RIDE 'EM COWBOY (Universal, 1942), directed by Arthur Lubin, places the popular comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in another funny outing, literally, this time set at a dude ranch surrounded by cowboys, Indians, an assortment Universal stock players, and several fine tunes. It also marked the motion picture debut of vocalist, Ella Fitzgerald (appearing as Ruby), singing her signature song, "A Tisket, A Tasket (My Little Yellow Basket)" while resident cowboy star, Johnny Mack Brown, takes time out showing Bud and Lou the ropes in between time of his own Universal western series of the time.
In a story presented on two levels, the first goes to title character "Broncho Bob" Mitchell (Dick Foran), author of best selling western novels, making his introduction as the feature attraction of Greater New York Bennett Rodeo. In spite of his fame and fortune, Martin Manny (Charles Lane), his severest critic, who doubts him to be "a great western hero," intends on exposing him in his next column. Manny's suspicions are proved correct when a bull breaks away, causing Bob to fall from his horse and cover his face in fear while cowgirl Ann Shaw (Anne Gwynne) steps in to bulldog the bull by the horns. Her heroic deed causes her leg injury that keeps her from riding in the finals to win that $1,000 grand prize. The second level moves to pals, Duke (Bud Abbott) and Willoughby (Lou Costello), working as hot dog/ peanut vendors whose antics get them in trouble with the boss (Wade Boteler). After their latest antic, Duke and Willoughby take refuge in a cattle car taking them to the same train as Ann and Broncho Bob while bound for Arizona. While at the Lazy S Ranch in Gower Gulch owned by Ann's father (Samuel S. Hinds), Duke and Willoughby obtain work as hired hands for foreman, Bruce "Alabam" Corman (Johnny Mack Brown) while Ann helps Bob's cowboy hero reputation by training him to ride a horse for the upcoming Frontier Day Celebration before some unexpected situations take place.
During the course of its 86 minutes, there's time out for music. Songs by Don Rays and Gene DePaul include: "Give Me My Saddle" (sung by Dick Foran); "Wake Up Jacob" (sung by The Merry Macs); "A Tisket, a Tasket" (sung by Ella Fitzgerald/ music and lyrics by Fitzgerald and Al Feldman); "Beside the Rio Tonto Shore" (sung by The Merry Macs); "I'll Remember April" (sung by Dick Foran); "Rockin' and Reelin'" (The Merry Macs) and "Ride 'Em Cowboy" (sung by chorus). While song interludes might become intrusive for those interested in catching those Abbott and Costello routines, some of them work out quite well, in fact, almost working their way as highlights. Aside from Ella Fitzgerald's aforementioned "A Tisket a Tasket," the impressive tune of "I'll Remember April," was one that usually got edited out of commercial television presentations to provide for some paid advertising during its 90 minute time slot. This haunting number introduced by Foran singing it to Gwynne during a mountain moonlight ride is quite impressive, even more so with cowboy/ cowgirl chorus crooning beautifully in the background. The Merry Macs perform their numbers in true 1940s jive style while one notable sequence, featuring three black tap dancers, is presented too briefly, leaving indication of a show stopping number ending up on the cutting room floor.
While Costello's ad-libs and outbursts might come across as forced sometimes, whatever weakness RIDE 'EM COWBOY may have are redeemed by some fine comedy routines, ranging from Abbott and Costello's abridged reworking their poker game routine introduced in BUCK PRIVATES (1941); Costello's attempt to go swimming while wearing a type of bathing suit unseen since the Mack Sennett silent comedy days; Bud and Lou's entanglement with Indians (lead by Douglass Dumbrille as Jake Rainwater); Costello avoiding marriage to Moonbeam (Jody Gilbert), an overweight Indian Girl; to that great climatic chase between Indians on horseback after Bud and Lou in their jalopy, to laugh-filled results. The amusing "The Crazy House" skit, enacted as part of a dream sequence, originally introduced by Abbott and Costello in their burlesque days, was actually used to better advantage in their 1950s television episode titled "Peace and Quiet" from THE ABBOTT AND COSTELLO SHOW. Interestingly, "Crazy House," immediately following the "I'll Remember April" number, turned out to be another cut segment from most television prints during the 1960s and 70s.
RIDE 'EM COWBOY, distributed to home video and later DVD, had its share of cable TV broadcasts over the years, namely the Comedy Channel (late 1980s); American Movie Classics (2001) and Turner Classic Movies where it premiered July 25, 2010. While not essentially a western, RIDE 'EM COWBOY will sure to please any Abbott and Costello devotees whether they'd be riding horses, milking cows, or time out for others in the spotlight with song and dance. (***)
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