Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Mrs. Sundance (1974)

Etta Place holds a fascination in American folklore for good reasons: she was the girlfriend of the Sundance Kid (Harry Longabaugh) and rode the outlaw trail with him and Butch Cassidy (Robert Parker) all the way to Bolivia where Sundance and Butch were killed in a shootout in 1908—but what of Etta Place? We don’t know, and may never find out, what became of her later life and death. So, the mystery is ripe for speculation with the most famous telling of Etta’s story being Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969) featuring Katharine Ross in the part.

Mrs. Sundance, a 1974 TV movie starring Elizabeth Montgomery, is the first time an actor other than Ross played the part. Since I grew up on Ross as Etta Place and Montgomery as Samantha Stephens in Bewitched (1964-1972), I fully expected to be thrown off by the casting, but within the first few scenes, Ms. Montgomery swiftly erases those other associations, firmly establishing herself as this historical enigma.

Etta is a desperate woman on edge. She’s best described by a nosy member of the community where the outlaw is laying low, saying, 

I've been watching you since the first day you come. Every time a train stops, every time somebody just passes through - the fear in your eyes. Hiding out; never showing till they've gone. Why? Hiding from what? Who wants you?
Well, it turns out just about everybody, including Charles Siringo, played by veteran actor L.Q. Jones. Mr. Jones—known for Ride the High Country (1962), The Wild Bunch (1969), and a host of other classics—authenticates every scene like he’s hopped out from the real Old West. Siringo is charged with tracking the elusive Etta Place and bringing her to justice. He uses captured thief Jack Maddox (Robert Foxworth) as bait to lure in Place by gaining her confidence. Siringo is betting that she will lead him to the rest of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang so he can reap the bounties on their heads. He spreads word that Sundance is still alive and before long, she goes in search of her true love.

IMDb currently ranks the film at a middling 6.3 though I would elevate it a bit higher. Sure, the television budget and, at times, meandering script hinder it from becoming anything more than an afternoon joy ride. But sometimes that, and Elizabeth Montgomery, is more than enough.

David Cranmer is the editor of the BEAT to a PULP webzine and whose own body of work has appeared in such diverse publications as The Five-Two: Crime Poetry Weekly, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, LitReactor, Macmillan’s Criminal Element, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Under the pen name Edward A. Grainger he created the Cash Laramie western series. He's a dedicated Whovian who enjoys jazz and backgammon. He can be found in scenic upstate New York where he lives with his wife and daughter.


4 comments:

  1. I concur with your assessment of Montgomery's performance. She was a better actor than some give her credit for. I also enjoyed this take on the Etta Place story. Doris

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  2. She was quite believable in a number of roles including Lizzie Borden and that's no easy feat to pull off.

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  3. David, I am so glad you mentioned this movie. I have never heard of it, and I absolutely love Elizabeth Montgomery. She was one of my favorite actresses and just so beautiful. That sounds like a really entertaining movie that I would love to see! Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

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  4. Cheryl, Our family has been enjoying BEWITCHED and when I clicked on Montgomery's name in STARZ this curio popped up. Pleasant surprise.

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