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Movie Review: The Tenderfoot (1932)

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From its title, you might think Joe E. Brown's The Tenderfoot (1932) was a western dude comedy in the manner of Bob Hope's Paleface movies, but you'd be off the mark. Loosely based on George S. Kaufman's play, The Egg and Butter Man, the flick (which recently aired as part of a Joe E. Brown birthday celebration on TCM) centers on Calvin Jones, a cowpoke from Beesville, Texas, who's come to the Big Apple to make his fortune. Armed with $20,000 cash on his person, Calvin quickly becomes an easy mark for Sam Lehman (Lew Cody), a Broadway producer with a turkey of a play entitled "Her Golden Sin" in his hands. "If they take it to New York, they'll have to embalm it," one Syracuse theatergoer notes after a trial performance, but gullible Cal doesn't realize he's investing in a flop.

Tenderfoot, then, turns out to be a mild show biz comedy more than a fish-out-of-water tale. Lehman's sardonic secretary Ruth, against her better judgment, falls for the sap and is ultimately rewarded with a leading lady role for her new loyalty. Naturally, our hero winds up besting the too-slick city slickers and becoming a successful impresario in his own right.

Brown approaches his broad role with so much of his trademark gusto that he easily carries this ramshackle comedy through its flimsier comic constructions (e.g., a scene where our newcomer wrestles with the items on a kosher menu, another where he flaunts his lack of sophistication at a haberdashers). Strutting around the city with a great goofy grin on his mug, spontaneously letting out loud whoops and malapropisms ("Ejaculations!" he shouts at one point by way of salutation), you can quickly see how the guy was able to grab a movie audience's good will. The story itself is so featherweight that the screenwriters are forced to inject a jealous husband (an uncredited Nat Pendleton) bit plus a gangster/kidnapping subplot into the final fifteen just to pad the short feature out to 70 minutes. This affords Brown the opportunity to play the two-fisted, gun-toting hero in the final act, which he does more effectively that I expected.

He also betrays an honest sweetness in his scenes with Rogers, especially in the movie's climactic moment where she confesses to him that she's been on Lehman's payroll all along. Cal Jones may be a chump, but he's a decent chump who's undeniably handy with a six-shooter. And if nuthin' else, he's got more hair than Fred Astaire.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.
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