|Douglas Fairbanks as Jeff Hillington in his New York City apartment.|
In Wild and Woolly, Douglas Fairbanks plays Jeff Hillington, the son of a New York railroad magnate. He is obsessed with the Old West. Certifiably obsessed. His home and office have been turned into vast playgrounds for his hobby. He has tee-pees, six-shooters, model horses, and enough campy wild west paraphernalia to fill the Fort Worth stockyards twice over. Everyone around him simply accepts that he's a bit of a nut, and they humor his fantasies enough to get by (he is the boss's son, and those six-shooters are loaded, after all).
Sick of putting up with his childish games, Jeff's father decides to send him on a business trip to Arizona, hoping that seeing what the West is really like will help him to face reality--the reality of business, one can only presume. Come to think of it, I'm not sure Fairbanks ever does a lick of work in any of his films, unless you count robbing the rich to feed the poor. His films uniformly celebrate play, freedom and imagination over the more humdrum ideals of discipline and industry. Would it be stretching things to call this character quixotic? Probably. He's not out to right all the injustices of the world, after all, he's just found the world of his imagination more satisfying than the reality around him. (Come to think of it, I know the feeling.) Of course as it turns out, reality is more like Jeff's fantasies than anyone else realized.
|Fairbanks with Eileen Percy as Nell Larabee|
The detail in this film rewards a careful eye. There is a sign at the inn, put there for Jeff's benefit no doubt, that reads "All guests must bury their own dead." As usual, though, the only real reason to watch this movie today is simply to watch Fairbanks move. I suspect that was already the case in 1917. Otherwise I'm at a bit of a loss. Fairbanks was making ridiculous amounts of money--his salary grew from $2,000 to $10,000 a week between 1916 and 1919--making comedies that just aren't funny. Silly, zany, and embarrassing, yes, but seldom actually funny. However, stories like Wild and Woolly do provide a reasonable excuse for Fairbanks to leap, climb, and kick everything in sight, and that in itself is more than enough to justify the 65 minute time investment this picture requires.
|Fairbanks kicking a hole in the ceiling.|
Wild and Woolly is not going to be anybody's new favorite movie, but you could do a lot worse. So put a pot of beans on the campfire and gather round, happy in the knowledge that if it isn't really very good, at least it's short. And hey, it's better than going to the office.