My friend Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is a big fan of Barbara Stanwyck. So, it’s no secret to us why she decided to host a blogathon in her honour! She is also a favourite of mine and the more watch her films, the more I like her. So, it’s an honour for me to participate in this event. The movie I’ve chosen to review is not Stanwyck’s most well-known one, but it certainly is one of the nicest. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you Red Salute!
Red Salute is a 1935’s comedy directed by Sidney Lanfield. The cast is composed of Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Young, Hardie Albright, Purnell Pratt, Cliff Edwards, Ruth Donnelly, and Nella Walker. If this film is initially categorized as a comedy, but it’s clearly also a road movie.
What is it about? The story goes like this:
Young Drue Van Allen (Barbara Stanwyck) is engaged to Arner (Hardie Albright), something her father, General Van Allen (Purnell Pratt), doesn’t approve as he is a communist. One day, Drue is sent by force to Mexico with her aunt Betty (Nella Walker). Her father wants her to forget Arner. Once there, she is determined to leave Mexico and go back to Washington. So, she runs away. In a bar, she meets Jeff (Robert Young), a rowdy soldier. He is in trouble because he has been involved in a fight. The barman seems to suspect him of something, so he runs away once more by stealing a car. Drue follows him and jumps in the car against his will. This appears to be a good way for her to return to Washington. Drue makes Jeff realize that he’s in deep trouble has he stole a car belonging to the government AND desert the army. And they’ll get into more troubles eventually. The two decide to travel together; Drue determined to reach Washington and Jeff, determined to escape the police. However, they don’t really get along with each other.
It’s not without reason that this film is named Red Salute. One of its main subjects is Communism (remember, the colour red is a symbol of Communism). As I was informed on Wikipedia, it’s also known as one of the first anti-communist films. Remember, they were considered “enemies” back then in the USA. In its trivia section, The Internet Movie Database gives us some information about the reception of the film:
“When this film premiered at the Rivoli Theater in New York in 1935, the leftist, anti-war National Students League stood outside leading a boycott. Inside the theater, there were fist fights between students and angry anti-communists, resulting in the arrest of 18 people.” (IMDB)
Aside from its ideological point of view, Red Salute remains a very pleasant film to watch. And it’s one of my favourite Barbara Stanwyck’s roles. She’s young, pretty and has both a great sense of comedy and drama. Yes, there are some “sad” parts in the film. When she starred in Red Salute, Missy was about 28. She had already proved her great acting skills in such movies as Lady of Leisure (1930) or Baby Face (1933). The reason why Barbara Stanwyck is one of my favourite actresses is that she’s so natural on screen. She doesn’t act, she’s just is. And, despite that, she succeeds to transmit her emotions to us. I also admire her strength. I haven’t seen all of her films, but she often plays a woman who has her own convictions and who is determined to have what she wants and not be governed by men. One of the best examples in this film is when Robert Young (Jeff) orders her to boil eggs and she categorically refuses because she doesn’t like to have orders given without a “can you please?”. She’s a real symbol of feminism. Go Babs!
Barbara Stanwyck also has an excellent timing. She always says the right thing at the right moment and that accentuates the “awesomeness” of her character. I just adore when she calls Jeff “Uncle Sam” as a joke. That makes me think, the film’s original title was Her Uncle Sam. It was also known as Runaway Daughter or Her Enlisted Man. We immediately become fond of Drue and of Barbara herself from the beginning until the end of the film.
She and Robert Young make a very interesting pair. They know how to be enemies, but eventually to appreciate each other. Because, if we could find a moral to this film, it would be “You can’t really judge a person until you really get to know her.”
This film could also be named Red Salute because Jeff’s nickname given to Drue is “Red” This was probably due to Barbara Stanwyck dyed red hair (which is hard to see in the film, as it is in black and white).
If we talk about Robert Young alone, we would describe his character as an amusing one (not always on purpose). He often has unique facial expressions, just like the one when he sees a “beautiful beer” in the bar.
Purnell Pratt is perfect as General Van Allen. He had to play a serious father and a real chief. A convincing actor.
I don’t think there’s much interesting stuff to say about Hardie Albright, so we’ll directly move to the funniest duo of the film: Rooney (Cliff Edwards) and Mrs. Rooney (Ruth Donnelly). She is a very severe wife who always tells her husband what to do and never gives him a rest. He regrets immensely to have wed her. Drue and Jeff meet them because they have slept in their barn. The following morning, the Rooney are about to leave with their caravan. The police arrive and ask them if they have seen a young woman and a soldier. They haven’t. Just after the police leave, Drue and Jeff make their entrance. Mrs. Rooney tries to call back the policemen, but they are too far away. Rooney then sees an occasion to go away and help the two young fellows. They escape with the caravan, leaving Mrs. Rooney behind. Cliff Edwards couldn’t be better as this man who discovered the thrilling bachelor’s life. He’s such a nice and appreciated man. As for Ruth Donnelly, the contrast between her character and Edwards’ one is what makes this duo scatty and ridiculously funny.
Cliff Edwards was also a singer. We mostly remember him as Jiminy Cricket’s voice in Pinocchio (1940). In Red Salute, we hear him sing “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now”. It’s obvious that he his referring to Drue. This song was released in 1909.
What also makes this film very pleasant (despite his not-so-good original reception and rating on the web) is the bunch of funny quotes. Here is my favourite line:
1- Drue (about Arner): He dreams about big things…
Jeff: Yeah, I dream about big things too. Last night it was an elephant.
As for the screenplay itself, it’s pertinent enough. In a road movie, you don’t only assist to a physical travel, but also a psychological one. The characters have to evolve, learn something and that’s what happens to Drue and Jeff.
I don’t think there’s a lot to say about the technical aspects of the film. Red Salute remains fun to watch for its actor and its story.
If you wish to do so, you’ll be happy to know that it’s available on YouTube! The quality is not so good, but it’s better than nothing.
Thank you, Crystal, for thinking of this great blogathon idea. On January 20, 1990, Barbara Stanwyck left us. She was 82. She will never be forgotten and remains one of the most celebrated stars of the Golden Era.
Here is a link to the other entries: