The Dalton Girls (1957)
This is the second time I've tried to review The Dalton Girls.
After I watched the movie, I found an interesting commentary about it by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster in Captive Bodies: Postcolonial Subjectivity in Cinema. Foster spent more time on The Dalton Girls than anyone else I've found and I was interested by her arguments. That led to an incredibly insightful piece of absolute genius. Using Foster as a springboard, I set out to create a lengthy meta-examination of film criticism. The first portion of this masterpiece simultaneously attacked and embraced the notion of academic film study as the intersection of the shiniest brilliance and the dingiest stupidity. I was making firing off arguments at a pace that would make the Gatlin gun from Josey Wales jealous.
That's when I realized three things. First, I wasn't really THAT interested (or, I must humbly admit, qualified) to write what might become a book on film criticism. I'd only scratched the surface and things were already starting to bore me. In order to finish what I'd started, I'd have to surrender all outside interests for a long, long time. Not happening. Second, The Dalton Girls disappeared after the first few paragraphs. My true intent was to share some thoughts on the movie and I didn't want to abandon that. Third, it was boring. That was my fault. Though I could blame it on too many half-assed trips through graduate programs, I blame myself for labyrinthine, dry writing spurts.
So, here we are. My second review of The Dalton Girls, a standard-issue 1950s B-western with a twist.
The twist? The villain protagonists are women. They rob trains, banks and stage coaches. They live life on the run. They're pursued by a Pinkerton-style detective. They ride horses at high speed, shoot/kill people and end up in a showdown. They do all of the usual "guy" stuff--but with better hair and makeup.
The brief synopsis:
When the infamous Dalton brothers are brought to justice by the bullet, two of their sisters go to identify the corpses. The mortician gets a little handsy with one of the gals and ends up with a shovel to the cranium. He keels over. The Dalton sisters know that their family's reputation will prevent them from getting a fair shake from the authorities, so they take off as outlaws. The movie fast-forwards to a few years later. The younger sisters are out of school (the elders paid their way through boarding school with ill-gotten gains) and the brood gets to work right away, robbing a stage coach.
One sister, Columbine, falls in love with the gambler Illinois Grey (a passenger on the doomed coach). Grey has that uncanny ability to show up over and over again whenever it might create a good plot complication. He also creates the ever-important romantic storyline. The movie is all about whether any of the gals can or should try to go straight and whether Columbine and Illinois will make a life together. There's a campfire singalong and a big shootout, too!
The Dalton Girls as a movie:
Not so good. It's fun to see women breaking the glass ceiling outlaw life--for awhile. If you take the gender-flip out of the equation, though, The Dalton Girls is standard-issue matinee fare (as well as being the first movie Ann Althouse ever watched). I'm guessing that 1957 audiences might have been more entertained by the idea of female western leads than I am 50 years later, but I'm also willing to bet few of them walked out of The Dalton Girls convinced they'd seen a masterpiece.
Is it worth watching?
Yes. By all means, watch The Dalton Girls. It's not a particularly good movie, but it has a few characteristics that make it worthwhile.
First, it's short. That helps this one, because it probably would start to wear very thin if it lingered. Fortunately, it's a compact little movie, which increases its overall watchability. Plus, you won't feel like you wasted a huge chunk of your life if you hate it. It moves along at a nice clip and, despite its 162 weaknesses, it is pretty entertaining.
Second, the sisters are really attractive. I feel almost guilty making that argument in light of the previously-mentioned Foster analysis of the movie, which is a strong piece of feminist criticism. I can't escape the patriarchy on this one, though. Maybe I'm just being a phallocentric oppressor who can't control his socialized misogyny worth a damn, but the Dalton girls are true hotties in that 50s-black-and-white kind of way.
Whether you prefer demure Columbine or the butchier and more aggressive Rose, you WILL find a Dalton sister to love.
I'm pro-Rose. She's meaner and sexier than the other sisters. Plus, Lisa Davis later did one of the puppy voices in 101 Dalmations and played alongside the miserable performer known as Zsa Zsa Gabor in Queen of Outer Space. Mainly, though, I found myself captivated by her amoral behavior and her not-that-good singing voice. Go Rose!
Third, Boyd "Red" Morgan plays the (very, very, very) limited role of the stagecoach driver. Thus, watching The Dalton Girls is experiencing a Historic Moment. Red played the role of "stagecoach driver" at least 4 times (television and film) between 1956 and 1957. I can't imagine that's happened to anyone else in Hollywood history. By the way, Red played "stagecoach driver" a few other times in his long career, too. He was also a world-class stuntman who doubled for John Wayne repeatedly and once bragged that he'd fallen off 2,000 horses on screen.
Fourth, if you don't watch The Dalton Girls, you won't have as much fun reading Foster's perspective on the movie. I'd tell you why you really should read that, but then I'd be back to writing my first, failed, review. Just do it, okay?
Rose Dalton quotation:
"They tell me he plays women just like he plays poker. Riffle, shuffle, fast cut, big deal, the sky's the limit; and then all of a sudden you're lying there in the discard."
(2.5/5 Singing Cowboys)
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