- Way Out West (1930) movie review: Directed by veteran Fred Niblo and starring gay MGM contract actor William Haines, this pre-Production Code comedy Western features gay overtones, undertones, innuendoes, insinuations, and flashing beacons just about everywhere you look.
Way Out West movie review: William Haines’ outrageously camp ‘gay Western’ is MGM actor’s most enjoyable star vehicle
Out of all William 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 setup itself (story and screenplay by Alfred Block and Byron Morgan) can be seen as homoerotic: The sissified dandy at a dude ranch where he plays “slave” to the cowboys’ “masters.”
The narrative kicks off when a crooked carnival barker cheats a gang of tough cowboys in a roulette game; he is then 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 Haines.
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.”
This sort of tongue-in-cheek humor can be seen throughout Way Out West. One more example: When Windy appears all dressed up in one scene, one of the cowboys exclaims, “Why, you’re beautiful!”
In the end, however, Windy proves himself “manly” by saving his paramour’s life and by beating the shit out of his competition.
Under the guidance of Fred Niblo (Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ), William Haines’ typical brashness, which is usually a turn-off, feels remarkably subdued in this one. That makes Way Out West my particular Haines favorite.
Way Out West (1930)
Director: Fred Niblo.
Screenplay: Byron Morgan & Alfred Block.
Dialogue by Joe Farnham.
Cast: William Haines. Leila Hyams. Cliff Edwards. Polly Moran. Francis X. Bushman Jr. Charles Middleton. Jay Wilsey. Buddy Roosevelt.
“Way Out West Movie: ‘Gay Western’ Is Haines’ Best” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Way Out West (1930) Movie Review” endnotes
Future Warner Bros. leading lady Ann Dvorak (Three on a Match, Love Is a Racket) is featured in an uncredited bit as a carnival dancer.
William Haines Way Out West movie image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
“Way Out West Movie: ‘Gay Western’ Is Haines’ Best” last updated in October 2021.