It’s been a long time–a very long time. The last time I saw The First Traveling Saleslady was probably in 1996. A few years have passed since then. And there’s probably a reason for that, in fact, there are a couple reasons for that.
The first being that this film isn’t shown a whole lot on television. I remember watching it for the first time on American Movie Classics, the formally brilliant channel which has probably been mentioned a time or two before. Not sure if Turner Classic Movies has played the film recently, they probably have, but AMC used to show films several times a month and though it led to fewer films being shown, it gave those a chance in a pre-DVR world to view the films. A search of TCM’s website reveals that it was shown in 2004 as part of a Clint Eastwood schedule. Perhaps I’ll start with Clint.
Clint Eastwood started in bit parts in 1955, a year before this film was released. He was 26 years old, young, dashing, I suppose. He fit into the western mold, though there is little notion of the hard-edged figure that Clint would soon become. I’m quite sure that when I first saw The First Traveling Saleslady I wouldn’t have known it was him. I was new to classic movies, though I had seen Clint Eastwood films throughout my young years, just wouldn’t have happened. I did a double-take when he appeared in the film in my viewing last night. Bit of a shock to the system to see him as a young man.
Ginger Rogers plays the lead. She plays a young career woman who wants to show men that woman should have equality through selling corsets and barbed wire with every available man attempting to tie her down. By 1956 Ginger was in her 40s, she doesn’t quite fit the working girl roles she played in her 20s and 30s. I’ve commented on Ginger’s mock ‘youthful’ voice before and it makes an appearance here, too. It would be more irritating if not for the presence of Carol Channing, who trumps her in frightening vocal gymnastics.
The First Traveling Saleslady marked Channing’s first feature role. She’s fresh, she’s different, but her character is written in such a way that leaves a performance that is mediocre and ordinary. Channing plays a Bob Hope type character who plays buddy and runs from her own shadow, but the griping and hollering doesn’t have the quality and sense of fun that Bob Hope characters have. Her talent isn’t exploited as it should have been.
In fact, there are many areas where this film falls short. It’s of little fault of the actors. RKO was falling apart. It went through a series of owners including Howard Hughs. When this film was made, it was run by it’s last owners, the General Tire and Rubber Company, who knew nothing about filmmaking and made no notable films from 1955-1957. Ginger Rogers said in My Story that the film was RKO’s last–that she started at the beginning of RKO and saw the end of it as well. Essentially that rings true, but she wasn’t quite exact. The film was not the last that RKO produced. That came a year later.
Because it is Ginger’s last film at RKO, because it includes a young Carol Channing and Clint Eastwood, and a host of other recognizable faces, this film is grand to watch on a cloudy day when nothing is on. To own, perhaps not. It’s a shame it’s not given more air time though, because it was fun to catch on AMC all those years ago and it was exactly as I remembered it.