I first watched The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox on commercial TV during my college days. I hadn't remembered anything about it other than it was an unfunny comedy-western starring Goldie Hawn and George Segal. One thing I've learned over the years is that you can't really judge a movie if you watch it edited for television. So I was looking for something light to watch and stumbled on this title on Netflix, and decided to give it another viewing.
Guess what? The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox is still a (mostly) unfunny comedy-western, though it plays a little better than my mind remembered. Segal is a con man, and when he makes a big score, the bandits that he conned come looking for him to retrieve their money. He encounters Hawn, a dance hall girl/occasional hooker who is working a con of her own -- she wants to get out of her business so she attempts to appear as a proper lady and is hired by a wealthy Mormon to tutor his large brood of children. Segal and Hawn find themselves on the run as they travel to Utah from California. Naturally they fall in love.
It's to Hawn's credit that she is so charismatic onscreen that she can appear in such a weak movie and emerge with her charm intact. Segal is also likable here, and audience goodwill toward the two leads carries a lot of weight. Ultimately, the script betrays Segal and Hawn as it is low on laughs and weak on plot and adventure.
Melvin Frank directed this mess. He was much more successful in directing Segal and Glenda Jackson previously in 1973's A Touch of Class, which won Jackson a Best Actress Oscar. Here his work is heavy-handed and even amateurish at times. The highlight of the film for me was Hawn's ribald rendition of a bar song called "Please Don't Touch Me Plums". It is funny, sexy, and strikes the tone that the rest of the movie needed.
The concept of The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox is a good one, and the casting of Hawn and Segal was smart. It's too bad that the concept wasn't executed well. Director Frank should have scrapped his screenplay and either started over or farmed it out. Most of the blame for the failure of this movie can be placed on him. Grade: C-.
I watched The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox on Netflix Streaming on February 28, 2013.