#37 in my ranking of John Ford’s filmography.
This is better. Obviously built from the ground up as a feature length film, Bucking Broadway, John Ford’s fourth feature length film (and only second surviving), as the sinews of a story that fills its screen time healthfully. It’s another simple tale with broadly drawn characters and situations, but it’s told with care, energy, and clarity, creating a fun fifty-three minute film.
Harry Carey plays Cheyenne Harry (not the same character from Straight Shooting, presumably, because, you know, movies didn’t work like that back then), a ranch hand who has fallen for the boss’s daughter, Helen (Molly Malone). He’s a hard-working man, and he whittles a small heart for her to keep, only to return to him if she were ever in trouble. In an amusing episode, after having won her heart, both Harry and Helen go to Helen’s father (L.M. Wells) to ask for his permission to marry. Harry is so nervous while Ford puts an amusing focus on his feet as he stammers for the right words, eventually winning over her father with his spirit and gumption for taking care of his new bride in the future, including the fact that he built his own house.
Everything seems well until the rich city slicker, Thorton (Vester Pegg), shows up to buy some of the ranch’s horses. He’s dashing, arrives in a new fangled automobile, and he’s good on a horse, too, wrangling the one they all called the “Cowboy Killer”. He’s handsome, and he pays Helen a lot of attention that she’s happy to receive. It gets so much that on the night of her engagement announcement for the whole ranch to Harry, she steals away with Thorton, leaving the rolling hills of Wyoming behind for New York City.
Helen quickly begins to feel remorse at her decision, sending back the heart to Harry with the note saying that she remembers why he gave it to her. Harry isn’t going to take this lying down, so he becomes the fish out of water when he buys a train ticket to New York, jumping on the train as it goes from his horse, taking his saddle with him as he jumps, and pushing his way to his seat. When he gets to his hotel, he refuses all help from the bellboy, pushing him out of the way as he flops his saddle onto the nice floor of the hotel lobby, doing everything wrong about signing in like licking the fountain pen and getting a mouthful of ink. He even confuses the radiator for a rattlesnake. Is this high art? No, not really. Is it consistently entertaining? Yes, yes it is.
Harry has come to New York to find his fiancée, but he doesn’t know where to start looking. What gets him to Helen, though, isn’t the most convincing series of events, but it’s told lightly and entertainingly enough. He gets pickpocketed by a male and female pair of crooks, but he makes such an innocent and positive impression on the woman that she can’t bear to steal from him, returning his wallet to his pocket without Harry realizing it. He shows her a picture of Helen, and then the criminal duo go off to find other rich people to fleece. At the next party they go to they see Helen and Thorton in a corner. At the same time, all of the other ranch hands have shown up in New York to deliver the horses that Thorton ordered. Quickly, the female pickpocket tells Harry about whom she’s seen, Harry has her call the station where the ranch hands have just arrived, and Harry barrels into the party. Thorton has become a complete louse on the drink, becoming violent towards Helen, and Harry is there to save the day. It becomes a giant brawl as the rich young men of New York duke it out first with Harry and then the rest of the ranch hands.
It’s organized chaos, and it’s immensely amusing.
Bucking Broadway is a simple tale of how country folk are better than city folk told with a wonderful sense of propulsive and almost anarchic energy from John Ford. It’s a small gem from his earliest days, and a very fun little movie.