“Put that money on the table or get ready to feel lead!” orders Phoebe Titus as she holds a shotgun on two lackeys who robbed her the night before. Although played by Jean Arthur (who was known for playing bold, independent female characters that could be both tough and romantic at the same time), this certainly isn’t the same actress we’re familiar with from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, History Is Made at Night or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Gone is the coiffed, good-humored sophisticate that was so endeared by audiences — that Jean Arthur has been replaced by one who’s face is covered in dirt and is clad in jeans, vest and cowboy hat (which is more in tune with Arthur’s performance as Calamity Jane four years earlier in The Plainsman). With the whole saloon at her knees, Phoebe gets her money back with the assistance of newly arrived Peter Muncie, but she could care less that he’s played by the soft-cheeked matinee idol-in-training William Holden. No — her eyes are on retribution and nothing else. “Timmons, take that whip and give Longstreet five of the best lashes you got in you,”she tells the crooks. “Longstreet, you do the same to him. And if either of you eases up, I’ll make it twenty.” Money in hand, Phoebe listens as the whip cracks off-screen. “Harder! That’s more like it.”
Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn-based writer, musician, and curator whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Life Sentence, Moving Image Source, Bright Lights Film Journal, Beat to a Pulp, NoirCon, Crimefactory, Film Comment, The L Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, Fandor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Hammer to Nail, Spinetingler, Between Lavas, Reverse Shot, and Guitar Review. He records instrumental music as Modern Silent Cinema and plays in the hardcore band Night Squad.