DANCE HALL GIRLS
- Saloons in early silent and classic Westerns often have several women employed who merely encourage cowboy customers to buy them drinks and have a little company. Since the West of these cinema Westerns is overwhelmingly masculine and dedicated to a code of virtue, dance hall girls as character types are a coded acknowledgement of the true nature of the Wild West and the pervasive role of prostitution in frontier society.Sympathetic dance hall girls can be dark and mysterious, as is Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado) in High Noon(1952), but they may also be blonde and vivacious, as is Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich) in Destry Rides Again (1939). Ruby (Ann Sheridan) in Dodge City (1939) probably defines the unsympathetic type as she collaborates with the evil saloon owner (Bruce Cabot) to destroy the sheriff, Wade Hatton (Errol Flynn). Other notable dance hall girls have been Feathers (Angie Dickinson) in Rio Bravo (1959), the playful and likeable pal of Dean Martin’s and Ricky Nelson’s characters, and Dolly (Louise Glaum) in Hell’s Hinges (1916), William S. Hart’s vamp-like temptress.Dance hall girls can be virtuous fallen women with hearts of gold, or they can be women of power who are trying to assert some sort of independence and control in a masculine world. The most memorable cinema characters tend to be the latter. Most post-Westerns and alternative Westerns openly acknowledge the role of prostitution in Western saloons.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. Paul Varner. 2012.
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