Period dramas from early Hollywood are not my cup of tea. Most-if not all- period films are based off books and sometimes they were pretty racy. Because of the ridiculous Hayes Code whatever was racy of course had to be eliminated or worked around it. That is my number one reason, my number two reason is because they are just boring as sin. What really makes me mad with period films is the society especially towards women. Women were supposed to be proper and not speak their mind or be daring. I guess I am too modern in my thinking to look past cultural norm from different time periods. But I will admit some are not too bad. I will watch Gone With the Wind, Jane Eyre (the one with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles), and a few others but not many. One period film I was able to watch and enjoy was Stingaree from 1934.
Hilda (Irene Dunne) is a helper on a farm for the Clarksons in late 1800s Australia. They receive a letter that a man named Sir Julian Kent is coming to their house. Sir Julian is an opera manager and Mrs. Clarkson (Mary Boland) thinks she has a great opera voice. Hilda can really sing and beautifully but Mrs. Clarkson does not let her since she knows Hilda is much better than her. Hilda wants a chance to sing for Sir Julian. Mrs. Clarkson tells Hilda she has no voice and that she is being sent to another woman’s house for the night to watch the woman’s children. Hilda is miserably upset at her lost chance.
Mr. Clarkson asked the police inspector to keep an eye out for Sir Julian since there is a bandit named Stingaree (Richard Dix) in the area. Stinagree comes to the inn where the inspector and Sir Julian are. No one knows he is the famous bandit. He talks to Sir Julian about music and London since he is also from there. The coachman Howie barges in saying he has been robbed. The police inspector and his squad go outside to investigate. Stingaree holds up the bar and takes Sir Julian with him. Howie holds up the bar too, he is working with Stingaree.
Stingaree goes to the Clarkson’s home. Mr. and Mrs. Clarkson have left leaving Hilda behind. From outside Stingaree hears Hilda singing. He walks into the house startling her but he tells her to keep playing. Hilda thinks Stingaree is Sir Julian and he goes along with it. She asks him to take her away so she can sing. The Clarksons come back early. They say Sir Julian has been murdered. Stingaree, still claiming to be the opera manager tells the couple they have heard wrong that he is Sir Julian. Later on the inspector from the inn comes to the Clarkson’s home. He recognizes Stingaree and tells Mr. and Mrs. Clarkson that the man is an imposter. Sometime later Stinagree has to leave and he takes Hilda with him. The real Sir Julian, who was only roughed up, shows up at the party. Stingaree holds the party up so Hilda can get a chance to sing for the real manager. Stingaree grabs Hilda and takes her away through the woods on his horse. Unfortunately Stingaree is shot and injured forcing Hilda to go back to the Clarksons.
Mrs. Clarkson kicks Hilda out of the house for what she did at the party and for thinking that Hilda is immoral for being out in the woods alone with a bandit. Sir Julian comes and says he will take Hilda to London. Hilda is beyond thrilled but the next day she does not want to go because Stinagree is still out there. Stingaree manages to give Hilda a music box with a letter in it telling her to go to London.
Hilda becomes a great success. She still thinks of Stingaree. Julian loves her he wants to marry her but she cannot. Hilda wants to go back to Australia to look for Stingaree. Julian very graciously sets up a concert in Melbourne. Stingaree is still an outlaw there is no way he would be able to get close enough to the opera dresses in his normal attire. He manages to steal the governor’s clothes right off of the man. Hilda’s performance suffers because she thinks Stingaree will not show. He manages to get inside and be seen by Hilda. She has the orchestra play their song. As she sings the police catch on to Stingaree. Hilda hears gun shots go off and she faints thinking Stingaree has gotten hurt. She receives a note telling her to send her maid away. As soon as she does Stingaree shows up at the window. He takes her away into the night for a second time.
Irene Dunne and Richard Dix were perfect together. Their chemistry was great. Irene Dunne I just adore to bits she was so perfect in every role she was in. Richard Dix was so believable as the rugged bandit with a sensitive kind side. Neither side was played as much as the other which was great to see. Dix has the look and body language that made Stingaree a very good character. He was so handsome as well I just stare at him whenever I see him in a film.
I cannot get over the fact that William Wellman directed this film and that Merian C. Cooper produced it. When I hear their names I think of adventure films, I think of Wings and King Kong. I would never think they would have made this melodrama (although Wellman did make The Heiress and Cooper did produce a lot of non-adventure films for RKO).
Stingaree was not a bad period piece. The story was alright I was not crazy about an ambitious young woman running off with a bandit. How many times has that storyline been done? I did not like the stuffy period-ness to it with the constricting costumes and silly morals. Stingaree is only really worth watching if you are a fan of either Irene Dunne or Richard Dix. Stingaree is available to own on DVD through a seller on Amazon but it is a rare release from TCM so it is expensive. It is not available to watch through Youtube. I managed to catch it on TCM so keep an eye out for it on the channel.