The Cheyenne Social Club


1h 42m 1970
The Cheyenne Social Club

Brief Synopsis

An aging cowboy finds that the successful business he has inherited is actually a house of prostitution.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Comedy
Western
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
Chicago opening: 12 Jun 1970
Production Company
National General Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
National General Pictures Corporation
Country
United States
Location
Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In 1870, Texas cowboy John O'Hanlan receives a letter from Willowby, a lawyer in Cheyenne, Wyoming, informing him that he has inherited an establishment called the Cheyenne Social Club. O'Hanlan immediately sets out with his close friend Harley O'Sullivan to claim the property, and after a year's journey, he arrives in Cheyenne to receive the accrued profits and set himself up as a man of means and an upright citizen. When he discovers that the Cheyenne Social Club is a brothel, however, he makes plans to fire the women and convert the building into a boardinghouse. The whole town tries to dissuade him; Willowby explains that the house is on railroad property and that he will lose it if he closes it down. When Jenny, the madam of the house, is beaten up by Corey Bannister, O'Hanlan challenges him to a gunfight and, through an improbable stroke of luck, kills him. O'Hanlan and O'Sullivan soon find themselves the object of the Bannister brothers' revenge. Despite their ineptitude as gunfighters, O'Hanlan and O'Sullivan manage to defeat the Bannisters, only to find themselves sought by the entire 200-member Bannister clan. Realizing that their luck is running out, they deed the Cheyenne Social Club to Jenny and hastily leave town.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Comedy
Western
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
Chicago opening: 12 Jun 1970
Production Company
National General Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
National General Pictures Corporation
Country
United States
Location
Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Cheyenne Social Club


After winning an Oscar® for playing a prostitute in 1960's Elmer Gantry, Shirley Jones returned to the Oldest Profession 10 years later, graduating to the position of Madame in The Cheyenne Social Club (1970). She operates a lively brothel by that name in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in the 1860s, playing a character called Madame Jenny in this Technicolor Western comedy romp. When aging, itinerant Texas cowpoke John O'Hanlan (James Stewart) inherits the property from his brother, "the late D.J.," he invites inseparable sidekick and fellow wanderer Harley O'Sullivan (Henry Fonda) to come along and settle down to run what they think is a legitimate business.

While John is appalled to learn the true nature of his newly acquired enterprise, Harley settles in like a bee in a field of clover. The men in Cheyenne get into a lather when they find John has plans to shut down their "social club" and turn it into a respectable boarding house. All this becomes a moot point when local varmint Corey Bannister (Robert J. Wilke) gets rough with Jenny and John ends up killing him in a gunfight. When the whole Bannister gang comes after them, John and Harley have no choice but to defend themselves along with Jenny and the rest of the bordello workers. In the meantime, the lovely Jenny - who used to be his late brother's "favorite" - has taken quite a shine to John. But the open range is calling, and John and Harley remain true to their profession as "range rats."

Despite the potential for bawdiness and some lightly suggestive dialogue, The Cheyenne Social Club is a fairly genteel affair. The unlikely producer-director is song-and-dance superstar Gene Kelly, handling his only Western. He gives the two lifelong pals Stewart and Fonda plenty of acting room, and they share an easy onscreen chemistry. Jones delivers a fetching performance, but the movie exists mainly as an opportunity for the two male stars to revel in each other's company. Even their personal politics - Stewart conservative, Fonda liberal - are carried over into the characters and their arguments.

Stewart and Fonda had paired two years earlier in another Western, Firecreek (1968), and earlier had been together in the musical comedy On Our Merry Way (1948). Both were in How the West Was Won (1962) but had no scenes together even though their characters were presented as being best friends. In The Cheyenne Social Club, Stewart is the strong, silent type and Fonda is the loquacious one. In an amusing opening sequence, Fonda rattles on as they cross the Western landscapes toward Cheyenne, leading Stewart to complain that "You been talkin' all the way from Texas."

Stewart had agreed to do the film before his buddy signed on and, oddly enough, Fonda was not keen on it, suggesting instead that his role go to Jack Elam. He finally relented after screenwriter James Lee Barrett beefed up the role of Harley, adding among other things the talkathon that John finds so annoying at film's opening. Fonda has amusing scenes pursuing the girls in the bordello, enjoying particularly sprightly byplay with Sue Ane Langdon as Opal Ann.

An autobiography of Jones co-written with Mickey Herskowitz indicates that her impressions of her costars "do not vary in any important way from the accepted ones. Fonda was polite, shy and remote. Stewart was just as you find him on the screen, slow-paced, kind and absentminded." Jones, who earlier had acted with Stewart in the John Ford Western Two Rode Together (1961), chatted easily with him and enjoyed his stories. But this filming, when Stewart was 62, came at a difficult time in his life; his stepson Ronald McLean was killed in Vietnam in 1969, and Stewart himself was having increasing difficulty with his hearing. Stewart had planned on using Pie, the horse he had ridden in so many Westerns, in this film too - but the high altitudes of shooting locations near Santa Fe, New Mexico, proved too much for the aging horse. When filming finished, Fonda (then 65) presented Stewart with a watercolor portrait of Pie; the horse died two days later.

