27 September 2001 | mark.waltz
One of the worst films that I actually enjoyed!
Take dancing queen Ginger Rogers; pair her with dizzy queen Carol Channing, and you've got one of the oddest teamings in film history. Ginger and Carol must have had some laughs over this one years later when Ginger prepared to take over the role of Dolly Levi from Carol on Broadway in "Hello, Dolly!". This is one of RKO's last films, and how sad it must have been for Ginger to return to the studio that made her a star when it was on the verge of becoming the property of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. She had not made a film there in ten years, so it must have brought back some long- forgotten memories.
The film is a period comedy about corset saleswoman Rogers who wants to make it in a man's world by selling barbed wire after previous salesmen were either lynched or run out of town. Channing is her pal, a ditzy gal who sings the show-stopping "A corset can do a lot for a lady" to advertise their colorful girdles. (With this song out there, why "Que Sera Sera" won best song in 1956 makes no sense to me!) Together, they join forces to take on the men of the wild west, especially brauny James Arness. Then, there is Barry Nelson as the wisecracking man who keeps crossing Ginger's past. Serious dilemmas arise: will Ginger and Carol emancipate the west from cattle barons like Arness who refuse to allow barbed wire onto their lands? Or will they end up lynched or thrown out of town with their corset stays between their legs? Which man will Rogers choose, Arness or Nelson? And then, the most important question: will Clint Eastwood (as Channing's beau) ever crack a smile? All these questions end up being answered in a trial that would make Frank Capra jealous.
OK, so "The First Traveling Saleslady" is no "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town", or even a "Mr. Winkle Goes to War". But its the type of comedy that older leading actresses like Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne, Rosalind Russell, and Rogers were being given towards the end of their career. The comedy isn't classic, but it isn't low. It produces smiles, a few groans, and one or two major chuckles. If you compare this to most other RKO features of the mid 1950's, its barely better or worse than the others. Rogers and Channing, sadly, did not photograph too well; the men were much luckier.
I first saw this as a teenager, and really enjoyed it. As a young adult, I got some amusement out of it, and recently thought, "What the heck did I find so amusing?" So I must admit, the more sophisticated you get, the less you will laugh. In a sense, too, it's ahead of its time on the subject matter of women's lib, even if how it tells the story is extremely silly. References to David Belasco and Carnegie Steel are smart and sassy.