The Cheyenne Social Club (1970)

Directed by Gene Kelly

Bawdy in the tamest of ways and as generically western as they come, the western-comedy The Cheyenne Social Club still has something going for it. Two things, actually: Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda.

Despite being a western in an almost early TV fashion (meaning not very inventive or, frankly interesting), the movie does manage to find a way to be engaging simply through the fact that it is fun watching the two old school Hollywood stars, at the far side of their careers, interacting. They do everything with an almost unthinking ease and you get the sense that while they probably didn’t think much of what they were in they had a lot of fun being in it together.

And I think it shows.

Jimmy Stewart as John O’Hanlan is a cowboy who has always dreamed of owning property. One day he gets a letter from a lawyer in Cheyenne telling him he does have property.

Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda in The Cheyenne Social Club (1970).

His late brother, something of a shady wheeler dealer, has left him The Cheyenne Social Club. Without a clue as to what it is, O’Hanlan heads to Cheyenne to take over his inheritance, along with his wise-yet-dim (and talkative) sidekick, Harley (Henry Fonda).

In Cheyenne, O’Hanlan learns a few things quickly. First, his inheritance is a well-loved bordello, almost an institution in that part of the country. Second, he likes being a “man of property,” confusing the well-wishes and respect he receives with being a man of wealth and not with the fact that he owns the bordello.

Looking to be a respectable businessman, he decided to close The Cheyenne Social Club – maybe turn it into a boarding house. He’s not sure.

Suddenly, all his respect vanishes and the town’s good will towards him evaporates, replaced by resentment.

The ladies of The Cheyenne Social Club (1970).

Of course, his friend Harley was aware of this all along. But O’Hanlan is pig-headed and needs to learn for himself.

Being a Hollywood bordello, all the women are wonderful – hearts of gold, all, including Shirley Jones as Jenny, queen of them all. They, too, turn on John though. He is, after all, turning them into the streets. “Firing them,” as he puts it.

It plays out the way you would expect a happy ending western would. A bad guy comes along and then friends of the bad guy and O’Hanlan must protect “his women” (and does, with Harley’s aid).

Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda in The Cheyenne Social Club (1970).

It is all more than a little bit cornball and clichéd but still … It is so damned enjoyable watching Stewart and Fonda together (lifelong friends, off screen). Their comfort level with one another comes through and, to a degree I think, they have some fun with the roles, perhaps even having fun with their personal cinematic images.

There is one scene in particular where Stewart’s character extols the merits of being Republican and he asks Fonda’s character never to mention the fact he wasn’t always that way. This becomes more amusing when you think that Stewart always was a political conservative and Fonda always a political liberal and it is one area where they never agreed, unless it was to agree to disagree.

It may well be that to enjoy the movie you need a degree of awareness of and familiarity with Stewart and Fonda. For me, it’s easy having grown up with their movies. I don’t think you argue for this being a good movie, though it is certainly not bad either. It’s essentially a bland confection.

Except for that pairing: Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda.

2 Responses

  1. Pingback: Playing it straight: The Lady Eve | Piddleville
  2. jerry says:

    very sexy and Beautiful women in the Cheyenne Social club especially Shirley Jones. thank you I am a Big fan and i wish there was more Pictures of the Women in this film on the internet. thank you

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