Mail Order Bride (1964)
“All you need for a hillbilly weddin’ is a guy, a gal and a shotgun!”
Director: Burt Kennedy
Cast: Buddy Ebsen, Keir Dullea, Lois Nettleton
Synopsis: Elderly Will Lane arranges the marriage of the wild son of a dead friend to tame him.
Burt Kennedy’s Mail Order Bride is a slight, old-fashioned B-Western with a rare leading role for Buddy Ebsen, who will be more familiar to most viewers as TV’s Barnaby Jones – although when this was made he was more famous, in the States at least, as Jed Clampett in the Beverly Hillbillies. In Mail Order Bride he plays Will Lane, an ageing cowboy who owes a debt of honour to his dead buddy, whose son Lee (Keir Dullea) stands to inherit his modest ranch. The trouble is Lee’s a bit of a lad who’d rather be drinking in town with his no-good friend, Jace (Warren Oates), or testing the bedsprings of Marietta, the local tart with a heart (the yummy BarBara Luna), and his pa knew only too well that, without proper guidance, he’d end up frittering away his inheritance. So Will is tasked with teaching the boy some standards, and hits upon the idea of ordering a mail order bride whom, he hopes, will domesticate the wild buck.
The bride isn’t actually mail order at all. She’s Annie Boley (Lois Nettleton), the cleaner at a Kansas City saloon suggested to Will by the proprietress who actually did advertise herself in a mail order catalogue but proves a little too long in the tooth for Lee (but not for Will, as it turns out) She’s no Marietta, but she possesses a warmth and strength of character that make her an ideal candidate to tame young Lee. The problem is she also has a young son, and so, in allegiance with Annie, Lee reluctantly pretends to be going along with things until Will is satisfied and disappears.
The plot is as unlikely as it is gentle, and while it doesn’t make for exciting viewing it’s helped immensely by a coolly measured performance from the under-valued Ebsen. Kennedy wisely chooses to keep his camera fixed on Lane whenever anything of significance is imparted, knowing that the studied manner in which Ebsen responds will be infinitely more interesting and informative than the delivery of the actor speaking the lines. A young Warren Oates is also effective as the charismatic wild rover leading Lee astray even as he plots to rob him of his herd.
(Reviewed 22nd July 2012)