The Cheyenne Social Club made a small profit but not much of a splash in its day, although it has gained popularity over the years through repeated showings on television. Although suggested by a novel by Davis Grubb, Barrett's script earned a 1970 nomination from the Writers Guild of America as "Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen." It lost to Neil Simon's The Out-of-Towners. Barrett said that, for years afterwards, he kept the sign listing the names of the girls in the brothel hanging in his home.

By Roger Fristoe
The Cheyenne Social Club

The Cheyenne Social Club

After winning an Oscar® for playing a prostitute in 1960's Elmer Gantry, Shirley Jones returned to the Oldest Profession 10 years later, graduating to the position of Madame in The Cheyenne Social Club (1970). She operates a lively brothel by that name in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in the 1860s, playing a character called Madame Jenny in this Technicolor Western comedy romp. When aging, itinerant Texas cowpoke John O'Hanlan (James Stewart) inherits the property from his brother, "the late D.J.," he invites inseparable sidekick and fellow wanderer Harley O'Sullivan (Henry Fonda) to come along and settle down to run what they think is a legitimate business. While John is appalled to learn the true nature of his newly acquired enterprise, Harley settles in like a bee in a field of clover. The men in Cheyenne get into a lather when they find John has plans to shut down their "social club" and turn it into a respectable boarding house. All this becomes a moot point when local varmint Corey Bannister (Robert J. Wilke) gets rough with Jenny and John ends up killing him in a gunfight. When the whole Bannister gang comes after them, John and Harley have no choice but to defend themselves along with Jenny and the rest of the bordello workers. In the meantime, the lovely Jenny - who used to be his late brother's "favorite" - has taken quite a shine to John. But the open range is calling, and John and Harley remain true to their profession as "range rats." Despite the potential for bawdiness and some lightly suggestive dialogue, The Cheyenne Social Club is a fairly genteel affair. The unlikely producer-director is song-and-dance superstar Gene Kelly, handling his only Western. He gives the two lifelong pals Stewart and Fonda plenty of acting room, and they share an easy onscreen chemistry. Jones delivers a fetching performance, but the movie exists mainly as an opportunity for the two male stars to revel in each other's company. Even their personal politics - Stewart conservative, Fonda liberal - are carried over into the characters and their arguments. Stewart and Fonda had paired two years earlier in another Western, Firecreek (1968), and earlier had been together in the musical comedy On Our Merry Way (1948). Both were in How the West Was Won (1962) but had no scenes together even though their characters were presented as being best friends. In The Cheyenne Social Club, Stewart is the strong, silent type and Fonda is the loquacious one. In an amusing opening sequence, Fonda rattles on as they cross the Western landscapes toward Cheyenne, leading Stewart to complain that "You been talkin' all the way from Texas." Stewart had agreed to do the film before his buddy signed on and, oddly enough, Fonda was not keen on it, suggesting instead that his role go to Jack Elam. He finally relented after screenwriter James Lee Barrett beefed up the role of Harley, adding among other things the talkathon that John finds so annoying at film's opening. Fonda has amusing scenes pursuing the girls in the bordello, enjoying particularly sprightly byplay with Sue Ane Langdon as Opal Ann. An autobiography of Jones co-written with Mickey Herskowitz indicates that her impressions of her costars "do not vary in any important way from the accepted ones. Fonda was polite, shy and remote. Stewart was just as you find him on the screen, slow-paced, kind and absentminded." Jones, who earlier had acted with Stewart in the John Ford Western Two Rode Together (1961), chatted easily with him and enjoyed his stories. But this filming, when Stewart was 62, came at a difficult time in his life; his stepson Ronald McLean was killed in Vietnam in 1969, and Stewart himself was having increasing difficulty with his hearing. Stewart had planned on using Pie, the horse he had ridden in so many Westerns, in this film too - but the high altitudes of shooting locations near Santa Fe, New Mexico, proved too much for the aging horse. When filming finished, Fonda (then 65) presented Stewart with a watercolor portrait of Pie; the horse died two days later. The Cheyenne Social Club made a small profit but not much of a splash in its day, although it has gained popularity over the years through repeated showings on television. Although suggested by a novel by Davis Grubb, Barrett's script earned a 1970 nomination from the Writers Guild of America as "Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen." It lost to Neil Simon's The Out-of-Towners. Barrett said that, for years afterwards, he kept the sign listing the names of the girls in the brothel hanging in his home. By Roger Fristoe

Quotes

I suppose you've come to see me about that little thing last night.
- John O'Hanlan
That wasn't any little thing you did, O'Hanlan. That was a Bannister you shot. I've been wanting to do it for years.
- Marshal Anderson
Well, how much time do I have?
- John O'Hanlan
Oh, three days at the most. They live quite a ways out of town. But trouble rides a fast horse!
- Marshal Anderson

Trivia

'James Stewart' agreed to do the film and suggested to the producers that they offer the part of Harley to his good friend, Henry Fonda. Fonda read the script and agreed to do it but he had one suggestion. In the opening sequence, when the two ride to Cheyenne, his character had no dialog in the script. He innocently asked to give his character something to say. The writer, James Lee Barrett, came up with the speech Fonda gives. For years after the film was released, the sign that hung in the club listing the names of the girls hung in writer James Lee Barrett's home as a memento.

Notes

Location scenes filmed in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer June 1970

Released in United States on Video November 16, 1988

Released in United States Summer June 1970

Released in United States on Video November 16, 1988