The parts were getting smaller...
As was the case with her recent films, Doris Day felt that "The Ballad of Josie" was far below the standard that a star of her magnitude should ever consider. However, aware that film is a permanent record and that her performance would forever be judged, she approached the part of Josie Minick with the same professionalism which had become her hallmark, and saved the film from being dismissed as just another western.
The conviction and energy which she brought to the role of an abused frontier wife with a small son (Teddy Quinn), made this innocuous oater a minor triumph. After the accidental death of abusive drunkard, Whit Minick (Robert Lowery), his wife, Josie, is accused of killing him with a billiard cue, brought to trial and is eventually acquitted by knowing members of a Wyoming Territory jury. Josie tearfully relinquishes her son to his grandfather until she determines what path to take as a widow with a young child. Independent and not eager to fall into another submissive relationship, she decides to raise sheep in order to provide for her small family.
Despite the fact that her town, Arapaho, is cattle country, Josie defies tradition, purchases herds of sheep, renovates a dilapidated ranch she owns, dons a pair of pants (cultural shock) and challenges the resistance of enraged cattle ranchers. Amidst Josie's plight, women's rights, Wyoming statehood and male/female relationships are material sub-themes covered in the picture.
Because no major male star was present for "Ballad of Josie", Doris Day took sole star billing above the title and Peter Graves, television star of "Mission Impossible", was cast as the male lead, Jace Meredith, who defends Josie against the cattle barons. Her major foe is Arch Ogden (George Kennedy, fresh from his Oscar win for "Cool Hand Luke"), a cattle rancher determined to organise and chase Josie out of the sheep business.
There are fights, gunfire, an all-out riot by the ladies of Arapaho who come to the aid of Josie against their own cattle-owning husbands and, eventual compromise with Josie entering the cattle business and marrying Jace, who is elected to public office. Producer, Norman MacDonnell, assembled a wonderful cast of character actors to support Doris Day. There was a virtual who's who in "Ballad of Josie". Andy Devine (his last film), William Talman ("Perry Mason"), David Hartman (Good Morning America), Audrey Christie ("Mame" "Splendour in the Grass"), Harry Carey, Paul Fix, Don Stroud, John Fiedler, Elisabeth Fraser ("Young at Heart" "Tunnel of Love") and starlet, Karen Jensen added authenticity to this period piece.
Doris Day had several good scenes. She clashed with her chauvinistic foes at a dinner invitation, proclaimed that she was independent and didn't need a man, used 'profanity' and instead of drinking 'lady-like' cherry, defiantly drank brandy, with amusing results. Also, in a showdown with Arch Ogden, Josie warns him that she would not be bullied and would stand her ground. The Techniscope photography was beautiful, the Frank DeVol score appropriate, Day's costumes by Jean Louis authentic and the direction by Andrew V. McLaglen was precise.
Unfortunately, "The Ballad of Josie" was not received in New York as a first class project. It opened as a double-bill with Charlton Heston's "Counterpoint" in wide release all over the state in neighbourhood theatres and on 42nd Street at the New Amsterdam, signalling the beginning of the end of Doris Day's great film career.
Ralph McKnight, New York, June 2000
The Ballad of Josie
By Derald Hendry
In 1968 Doris Day appeared in the last three movies of her career. This was one of them. It was an interesting change in Doris' character.Doris plays a widow living in the Wyoming territory who is determined to turn her farm into a sheep ranch, which is at odds with the men of the territory who are strongly-determined cattle ranchers. She fights them until she realises that her persistence will cause bloodshed and then she gives in. Doris plays Josie Minick, a genuine frontier woman trying to survive in a man's world.
One paragraph from the screenplay provides a glimpse at her character: "Forget I'm a woman. I'm a human being. I can take care of myself and my son without anybody's charity. I can think and I can work…I don't want a man, and I don't need a man. I've got myself and I've got my sheep, and I'm gonna bring 'em through to spring, and I'm gonna sell my lambs and my wool, and I'm gonna double my money---and NOBODY, nobody, not a damn one of you, is gonna get in my way!"
"The Ballad of Jose" is a pleasant, innocuous Doris Day oater comedy about sheep-cattle range wars, and women's rights, in pre-1890, pre-Statehood Wyoming." Variety. Unfortunately, most reviewers either ignored this film or described it as a vehicle "unsuited" for the talents of Doris Day. Although not a memorable role, it was none-the-less entertaining and gave her a different role than her previous "spy" or "mystery" comedy-dramas.
"Doris is in a western milieu this time, and she is forced to wear a fright wig on her head most of the time. It is clear that she is out of her element. There is no reason why she should have been in the film at all-it is no better than a poor made-for-TV movie." Alan Gelb, Doris Day Scrapbook
She, herself, has no warm feelings
for this film, except for the camaraderie of her fellow actors.
She described it as "nothing
more than a second-rate television Western that required me to
get up at four-thirty every morning." In spite of it all,
it demonstrates very clearly that Doris could tackle any acting
job given to her and turn in a first-rate performance! In retrospect,
the movie is quite entertaining and definitely superior to
many films of today.
"Bland is too strong a word for this tepid flick, which never really catches fire despite being directed by western ace Andrew V McLaglen. Doris Day is good, even though by this stage of her career she was becoming hard to cast, but the men are desperately uninteresting, only Andy Devine brings a sense of authenticity to this western where the jeans look newly ironed and the faces are too well scrubbed. This was the first Day movie to play as a co-feature, and the writing was on the wall. She made only two more films and then, sadly, retired from the big screen."
Doris is visited on the set by self-confessed fan, Diana Ross.