Rowdy Ann (1919) A Silent Film Review

Fay Tincher plays the wild and woolly daughter of a rancher who wins a boxing match against a cowboy and ends up getting sent east for finishing school. But who shall finish whom?

Home Media Availability: Released on DVD and Bluray.

I’ll show you finishing!

When the Code dropped in full force in 1934, a great many of the most raucous dames of the silver screen were obliged to clean up their act. There were exceptions, cheats and workarounds but the fact was that Hollywood women in the mid-1930s and onward were not permitted the same wild behavior that they had enjoyed during the silent era.

Yeehaw indeed.

There were exceptions, though, and the rootin’ tootin’ western shootin’ hoyden was one of them. Fay Tincher’s untamed rancher in Rowdy Ann was the direct ancestor of gun-toting funny ladies like Bill (Penny Singleton) in Go West, Young Lady (1941), Prudy (Joan Hackett) in Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) and Patience (Suzanne Pleshette) in Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971). The women in these films usually found themselves at odds with their desire to be proper ladies and their own natural inclination for mayhem.

Violent, fist-fighting, swearing (within the bounds of the Code and the MPAA, of course), screaming and gun-toting, the wild west provided cover for women to continue to go toe-to-toe with the men, especially if the film was more comedic than dramatic. This was how the west was won, after all. Even Disney got in on the act with Dusty (Susan Clark) in The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975).

Which boots go with chiffon?

So, we can view Rowdy Ann as no outlier but rather a historical link in an unbroken chain of wild women of the wild west, the zanier, the better.

That being said, Rowdy Ann lives up to its title and then some. Tincher, a comedian noted for her tomboy roles, plays the title character, the daughter and heiress of a wealthy rancher. She rides out with the stock alongside the cowpunchers but then one of them, Handsome Hank (Al Haynes), gets fresh and she rejects him. The foreman (Harry Depp) decides to defend her honor by challenging Hank to a boxing match.

Ann’s unmatched fisticuffs.

When Ann shows up, the foreman has been soundly thrashed, so she takes matters into her own hands and dons boxing gloves herself. Hank may be stronger but he also has corns and Ann quickly wins the fight with her boots rather than her fists. However, she loses the war because her parents decide that she needs to be sent to college to learn to be a lady.

Ann causes just as much trouble on the train, exposing and thrashing a slick cardsharp and chasing the porter with a pistol. (The porter scenes display the racism endemic during the period with dialect title cards and stereotypes galore.)

Exposig a card sharp

Once she arrives at college, Ann ruins the classical dance class by wearing cowboy boots and punching out the other girls. Her roommate, an heiress (Katherine Lewis) who is the queen of campus due to her father’s millions, doesn’t like Ann one bit.

Ann spots the heiress’s suitor and recognizes the hustler from the train. Being a straightforward western girl, she isn’t about to let anyone walk into a marriage with a scammer, so she tries to warn her frenemy. The heiress isn’t having it, so it looks like Ann is going to have to employ some good, old-fashioned western knowhow. And a lasso.

Saving the day.

Fay Tincher absolutely nails her role as the untamable and bold Ann. It has been famously said that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels. Well, women of 1910s slapstick did everything that the men did but in skirts and corsets. And, in Tincher’s case, a tiny sheer classical dance costume. What I am saying is that she is an unfettered delight.

Another interesting thing to watch in this picture is that, while most western comedy wild women would focus their talents on the men in their lives (note especially The Paleface and its remake, The Shakiest Gun in the West), Tincher helps her suitor at the beginning but then focuses her western skills on helping fellow train passengers and her college roommate. The picture closes with the women embracing, no male suitor in sight, and the heiress gets walloped with a pillow for her sins.

Ann’s about to get rowdy.

In fact, I expected Rowdy Ann to turn into one of those “woman gets finishing, comes back a knockout, love triangle ensues” comedies but instead, it is structured almost exactly like a picture for a male comedian. Romance is optional and disposable (which was more often an option for female-led comedies back in the silent era but a great many were still saddled with soppy duds for romantic interest) and the heroine can score a win other than becoming Mrs. Male-Lead at the end.

Further, Rowdy Ann doesn’t fall into the silent era cliché (on display in the Mabel Normand vehicle Mickey) of saddling its feisty heroine’s quest to be a lady with morphing into a damsel in distress. Ann has a few rougher edges smoothed off but that doesn’t stop her from lassoing the bad guy and holding him until the police show up to arrest him.

Facing down classical dance class.

Fay Tincher specialized in wild characters, though she remains frustratingly obscure even among silent film fans. Her filmography is tantalizing with titles like Dangerous Nan McGrew (1919), about a western lady trying to scare off a tenderfoot suitor with gunplay and trickery, and Wild and Western (also 1919), about a YWCA gym instructor whose fists fly a little too freely and ends up moving west when she inherits a ranch, and, finally, Go West, Young Woman (1919 again) about an easterner who forms an all-woman police force to clean up a bandit-infested town. Tincher also played in dramas when the occasion presented itself but, as you can see, Rowdy Ann was very much within her wheelhouse and the sort of thing her fans would have expected at the time.

While the stereotypes prevent it from being considered an ideal silent comedy, Rowdy Ann has much to recommend it, both as a showcase for the charismatic Tincher and an illustration of just how much women could get away with in films of this genre and era. Here’s hoping Tincher’s star will begin its reascent.

Where can I see it?

Rowdy Ann has been a fixture of silent comedy collections but the latest release is found in the DVD and Bluray collection Cinema’s First Nasty Women and it features a jaunty score by Meg Morley. The film also provides the striking central cover image for the box set.


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  1. Martyn Bassey

    Wow! What a gem of a film. Fay is an absolute hoot. She doesn’t care who she whacks, male or female. I’ve watched it a few times as it’s such fun. Thank you!

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