In “The Cheyenne Social Club” (1970), John O’Hanlan (Jimmy Stewart) and Harley Sullivan (Henry Fonda) are a couple of aging cowboys from Texas. John receives a letter from an attorney in Cheyenne, informing him that his brother D.J. has died, and his will stipulates that John is now the owner of the Cheyenne Social Club. John has always desired to be a man of property, and although he doesn’t know what exactly the Cheyenne Social Club is, he is more than happy to make the long journey in order to start a new life. Even though Harley isn’t invited along, he hops on his horse and follows his friend.
Once they reach Cheyenne, John is thrilled to find himself in a new life of luxury, due to his thriving business, but is shocked to discover that his new social club is really just a high class brothel. He tries to explain to the girls that he doesn’t want to run a brothel because it goes against his moral beliefs, but the girls don’t understand; neither does anyone else in town.
John quickly becomes the most unpopular man in town until one of his girls, Jenny (Shirley Jones), is beaten by a customer. John is appalled that a man would beat a woman this way, and finds himself coming to Jenny’s defense because, whether he wanted to or not, John has become attached to his girls.
“The Cheyenne Social Club” has trouble figuring out what kind of film it wants to be. In the end, the strongest part is the “buddy” relationship between John and Harley. It probably works so well because real life “buddies” Stewart and Fonda had always wanted to do this kind of movie together, and even though it came right at the end of Stewart’s starring career, it was better late than never. These two great actors had appeared in other films throughout their careers, but all of three of them lacked the kind of comradery for which they were searching. Starring in “The Cheyenne Social Club” enabled them to spend practically the whole film together, talking and acting as casually as one would expect them to in their everyday lives. They even found time to argue politics, just as they did the rest of their lives.
Once you take out the “buddy” aspect, there is very little left here to enjoy. Gene Kelly directed the film just one year after directing the Academy Award Best Picture nominee, “Hello Dolly” (1969). Unfortunately for Kelly, his ability to direct a western was nowhere near his talents as a musical director. (And no one would be surprised to hear that!) The script is easily forgettable except for the exchanges between the two stars, and in some ways it seems that the goal of the movie was to try to make a crass film about a couple of older guys who like to bicker, much like a western , “Grumpy Old Men” (1993).
As much as I love Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Gene Kelly I was surprised to find this film in such a sad and delirious state. Maybe I was just hoping for too much, but even if my expectations were low, I think I would wind up disappointed. Lets just chalk this one up to a few Hollywood legends having a good time out west!Back to Home for More Reviews