Montana Moon is an early Joan Crawford talkie that is largely credited with taking the singing cowboy from variety musicals and putting him in a dramatic feature.
In this case, the cowboy is John Mack Brown, a drawling cowpoke who gets more than he bargained for when a rich socialite wanders into his campsite. Joan Prescott (Crawford) is the more troublesome of the two Prescott daughters. A flapper with a penchant for stealing her sister's men, she bailed from a family train trip when her sibling's new love started pitching woo her direction. At first, Joan doesn't tell Larry, the cowboy, who she is, or that he's on her father's land, working in the old man's employ. Instead, she charms the big lug, easing him into the idea of loving a city gal rather slowly. Though scandalous at the time, their evening under the stars, where Joan invites Larry to move his sleeping bag closer and she "accidentally" lets her hand touch his, comes off as rather sweet now. Likewise, Crawford is adorable and goofy, a party girl who isn't afraid to speak her mind or get tough when necessary.
After a few days alone on the outskirts of the Prescott ranch, Larry and Joan make their way back to the big house, where she drops the news on her father (Lloyd Ingram) and all of her friends. Dad is surprisingly thrilled to find out that Larry is his son-in-law. He never dreamed his spitfire of a child would find a real man who could handle her. Of course, his warnings to Larry prove prophetic. The party lifestyle is not suitable for the rough rider, nor is Joan's continued flirtations with Jeff (Ricardo Cortez).
Directed by Malcolm St. Clair, Montana Moon is an amusing culture-clash romance. 1920s Jazz Age meets the American western. Much humor is ground from rubbing the city folk together with the country folk. In addition to the Larry/Joan coupling, there is a comic-relief duo: the slow-witted cowboy Froggy (Cliff Edwards) and the New York (read: Jewish) doctor (Benny Rubin) looking to sell his miracle cures. The doc pulls Froggy's sore tooth, Froggy teaches the doc the ways of the prairie. They join in the sing-alongs with the other ranchers, including one memorable number where the two have a scat competition. Froggy yodels like a regular cowpuncher, the doc is far more jazzy.
These musical bits provide a nice diversion and pad out an otherwise thin script. Most of the movie's appeal for modern eyes will rest with Crawford, whose onscreen presence and versatility impresses more and more the deeper any viewer digs into her filmography and the further away they get from the misshapen Mommie Dearest clichés. The actress is lovely and charming, equally adept at physical comedy (oh, those facial expressions!) and sincere melodrama. John Mack Brown is little more than a tree trunk around which she dances--though her literal dancing, a saucy tango, is saved for Ricardo Cortez. It rightfully earns the cad a punch in the jaw.
There's not much you won't be able to guess in terms of where the film ends up, though you likely won't see just how they end up there. The twist in the final scenes of Montana Moon is almost as amusing as Brown's terrible Mexican accent. It's a winning way to win a fetching western, an early example of a true crowdpleaser. Oh, and watch for how Froggy stares at Larry in the movie's last shot. He drifts in and out of frame as they ride away, and each time Froggy appears, he's staring longingly at his old friend. What's up with that?
The Warner Archives m.o.d. release of Montana Moon presents the pre-Code picture as a full-frame, black-and-white transfer. The source has held up really well, with the picture remaining clear and only occasional appearances of marks on the frame or blurred edges.
The soundtrack is mixed well. At times, a metallic tone creeps in, but nothing too terrible.
Recommended. Montana Moon is an enjoyable mix of music and romance, set on the Montana plains, and bringing together a wealthy socialite and a somewhat thick cowpoke. Joan Crawford is marvellous as the flapper, creating a funny, brassy, and ultimately vulnerable portrayal of a spoiled party girl learning what's important in life. The story doesn't deliver too much by way of surprises, but the 1930s set design and clothes, as well as the musical atmosphere, more than makes up for any predictability.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.