The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She steals stolen money.

Amanda (Goldie Hawn), who goes by the nickname Bluebird, works as a dance hall girl in the old west, but dislikes having to entertain the leering male clientele and looks for an opportunity that will allow her to live the ‘easy life’. She finally finds it in the form of a rich Mormon family from Utah who are looking for a nanny to watch after their large brood. In order to disguise herself as being one she’ll need to buy herself a suitable outfit, but she has no money. Then Charlie (George Segal), who goes by the nickname Dirtwater Fox, and who has just absconded with over $40,000 of stolen loot from the infamous Bloodworth Gang, walks into the saloon where Bluebird works and immediately starts flirting with her as she performs a dance routine on-stage. Bluebird finds him annoying, but agrees to go up to his hotel room as a prostitute performing a sexual service in order to get the money for her nanny outfit. However, once up there, Dirtwater refuses to pay her, so she drugs his drink, which knocks him out, and steals the briefcase with the stolen money. When Dirtwater wakes-up he goes after her and the two eventually meet back up, but find despite their mutual dislike that they must work together in order to avoid the vengeful clutches of the Bloodworth Gang who are hot-on- their-trail. 

The film was directed by Melvin Frank with a screenplay by Jack Rose, two men whose career peaks was during the 40’s and 50’s, but by the 70’s their senses of humor were quite dated and story ideas placid. After finding inexplicable success with the highly overrated A Touch of Classwhich starred Segal and Glenda Jackson, director Frank became convinced that he had a winning chemistry and wanted to re-team the two in a western romantic comedy. Jackson though rejected the offer and was replaced by Hawn, who quite honestly is the only good thing about the movie. She had been up to this time known for her dumb blonde, ditzy persona, but here goes against type by playing a sharp-tongued, no nonsense lady who takes little crap from anyone. She plays the part perfectly and in the process grows as an actress. Her use of different accents is fun as well as being spot-on and the song and dance routines that she does despite Leonard Maltin calling them in his review ‘misplaced’ are actually quite entertaining and deliciously bawdy. 

Segal though is the film’s detriment. His acting is weak and a good example of this is when he’s caught cheating at a card game and strung up by a noose by an angry mob and yet even as the rope is put around his neck he remains cool and calm when anyone else in that situation would be panicked and struggling to get away. His character is totally unlikable and never grows on the viewer. It should’ve been a signal when Jackson backed-out to have Segal replaced with a younger charismatic actor who was more Hawn’s age instead of forcing her character to fall for someone who was 12 years her junior.

For a western the action is light and fleeting and there’s several scenes including the extended one with the two inside the hotel room where the pace slows up to a complete halt and becomes visually stagnant making it seem almost like a filmed stage play. The film does not play-up the character’s relationship, or illustrate how it grows. When the stagecoach they were riding in goes off a cliff, which they were able to jump out of it in time, they must climb down a steep ravine to get to it in order to retrieve the briefcase of money that was still on it. Instead of filming the scene showing the two helping each other navigate the rocky terrain, which could’ve been both amusing and romantic, the film just immediately cuts to them already there without ever showing how they were able to make it down.

Spoiler Alert!

The most annoying aspect, at least story-wise, comes at the end when Dirtwater and Bluebird find the Bloodworth Gang’s hideout. Dirtwater sneaks into it and immediately detects a loose floorboard, which signaled a hidden trap door leading to where the money was stored, which came-off as too easy. What’s the point of attempting to hide the loot if some stranger can just walk in and in a matter of seconds detect where it’s located? It’s also unrealistic to expect that the money would still be in the bag as most likely the gang members would’ve already split-up the loot amongst themselves.

There’s also the issue of Segal getting shot several times at the end by the gang as does his horse. The horse then collapses to the ground and seemingly dies only to mysteriously, after laying motionless for quite awhile, get up and magically comes back to life without any explanation. Segal on the other-hand is ‘kept alive’ by being coaxed to keep crawling after the money bag, which Goldie holds-out in front of him, but are we to believe that he’s going to manage to continue to crawl hundreds of miles through the desolate wilderness in a bullet-riddled body before they’re able to find medical help?

The idea that Goldie would even want to keep the schmuck alive is dingy. The guy refused to give up the money even as he lay dying and no longer had any use for it instead of just handing it over to someone he supposedly ‘loved’. Anyone else in that same situation would’ve been incensed at his selfishness and just grabbed the money out of his hands and been on their merry way while letting the son-of-a-bitch rot where he was. 

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Melvin Frank

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives)

 

 

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