Starring: Gary Cooper, Loretta Young, William Demarest
Director: Stuart Heisler
Mood: If you’re tired of blockbuster movies about muscle-bound action dudes and want to watch a Western about a really good guy who isn’t particularly smart or good with a gun but is every bit a hero.
After an unintentional three-week break from Westerns, Along Came Jones was exactly what I needed.
- It’s got that good black-and-white movie feel
- It’s short enough to keep a great pace
- It pokes a little fun at the genre while still fully embracing it
Movie sites have dubbed Along Came Jones a ‘comedy’ and ‘romance’ film, but don’t be put off by either of those labels if you’re craving a proper Western. There’s no slapstick or over-the-top comedy here; it’s all subtle and situational. And the romance is more of a goal than a constant plot point.
This is the kind of movie you could throw on to entertain just about anybody and they’d find something to like. As long as that person likes black and white movies, or Westerns, or it’s your turn to pick and they have no choice.
Along Came Jones opens with your standard stagecoach robbery, and a bad guy getting shot as he takes off with the loot. Wanted posters are tacked up everywhere, offering $1,000 for the capture of Monte Jarrad, who is described as “Tall and skinny, mean tempered and extra fast with a gun. Travels with half-wit uncle called Uncle Roscoe or something.”
Along comes the easygoing Melody Jones (Gary Cooper) and his slightly older pal George Fury (William Demarest). The two ride innocently into town, and are immediately mistaken for Monte and Roscoe.
It doesn’t help that Melody in turn mistakes everyone’s fearful reactions to him as a response to his manliness, which this awkward gentleman enjoys – and uses to get free drinks. And he’s walking around with the same initials as Monte Jarrad, emblazoned on his saddle leathers.
The real Monte’s gal, Cherry (Loretta Young), is nearby and sees what’s really happening. She figures to use the newcomer as a distraction for her wounded outlaw boyfriend. She saves Melody from getting shot by a hopeful bounty hunter, and encourages him to ride out of town – leading everyone else on the wrong trail.
But she doesn’t count on Melody deciding he needs to help HER out of a toxic relationship, and soon she can’t seem to shake this sweet, unlikely hero. Meanwhile the real Monte is healing up, and getting awful tired of the competition for Cherry’s attention.
Along Came Jones takes classic Western tropes and mixes them up with the perfect blend of dramatic tension, plot twists, and Gary Cooper’s subdued, dry humour.
Cooper seems to have a great time as Melody Jones, and the character is refreshing in his utter inability to do the classic Western hero things – he can’t shoot for shit, he relies on his older sidekick for both strategy and survival, and he’s definitely not a smooth talker with the ladies.
Watching Cooper’s slow-talking, bumbling cowboy think he’s being all macho when the viewer knows it’s just mistaken identity is comedy gold. But Cooper’s delivery is everything; if he’d hammed it up, it would have been too silly.
Instead, he plays the role straight and sincere with just a hint of mocking toward his more typical rugged frontier roles, and it works perfectly. He’s completely in on the joke. Melody Jones is a real guy with real flaws, someone you could totally grab a beer with. It’s an enjoyably human performance that, despite its lightheartedness, foreshadows his ‘controversial’ turn as a similarly vulnerable lawman in High Noon.
Meanwhile, poor William Demarest as George Fury is utterly bewildered at why the townsfolk are laughing at him with pity, not knowing they assume he’s the dim-witted Roscoe.
Demarest steals most of his scenes because he’s so committed to the character – and George is the TRUE action hero behind the lead. I ended up rooting more for him than anyone else. Demarest, with his vast experience in many genres since the 1920s, plays him like a smart, kind of begrudging drifter-turned-father-figure to these reckless kids.
Loretta Young was a freaking stunner. This woman had no bad angles, and I’m deeply envious of her perfect face. The camera loves her, and fortunately for us, she’s a good actor, too.
The trailer for Along Came Jones would have you believe that she’s a “frail woman,” but that’s not the case. Loretta plays Cherry like a tough-yet-delicate and casually duplicitous woman. She’s extremely feminine and turns on the charm as needed, giving you those moon-eyed close-ups. But she’s always the one pulling the strings.
Dan Duryea makes a formidable villain as Monte Jarrad, and a solid balance for Gary Cooper. There’s no point in the movie where you like him or feel any sympathy for Monte – he’s surly, vicious, and downright mean. Duryea had a long career playing villains in Westerns and other genres, but he was actually a good guy who once appeared in collectable bubble gum cards. True story.
I’m glad I found Along Came Jones at a thrift store, because this isn’t the kind of movie I’d think to watch based on other reviews and descriptions. Even after buying it, the DVD sat on my shelf for months and I picked everything else I had over this movie.
It’s a smart kind of funny that you don’t expect from ’40s Westerns. Everyone does a great job of their roles. The cinematography, while frequently peppered with fake motion backdrops, is quite good for its time.
And the song Cooper sings on his first ride into town, “I’m a Poor Lonesome Cowboy,” became the favourite song of Lucky Luke, a Belgian cowboy comic character who was active for more decades than Cher (peep my review here). Clearly this movie had far reach, and for good reason.
I would watch Along Came Jones many more times, just for its unique spin on what it means to be a hero. It’s not mind-blowing cinema, but it’s definitely fun.