'Way Out West': William Haines' Campy Gay Cult Classic

Way Out West (1930)

Dir.: Fred Niblo. Scr.: Byron Morgan and Alfred Block; dialogue by Alfred Block, Joe Farnham, Ralph Spence, and Henry Sharp. Cast: William Haines, Leila Hyams, Cliff Edwards, Polly Moran, Francis X. Bushman Jr. (a.k.a. Ralph Bushman), Charles Middleton, Vera Marsh


William HainesWhen a crooked carnival barker cheats a gang of tough cowboys in a roulette game, he is forced to work off the money by becoming a personal slave on their ranch. The joke is that the dandy city slicker, Windy (short for Windermere – as in “Fan”?), is played by William Haines.

Out of all Haines' talkies, Way Out West is the one that allows him to camp up to the highest degree his screen persona as an effete, smart-assed wisecracker. In fact, the film's set up itself (story and screenplay by Alfred Block and Byron Morgan) can be seen as homoerotic: the sissified dandy is taken to a dude ranch to play “slave” to the cowboys' “masters.”

Comedian Polly Moran adds to the inside joke by playing a housekeeper named “Pansy.” Haines even pretends to flirt with her when she first tells him her name. A few scenes later, when he delivers breakfast to the sister of one of the cowboys, she says, “I thought you were Pansy.” To which Windy replies, “I'm the wildest pansy you ever picked.”

Of course to maintain his hetero credentials, Windy falls in love with the aforementioned sister, played by blonde ingénue Leila Hyams. The feeling is mutual, so she tries to convince the boys to “ease up on him.”

One can't help but see the tongue-in-cheek throughout Way Out West. One of the cowboys even exclaims, “Why you're beautiful,” when Windy appears all dressed up. In the end, however, Windy proves himself to be “manly” by saving his paramour's life and by beating the shit out of his competition.

Under the guidance of Fred Niblo (he of Ben-Hur), Haines' typical brashness, which usually turns me off, is remarkably subdued. That makes Way Out West my particular William Haines favorite.

© Danny Fortune

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