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Film / Ride 'em Cowboy

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Ride ‘em Cowboy is a 1942 musical comedy western, starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

Famed writer Bronco Bob Mitchell, known for his autobiographical western adventures, has never actually been west of the Hudson River in his life. When a newspaper article threatens to expose him as a fraud, Bronco Bob goes on tour singing on horseback across the northeast. His first stop is a rodeo in Long Island, New York. Meanwhile, Duke and Willoughby (Abbott and Costello), two snack food vendors at the rodeo, accidentally let a bull out of its pen while hiding from their angry boss after their latest foul-up. Bob is thrown from his horse when he panics seeing the bull. The bull is stopped by cowgirl Anne Shaw, but she injures her leg in the process, keeping her from winning the ten thousand dollar first prize. A grateful Bob offers her a check for ten thousand as compensation, but she interprets it as a bribe to keep quiet about his incompetence and refuses, though she agrees to keep quiet. Abashed when he hears that winning (or at least competing) would have drummed up business for her family’s dude ranch out west, Bob drops the tour and follows her to the Lazy S Ranch, begging for instruction on becoming the cowboy his books claim him to be. Anne relents, and the two begin to grow close as Bob starts to become legitimately competent. It's fortunate that he's getting competent, too - he's been signed up for the Frontier Days state rodeo championships near the end of the summer. Meanwhile, Duke and Willoughby end up on a train while escaping their boss, and find themselves going much further west than they expected. They eventually meet up with Anne and Bob on the ranch, but not before a faux pas with the local natives that leads to Willoughby being stalked by the tribe, who are determined to have Willoughby marry one of them.

Hilarity Ensues.

The film is perhaps best known as the movie debut of Ella Fitzgerald, who has a small role as a ranch employee named Ruby who leads a few musical numbers.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Moonbeam, who Willoughby makes an Accidental Proposal to. Her twin sister Sunbeam is quite attractive, but to Willoughby's disappointment, Moonbeam is chubby and homely. Willoughby has no interest at all in marrying Moonbeam... not that she or her tribe want to hear it.

  • Accidental Proposal: Willoughby accidentally proposes to Moonbeam by shooting an arrow into a heart symbol on her tipi.

  • Arrowgram: The Indians send Willoughby a warning to get ready for the wedding with one.

  • Bears Are Bad News: While fleeing the Indians, Duke and Willoughby briefly find themselves driving along with a bear in the drivers' seat. Cue panicking and eventually pushing the bear out of the car.

  • Becoming the Boast: Bronco Bob is a complete charlatan initially, but after a summer training on Anne’s ranch, he’s able to enter the state rodeo championships.

  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: The Indians, but it's heavily hinted it's deliberately played up for the tourists - a few quick shots show them getting "into uniform" as a train approaches, including one man donning a headdress with fake braids attached.

  • Brutish Bulls: Downplayed; when a bull gets loose at the rodeo, Bob is caught completely flatfooted and is thrown from his horse, but Anne bulldogs it until it’s subdued and led back to containment by the rodeo workers.

  • Cassandra Truth: A couple of ranch employees put a dummy of an Indian chief in Willoughby's room as a practical joke. The real chief shows up, replaces the dummy, and trolls Willoughby repeatedly, but only when Duke isn't around to see it. Naturally, Duke doesn't believe that the dummy is alive.

  • Chase Scene: Two at the same time in the climax: Bob and Alabam fleeing from Ace and his cronies after being kidnapped, and Duke and Willoughby Chased by Angry Natives determined to drag Willoughby back to marry Moonbeam.

  • Exact Words: During the "Crazy House" skit, a swami asks Willoughby if he would like to have his palm read. He then paints Willoughby's palm with red paint.

  • Expecting Someone Taller: A literal example. Before diving into a pool, Willoughby asks a man in the pool how deep it is, and he replies "Up to my neck." Willoughby dives in, and almost hurts himself in the waist-deep water as the man comes out of the pool, revealing himself to be very, very short.

  • Fee Fi Faux Pas: Willoughby's first meeting with the Indians does... not endear him to them, with Willoughby acting condescending and terrified of them in equal measure. It's even more wince-inducing by modern standards. 

  • Feet of Clay: Bronco Bob’s books portray him as a brilliant cowboy, but the author himself is… lackluster at first.

  • Game-Breaking Injury: Anne’s leg is sprained by her helping take down a bull at the beginning. It heals soon enough, but it’s enough to keep her from competing in the rodeo.

  • High-Dive Hijinks: Willoughby gets roped into going off a diving board for the first time in the Lazy S Ranch's pool.

  • Horsing Around: The plot kicks off when Bronco Bob gets thrown from his horse due to his incompetence.

  • Injun Country: Zigzagged. The natives of an unnamed local tribe are initially more interested in selling shoddy souvenirs to tourists, but start planning to drag Willoughby off to marry Moonbeam after his Accidental Proposal, and after Willoughby insults them. They spend much of the film stalking him across the ranch, showing themselves as terrifyingly stealthy, and crack-shots with arrows and thrown knives, playing many of the usual tropes dead straight. By the end, though, they instead "marry" Willoughby to Duke, contenting themselves with a joke at HIS expense.

  • Juggling Loaded Guns: Willoughby gets his hands on a revolver as part of his equipment at the ranch... and promptly proves that he should not be let anywhere near firearms, blowing Duke's hat off. It gets worse when he literally swallows a bullet by accident.

  • Moody Mount: Wildcat, the toughest, meanest horse on the Lazy S. Willoughby gets dumped on his back by accident, Duke follows, and both are too terrified to fall, amazing everyone as Wildcat bucks and kicks furiously. By the time the ride is over, Wildcat is swaybacked, and the boys are Mistaken for Badass by nearly everyone on the ranch.

  • Murphy's Bed: During Duke and Willoughby's escape from the Indians, they crash into a wall and push some unfortunate fellow in a wheeled bed down the road a way, before he rockets off down the road on a different course.

  • Must Make Amends: After Anne gets injured protecting Bob from a rampaging bull and is unable to compete as a result, Bob writes her a check for the prize money to make amends. She doesn't accept it.

  • Nightmare Sequence: Willoughby has a nightmare about seeking refuge at a sanitarium, only to find everyone working there is an Indian, though they all deny it. Then things get weird.

  • Old-Timey Bathing Suit: Willoughby wears one during a swim.

  • Professional Gambler: Ace Henderson, who has made a substantial bet against the Lazy S and Bronco Bob. He has his cronies kidnap Bob and Alabam, to make sure he doesn't have to pay out.

  • Shotgun Wedding: Moonbeam's older brother claims they'll get Willoughby in a "Bow-and-arrow wedding." At the end, it gets called off, but they "marry" Willoughby to Duke as a joke.

  • Title Drop: Dropped right after Bob wins the championship at the end, then in the ending musical number.

  • Two Men, One Dress: Duke and Willoughby get off a cattle car wearing a two-man cow costume, only to get caught when it slips off.

  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Upon arriving out west, Willoughby panics seeing a native tribe, crying for them to "circle the wagons"... except it's 1942 and the Indians are more interested in selling them souvenirs.