Money can’t buy happiness, and Mary Smith (Merle Oberon) knows this fact all too well. She comes from a very wealthy family. Her father, Judge Horace Smith (Henry Kolker), is a candidate for president. To outsiders, her life seems charmed, but in reality, she’s terribly bored.
Many expectations are placed on Mary as a potential member of the country’s next First Family, but she just wants to have fun. Her uncle Hannibal (Harry Davenport), a lively professor, wants to help Mary. He thinks she should spend time with people her own age, rather than constantly being surrounded by her father’s 60-something friends, so one night he takes her dancing at a gambling club… which is raided by the police!
The newspapers get their hands on a list of names of people who were at the club, and surprise, surprise — there’s Mary’s name. To avoid scandal, Judge Smith sends his daughter away to Palm Beach with her two maids, Katie (Patsy Kelly) and Elly (Mabel Todd).
With those two gals accompanying her, Mary may just find her life injected with a much-needed dose of excitement. They give her flirting tips, and set her up on a blind date with handsome rodeo star Stretch Willoughby (Gary Cooper).
H. C. Potter directs 1938’s The Cowboy and the Lady. The film comes from an original story by Leo McCarey and Frank Adams, with script contributions made by many writers including Lillian Hellman, Anita Loos, and Dorothy Parker.
With so many writers contributing to the script (TCMDb reports a remarkable fifteen in total, not including story-makers McCarey and Adams), The Cowboy and the Lady should be some sort of masterpiece. It doesn’t reach those heights, sadly, but it is a decent watch. A nice one for a lazy spring afternoon, which is exactly when I watched it. It isn’t too dramatic or too funny, instead opting to focus on a sweet story of romance between two people from very different worlds, who somehow find common ground and fall in love despite their differences in background.
Our leads, Merle Oberon and Gary Cooper, have wonderful chemistry. Both come off a bit shy toward each other in the beginning, but clearly are instantly smitten. Cooper’s character is a soft-spoken man, and Oberon’s is a very sheltered woman. They complement each other in that way.
There are a few turns of drama to their story, but mostly the romance between Oberon and Cooper is light and sweet. There are a couple of foggy scenes on a boat that will definitely tug at the heartstrings of the hopelessly romantic viewer. They sure gave me “all of the feels” (as the kids say nowadays).
In addition to two very likable leads (who make a very lovable pair), the film also features a supporting cast filled with wonderful players. Harry Davenport’s small role as Mary’s uncle is a great addition to the film, bringing laughs and charm to the screen. His little song-and-dance with Mary’s father in the beginning had me in stitches! Patsy Kelly is her usual boy-crazy, honest-talkin’ self, and Cooper has two hammy rodeo sidekicks (Walter Brennan and Fuzzy Knight). They’re not quite as suave as Cooper, but very funny and energetic.
Fans of Merle Oberon or those who have a classic Hollywood crush on Gary Cooper will want to give a look to The Cowboy and the Lady. It’s no Lydia (a TMP favorite Oberon vehicle), but still a very easy-to-watch romantic “dramedy.” The score: 3.5/5