicated to frontier women.

The First Traveling Saleslady (1956) stars Ginger Rogers in the title role as a corset shop owner of 1897, who changes her wares and attempts to sell barbed wire to Texas ranchers. The comedy-with-music costars Carol Channing, Barry Nelson and David Brian and features future stars James Arness and Clint Eastwood--who delivers his first screen kiss to Channing!

Fort Dobbs (1958) casts Virginia Mayo as a brave frontier woman who must trust a stranger (Clint Walker) to escort her and her young son (Richard Eyer) to the safety of a fort after her husband is killed and Comanches are on the warpath. On the journey she begins to suspect that the stranger may be her husband's killer.

A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966) is a comedy set in the Old West--specifically Laredo, Texas--where a family man with a gambling problem (Henry Fonda) is drawn into a high-stakes poker game despite the disapproval of his wife (Joanne Woodward). When her husband collapses, the "little lady" is compelled to finish the game. Fielder Cook directed an exemplary cast that also includes Jason Robards, Paul Ford, Burgess Meredith, Charles Bickford and Kevin McCarthy.

by Roger Fristoe
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