25 July 2020 | dglink
Stanwyck Rises above Absurd Mayhem
An intermittently amusing comedy about mismatched mates, "The Bride Wore Boots" boasts a fine comedic performance by the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck; during her long career, she shifted easily between drama and comedy, westerns and soap operas, crime and heroics, and here she demonstrates her acute comedy timing. Based on a play by Harry Segall, the script has some mildly funny moments, but lots of silly and absurd ones as well, although Stanwyck emerges unscathed despite the nonsense around her.
Sally Warren, played by Barbara Stanwyck, is a wealthy Virginian with a deep love for horses, while her husband, Jeff, played by Bob Cummings, intensely dislikes horses and prefers to research and write about the Civil war. Jeff's elderly female readers, members of the Daughters of the Confederacy, present him with the stuffed horse of a Southern General, which is displayed next to Sally's Christmas present to him, an antique desk, falsely attributed to Jefferson Davis. Meanwhile, Jeff gives Sally an equally awkward gift, a racing horse named Albert, whose advanced age qualifies him for the glue factory. Despite their marital differences, the couple has produced two unruly children, Johnnie and Carol, whose antics include chasing a goat through the house; Carol is played by 8-year-old Natalie Wood, whose beauty is already apparent.
The husband and wife not only have their differences, but the actors playing them also take different approaches. Cummings's broad comedy style is hardly subtle; his nervous fussing and self-conscious laughs worked better during his subsequent television years. In this film, he is at odds with Stanwyck's skillful and underplayed delivery of the lines; her expressions and tone enhance the dialog, rather than use it to mug for the second balcony. To generate tension and jealousy between the couple, the chaotic script throws in a romantic triangle or rather quadrangle with mixed results. Diana Lynn plays a young Daughter of the Confederacy, whose pursuit of the much older Cummings is unconvincing and forced. However, the handsome Patric Knowles, as Virginia horseman Lance Gale, provides a convincing diversion for Sally and raises the question as to why she married a bookish historian with an aversion to horses in the first place. Robert Benchley and Peggy Wood are solid and entertaining support as Sally's Uncle and Mother.
If intended as screwball comedy, "The Bride Wore Boots" fails to deliver, although Stanwyck does her best with a sly comedic performance that in itself makes the film worthwhile. However, much silliness, incredible moments, and a miscast Cummings must be overlooked to focus on the marvelous actress.