Hoedown (1950) is yet another pleasant B-picture surprise from Sony's terrific "Columbia Classics" line of manufactured-on-demand DVD-Rs. Advertised as a showcase for country music singer Eddy Arnold and a few other country and western swing acts, in fact more than half the film satirizes the world of B-Westerns and their promotion, with Jock Mahoney playing an inept, washed-up cowboy star. The music is good and the comedy is fast, funny and sometimes pretty clever. Best of all Mahoney is paired with "Yodeling Blonde Bombshell" Carolina Cotton, a performer I'd never heard of until this movie. She's delightful, naturally funny and talented. She and Mahoney make an irresistibly cute couple.
There are no extras and no menu screens at all - just pop the disc in and away you go - but the full frame, black and white image looks fantastic.
After starring in a terrible B-Western called Bang 'Em Up, Buckeroo, Stoney Rhodes (Mahoney) has embarked on what he thinks is a studio-paid personal tour. In fact the studio has dropped his contract like a hot potato, and instead his mother has secretly mortgaged her home to pay for the trip. In front of a movie theater exhibiting Gene Autry's The Strawberry Roan (also a Columbia release), Stoney's manager, Knoxie (Ray Walker), also walks out him, leaving dim-bulb Stoney high and dry.
But Lois Lane-type reporter Vera Wright (Jeff Donnell), looking for a sob story, gives Stoney a lift into town, which also happens to be the birthplace of country music sensation Eddy Arnold (Eddy Arnold). Eddy is staging an all-star benefit for a local hospital, a big hoedown whose guests include The Pied Pipers, The Oklahoma Wranglers, and Eddy's cousin, Carolina Cotton (Carolina Cotton). She instantly falls head-over-heels in love with Stoney, though imposing farm foreman Small Potatoes (Guinn "Big Boy" Williams) already regards Carolina as his girl.
Eddy and Vera decide to check out Stoney's movie, which proves stupendously bad. However, Stoney's singing voice is sensational. "He sounds like a second Gene Autry!" exclaims Vera. Eddy puts a call in to his agent, Sam (Fred F. Sears), urging him to sign Stoney right away. But en route to Eddy's farmhouse, Sam's car is hijacked by a gang of bank robbers (Douglas Fowley, Don C. Harvey, and Charles Sullivan) and, well, you can figure out the rest.
At just 63 minutes, Hoedown offers a pleasing mix of songs, slapstick, and satire, never wearing out its welcome. Eddy Arnold, "the Tennessee Plowboy," is an okay actor and his three songs, "Just a Little Lovin' (Will Go a Long Way)," "Bouquet of Roses," and "I'm Throwing Rice (At the Girl I Love)" are pleasant and appealing, but it's Mahoney and especially Carolina Cotton that run off with the picture.
The in-jokes are playfully amusing. Eddy is impressed by Stoney's Gene Autry-like voice, but later Stoney confesses that's because it is Autry: Gene did him a favor and dubbed his singing. Stoney demonstrates his own lack of talent singing "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" and Mahoney's performance is indescribably hilarious.
Jock Mahoney, first billed as Jacques O'Mahoney and later Jock O'Mahoney, was a slender and handsome stuntman at Columbia who gradually became an actor. He proved himself an adept comedian in several memorable shorts with the Three Stooges* - his character in Hoedown is not unlike the dense heroes he played in those films - but Columbia was so cheap that even as they built him up as a leading man they insisted he also continue working as an uncredited stuntman, possibly the only instance of that in all of Hollywood history. In Hoedown, the joke is Stoney is as physically inept as he is a singer, and this allows the lithe Mahoney to take some impressive pratfalls throughout the picture.
With her wide-eyed, perky personality and twangy Arkansas accent, Carolina Cotton lights up the screen. Besides being a first-class singer and yodeler (according to her daughter, she preferred yodeling barefoot "to get a good toe-hold") she's also girl-next-door attractive and a real natural as a comic actress. Where Stoney is vacant and dense, she's full of energy, determination, and unconditional love for her new sweetheart. (In this regard she's like a blonde Mary Steenburgen, also an Arkansan.) Although Cotton appeared in a number of films of this type from the mid-1940s through the early '50s, it's a shame she didn't become a bigger, more mainstream film star. She certainly had the talent.
The real stars of the picture: Carolina Cotton and Jock Mahoney (right) greet Durango Kid star Charles Starrett (left) on the set of Hoedown.
Video & Audio
Hoedown looks great: it's a crisp black and white, appropriately full-frame transfer that's free of wear and other age-related blemishes one might expect from a 61-year-old movie. No sir, this looks fresh out of the camera. The region-free DVD-R disc's mono audio (English only, with no subtitle options) is acceptable, though I noticed a bit of audio wobble at the 42-minute mark that lasted for about a minute. There are the usual chapter stops every ten minutes, but no Extra Features.
For fans of Columbia house style slapstick and B-Westerns, as well as fans of Eddy Arnold, country music and western swing, Hoedown is a nifty little "B," another pleasant little "Columbia Classics" discovery that's Highly Recommended.
* Coincidentally, the soundstage farmhouse exteriors featured in Hoedown also turns up in innumerable Three Stooges shorts.
Stuart Galbraith IV's audio commentary for AnimEigo's Tora-san, a DVD boxed set, is on sale now.