After making two successful films together in 1941—the uplifting Meet John Doe and the charming Ball of Fire, it’s surprising Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck didn’t work together again for twelve years.
It was perhaps inevitable that Blowing Wild, their third and final film together, would be a western, as both turn to the genre in the 1950s as they aged out of playing the dashing young hero and ingénue.
As in their previous films, Cooper plays the good guy—the one who insists on playing by the rules and staying on the straight and narrow, while Stanwyck tries to corrupt him.
In this iteration, Cooper plays Jeff Dawson, an American oil wildcatter in South America who’s so broke that bandits can’t find a dime on him or his partner Dutch (Ward Bond) when they try to rob them. For spite, the bandits blow up their single oil well and their best chance at striking it rich.
In desperation, Dutch mugs a man in a dark alley for food money, but it turns out to be their old friend Ward “Paco” Conway (Anthony Quinn). Paco has struck it rich in South America, and has a huge custom-built house, wads of cash, and a dozen oil wells pumping day and night.
Paco’s job offer seems like the answer to their prayers but for one problem: Paco’s wife is Jeff’s ex.
And she’s not just any ex—Marina (Stanwyck) is as predatory as a black widow spider and immediately sets her sights on getting Jeff back.
Jeff knows trouble when he sees it, and figures that taking a job hauling a load of dynamite over bumpy dirt roads while being chased by bandits is less dangerous than being around Marina again.
But Dutch is shot in the leg and hospitalized during the job, and the man who hired them double-crosses them and leaves them as broke as when they started.
Jeff has no choice but to take the job with Paco, who is thrilled to have his buddy working for him again and oblivious to the attraction between Jeff and Marina.
Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck both made some excellent westerns during their careers; sadly, Blowing Wild isn’t among them. It’s not a terrible film—looking at Cooper’s lined face and cowboy walk are never a hardship, and it’s fun to watch Marina scheme and ever murder to get the man she wants—a man she wants mostly because he no longer wants her.
Lauren Bacall turned down the role because she was locked in a power struggle with Jack Warner at the time and rightly felt the role lacked subtlety. Stanwyck probably agreed but relished the opportunity to ride a horse onscreen—Marina recklessly racing her husband’s car on horseback is an inspired scene that illuminates Marina’s character and allows Stanwyck to show off her riding skills.
The film was panned at the time—a year before Cooper and Stanwyck had played better versions of the same roles in High Noon and Clash By Night, and reviewers unfairly described Stanwyck’s character as a cut-rate version of her Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity.
There’s something here for fans of Cooper, Stanwyck, and westerns. But the casual film viewer who wants an introduction or greatest hits of any of the above should look elsewhere.