Monday, January 21, 2013

In-Class Movie: "The Case of the Texas Cowgirl" (1954)

"During that time she ran free in a mining camp and wandered through woods or mountains, so that her education has come from Nature rather than from the schoolmaster. She is what we call in England a tomboy, with a strong nature, wild and free, unfettered by any sort of traditions. She is impetuous—volcanic, I was about to say. She is swift in making up her mind and fearless in carrying out her resolutions."
--Lord St. Simon, "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"

Austin: I'm currently residing in Texas. It is a state with many stereotypes but since I'm in Austin you're more likely to see a hipster at a food truck than a cowboy at a saloon. We've seen plenty of Americans portrayed in Doyle's stories as we discussed last week but this is something new.

It shocks me---truly shocks me--that "The Case of the Texas Cowgirl" is ridiculous. This is a weekly episode of a Sherlock Holmes show starring Ronald Howard as the great detective. Somehow this is goofier than Without a Clue, which was a parody. It opens with a covered wagon rolling up to 221B Baker Street and we're left to assume she rode there...from Texas. Especially considering she says she was wrangling a bronco YESTERDAY.

The mystery involves this cowgirl being framed for murder by having her tomahawk placed by a dead body. The mystery is pretty much incomprehensible as the rest of the 25 minutes is devoted to lassoing Watson, chatting with a Native American who has a teepee inside a London home and the cowgirl ready to shoot Holmes for pretty much no reason.

The bronco that the Cowgirl lassoed

This was the most like a Scooby-Doo episode than anything else we have ever seen. Should we be embracing its silliness and criticizing it as a light show or should we be saying that this is nonsense?

Leigh: I'm going to try to give this show a chance. It was made in the '50s when Westerns, Cowboys, Indians and rodeos were a big deal. There were lots of Westerns on TV during the '50s; The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Maverick, the list goes on. I think the producers of the Sherlock Holmes TV show were just trying to benefit from another craze of the time. We also have to remember that things like stereotypes and racism weren't a problem at this time. In my Gender and Media class, we talked about the idea of characters versus caricatures, especially in sitcoms. Here is a great example! We don't just have the rough and tumble cowgirl who can handle her own, we have one that seems to speak another language and is ready to shoot and lasso anyone and everyone. I think some of the ridiculous things like the covered wagon and wrestling broncos are supposed to be explained by the fact that the cowgirl, Milly McStereotype, is part of a traveling rodeo in London at the time. It wasn't really said but I THINK that's what the point was. Buffalo Bill's Wild West show did tour England and they even performed for Queen Victoria, and it wasn't uncommon for there to be a Native American of some tribe or another to tour with them. Sitting Bull was even in the show a few times! All of the ridiculousness of this show can be explained by historical fact or general mindset of the time period of production.

WITH THAT BEING SAID, this was bad. The mystery wasn't the main focus of the episode. It seemed to me that the characters were the purpose of the episode. Instead of writing a mystery about these characters, it feels like they wrote a situation where Sherlock Holmes and Watson meet a cowgirl and hilarity ensues and that the mystery was an afterthought. We have an episode that was part of a series written and produced by Americans so why are Americans portrayed like this? Or is it the British they're trying to poke fun at? Who exactly is the butt of the joke here?

Austin: Here I was reading this email thinking, "Oh great. I'm the asshole." Then thankfully I got to that second paragraph.

Westerns were indeed very popular and a lot of those shows used some of the cheesy tropes but in the 1950s we also had some great westerns. John Ford was kicking ass and even though this show couldn't film in Monument Valley it still could have been a respectable western. Yet it wanted to go for a broader audience. It wants to highlight the adventure over the intelligence so it had ridiculous set pieces.

A still from My Darling Clementine in Monument Valley

I actually like Ronald Howard as Holmes. He plays it with patience and warmth like Basil Rathbone. Yet he gets thrown under a rug because when he reveals who did it it is so irrelevant it's more of a signal to the audience to pick which of the three stations you want to watch next because this sucker is wrapping up. We'll see you at the end for the stupid tag.

I say that we should watch another episode of this show later on. This was a very silly title which was part of its appeal. We'll see what else they have to offer. Do you think this show has any potential with this half hour format?

Leigh: I tried to pay attention Ronald Howard as Holmes but I couldn't get passed the ridiculous stereotypes and the British/American relationships. We get it, they're different cultures that use language differently, we don't need to have a situation in every scene that shoves this in the audience's face. "Oh, the Brits don't know what "reach for the sky" means! Let's laugh at them and their properness! Bwahaha!"

It's the Cowgirl and some guy who we think might be Sherlock Holmes...Or maybe not...We don't know

I am definitely interested in watching another from this series, not only because I got them all on DVD for Christmas but because I want to see what this Holmes is like. I felt that Watson shone more though than most. He seemed a bit too "posh" but he used his medical knowledge to help the mystery along. He wasn't the bumbling idiot that we often see and I appreciated that, especially knowing now that this series was produced by Americans. Who knew they could write a Watson correctly at one point in time? 

The format does worry me though. I feel like the 45 minute episodes of Elementary were (sometimes) too short for the mystery so a half hour could be a challenge. There are numerous ACD shorts though that are quick and still provide a full mystery with new characters. I am definitely interested in exploring this series more in the future.

Next time, we talk about the Beryl Coronet, what ever the hell that is, and why your own house isn't always the safest place to store this thing.

And now Austin with the final word!

Austin: Yee-haw!

No comments:

Post a Comment