Although Preston Sturges never made an outright spoof, his films roundly poke at the ribs of genre forms and general perceptions of good taste. The easiest example is Sullivan’s Travels, which depicts Hollywood’s interest in social awareness as financially opportunistic and engineered toward adding “a little sex” to everything it touches. Yet Sturges’s lampooning of mass culture reaches back to Christmas in July, his first comedy, in which an innocently penned jingle for a coffee brand nearly causes a citywide catastrophe. Sturges seeks the darker comedic impulses of humanity through zany narratives, replete with acid-tongued characters of either bad manners or ill repute.
The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend dabbles liberally in bad manners at the expense of honed characterizations, constructing a farcical western scenario that abounds in numerous accidental shootings, low-cut dresses, and boozehound antics without much of a greater purpose. Unlike in Sturges’s greatest comedies, most of the gags aren’t tethered to a purpose greater than themselves. When Freddie (Betty Grable), saloon singer and resident fireball, accidentally shoots a local judge (Porter Hall) in the ass, she skips town with Conchita (Olga San Juan) and winds up in an Anytown, U.S.A., where she’s mistaken for the new schoolmarm.
The setup is slipshod, especially as numerous quips about Conchita (a Mexican woman) being Freddie’s “little Indian maid” and the like are shot off with a tepid satirical aim. The small town’s yokel population are derided with ample glee by Sturges and Earl Felton’s screenplay, so that the jokey racism plays more like the filmmakers merely propping themselves up against pretty low-hanging fruit (one woman states, referring to Conchita: “She’s very nice, for an Indian”). Unlike Sullivan’s Travels, which deals with class and race in a remarkably restrained but forthright manner, The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend plays at times like the comedic equivalent of two punks hurling eggs at random houses from a moving stagecoach.
The story’s crux revolves around the simple premise that Freddie doesn’t play by the town’s rules and is faster with a six-shooter than any of her largely ineffectual male counterparts. That includes Charles (Rudy Vallee), a rich gold miner who’s quickly taken with Freddie’s aggressive attitude. Vallee is given Sturges’s favorite male archetype (the dupe), and it’s a role Vallee played to more stinging effect in The Palm Beach Story, especially with lines like “That’s one of the tragedies in this life, that the men who most need beating up are almost always enormous.” Here, Charles is merely a trapping of the typical Sturges comedy rather than an indispensible component of it and is practically cast aside halfway through the film for a bizarre series of gags involving a pair of fortysomething brothers (Sterling Holloway and Dan Jackson) who are still in grade school.
The primary reason The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend works at all as comedy is Grable, whose sheer exuberance as a performer is most evident when she’s tasked with selling such wonky material. The film’s oddest scene involves the brothers, who’ve been given detention because of their open consumption of alcohol during class. Grable plays the scene as a seductress turned dominatrix, enticing the men with alluring promises of “playtime” before loading a pistol and engaging in target practice on a couple of ink bottles set atop their heads. It’s the closest Sturges comes to constructing a virtuoso reversal of the western’s gender troubles, but it’s also one of too few jokes throughout the film with a constructive, rather than wayward, gaze.
Kino Lorber’s high-definition transfer is a revelation, bringing Preston Sturges’s impressive color palette to vibrant life with nary a defect in sight. Costume designs featuring purple and turquoise are but two of the film’s decidedly fanciful choices, and it would be easy to overlook such a marvel of production design given the screenplay’s shortcomings if not for this Blu-ray’s precision, especially with indoor scenes, in calibrating every piece of the frame to restore Sturges’s original vision. The 2.0 DTS-HD track does a service to both dialogue and the film’s score by boosting each of their levels, so that they’re even sharper if heard on proper speakers.
Nothing aside from a handful of trailers for other Kino Lorber titles.
Undoubtedly a reference point for Mel Brooks while penning Blazing Saddles, The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend receives a stellar HD debut on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.