Belle of the Yukon is the kind of mid-Forties Hollywood misfire that can lead earnest cinephiles to make clever wisecracks. My advice...put the rented DVD in the player, start folding the laundry on the coffee table and enjoy yourself. The movie is something of an uncertain romantic comedy-musical-western with a clever con. Randolph Scott is Honest John Calhoun, charming and untrustworthy. Gypsy Rose Lee is Belle De Valle, a high class music hall entertainer. The river town of Malamute plays the Yukon during the gold rush days. Honest John and Belle have a history that goes back to Seattle, where Honest John, then Gentleman Jack, had to skedaddle just ahead of the law, leaving Belle in the lurch. When Belle shows up with her troupe of dancers to play the music hall in Malamute, she finds the owner is Jack, now Honest John. He swears he's reformed. She's not so sure...there's a lot of gold dust in the town. When Honest John, who doesn't gamble, suggests the town pick an upright, non-gambling man to start a bank, guess who gets picked. We know the con is on, but we're not sure what the con is.
Not to be too critical, but the director, William Seiter, gives us plodding direction even as the Technicolor photography looks like a million dollars. The dance hall costumes and Belle's dresses are so garish even Vincente Minnelli would have gawked. With one exception, the songs are no more than Hollywood professional. The acting varies from satisfying (Scott) to interesting in a kind of unformed way (Lee) to standard cliché (Charles Winninger and Guinn Williams) to pre-nostalgia (Bob Burns sounding like what Andy Griffith will) to really awful (Dinah Shore and William Marshall). The important thing to remember, while reining in the temptation for MST3K commentary, is that this is all done with good humor and good intentions. There are happy endings all over Malamute. Belle of the Yukon does no harm.
Gypsy Rose Lee with her 37-23-36 figure, her great voice and her ability to make dialogue sound like one-liners can be forgiven for being no actress. I doubt if she ever thought of herself as one except when she was stripping. She seems to be enjoying herself. She was an intelligent, honest woman with a fine, skeptical sense of humor. She even wrote a best-selling mystery, The G-string Murders. Even though she probably received some help from Craig Rice, a good friend, she did most of the heavy writing herself. Barbara Stanwyck played a bumping, grinding Gypsy Rose Lee, now named Dixie Daisy, in Lady of Burlesque: The G-String Murders, the movie made from the book. William Wellman directed. It's a movie worth seeing. I'd skip the lumbering movie made from the Broadway hit Gypsy, based on her autobiography. The television special of Gypsy starring Bette Midler isn't bad. Gypsy Rose Lee had to grow up fast.
Dinah Shore and William Marshall play the young lovers. Shore is Lettie Candless, daughter of Honest John's saloon manager. Lettie is an innocent young woman who sings at the music hall. Shore has two major romantic songs that stop the movie dead in its tracks. "Like Someone in Love" is pleasant enough, but the numbers were used only to showcase Dinah Shore. They are as out of place as...well, as romantic ballads in a Yukon music hall. The makeup department did Shore no favors. Her bright red Technicolor lipstick emphasizes how much teeth she has, Reassuringly, the older Shore got the more interesting she became. Maturity suited her. William Marshall plays Steve Atterbury, the music hall's piano player. Marshall was a big, passive guy without, as far as I can tell, any acting talent. He got by on impressively blond good looks. Close your eyes and you'd think you were listening to the high school lead in Brigadoon.
Randolph Scott is just fine as a friendly, well-dressed saloon owner you'd be wise not to trust. He's often been the best thing in the movies he's starred in. I enjoy watching his old-fashioned (by current tastes) approach to good guy Hollywood leading men.