Lucy Gallant – Strong Female Characters Have Always Existed


So this is the story of a cute and plucky girl, and a tough and handsome guy. She wants to prove that she can Make It On Her Own. He wants a home and kids. Remarkably, the script doesn’t sell either of them short.

Before Charlton Heston’s hero star took off, he was in a number of low-key A- or B+ movies in which he played a variety of roles, ranging from slightly scummy (The Dark City, Secret of the Incas–BTW, Heston was really quite good at those kinds of roles and it’s kind of a pity he didn’t play more villains) to merely romantic (Ruby Gentry). Here, he’s still mostly just the romantic lead, but it’s still a role with some characterization, and internal as well as external conflict. Also, Charlton Heston was really dang fine when he was young. Dayum.

So anyhow, he plays Casey Cole, initially a cattleman near the oil-fed boom town of New City. New City is drilling new oil wells as fast as the companies can move in, and is packed to the gills with noveau riche Texans–and their wives–who don’t quite know what to do with their money. Casey doesn’t actually strike it rich until about half-way through the movie, but he acts like he’s got it made the entire time. He’s just one of them type of guys, ok?

I am not nearly as familiar with Jane Wyman, so her role in this movie was a pleasant surprise. She plays the titular Lucy Gallant, a New Yorker who gets temporarily stranded in New City with four suitcases of designer clothes–and proceeds to turn a profit by selling every stich she owns. There are a lot of suddenly-wealthy women in town with nothing to actually spend it on. Not to be stopped there, Lucy promptly secures a loan and sets up a boutique–Gallant, Inc. Casey, meanwhile, is hanging around, being handsome, fielding offers from oil companies, and dropping hints to Lucy. He’s not exactly as thicc sorry I got carried away there, ahem thick as a post, though: he’s able to figure out quite quickly what Lucy’s angle is.

You see, those clothes Lucy had with her? Those were her trousseau. Her childhood friend and fiance abandoned her at the altar–because her father had just committed suicide–because he’d been caught embezzling money. So Lucy is neither ready nor yet willing to settle down again just yet. She wants to Make It On Her Own, and prove to everybody–and herself–that she can.

Casey is vaguely supportive (he secretly strong-arms the banker into giving her a second loan after the store burns down)–but as time passes, and he gets rich enough to provide for them via his own oil company, and it’s clear that Lucy has succeeded (Gallant, Inc is getting the red ribbon cut by the governor of Texas), he’s starting to get a little bit impatient. After all, homemaking and children are a full-time job in and of themselves…

Both Lucy and Casey are well-drawn and well-portrayed characters with distinct personalities and a very distinct set of goals–so much so that I was worried they wouldn’t be done justice. Either Lucy would have to sell out on her journey to self-actualization, or Casey would be a thoughtless lunk who didn’t respect her need for that journey. This isn’t what happens. Lucy, while she does want domesticity and kids, and is willing to sacrifice for them, isn’t going to be bullied into it–and definitely not going to be talked down to, insulted, or dictated to. Casey, meanwhile, needs to appreciate what he does have and make it really clear that he values her and respects her wishes. We already know that Casey supports Lucy’s dreams and values her happiness when he twists the banker’s arm into giving her another loan–but he carefully makes sure that Lucy will nevah, evah, know of this. (His exact words, in that inimitable Heston drawl: “–and if you ever let her know it was my idea, I’ll nail your hide to the door of that brand new bank of yours.” Banker, completely cowed: “…sure, Casey.” Heh.)

Buuuut–that still leaves the problem of how these two incompatible set of goals do get resolved.

Quite satisfactorily–(“You’re the tallest Eagle Scout I ever saw,”)–but rather abruptly (the plot elements within the last ten minutes of the movie and the emotional part within the last three. But it’s funny–the poor banker finally gets fed up with these two crazy kids and starts blurting it all out indiscriminately, so we can forgive a little hastiness.

Rated: Well…I mean, I’d prefer ranching to storekeeping anyway, so I’m not complaining.

– There’s a bit where Casey carries Lucy to his truck through some mud, sparing her expensive and unsuitable shoes. A few scenes later, he offers to do it again to keep her feet dry. “I can do that too,” Lucy grins, and pulls out a pair of boots. A few minutes after that, she advises Casey on the correct color boots to wear with gray pants (black, not brown. ’cause that’s how it be done). Casey is next seen wearing black boots. That’s a pretty clever and moderately subtle way of setting the playing field and keeping score: showing, not telling!
– Thelma Ritter–you know, the older, kind of sarcastic lady in Rear Window–is the heart and acerbic conscience of this movie. “I’d like to get you and that lucky cowpuncher in a room together. Somehow this fight between you two isn’t getting refereed right.”
– Casey looks much, much better in a cowboy hat than in a suit. I’M JUST SAYIN’
– The war montage is kind of cheesy.
– The ’50s fashion show is incredibly ’50s but kind of neat.


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