Unfortunately, The Ballad of Josie was not received as a first-class project
As was the case with her recent films, Doris Day felt that The Ballad of Josie was far below the standard that she should even 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 western 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. Women’s rights, Wyoming statehood, and male-female relationships are sub-themes 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.
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, The Tunnel of Love, The Glass Bottom Boat ) 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 sherry, 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 as a first class project in New York. 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
Following on from Ralph McKnight’s comment about the film being released as a double-bill with Charlton Heston’s Counterpoint, The New York Times had this to say:
“Each film, in its own way, is so incredibly unimportant that the suspicions of a sympathetic movie-goer must be aroused. If it weren’t for the presence of Mr Heston and Miss Day, stars who command sizable salaries as well as a certain respect in their own mass market milieu, one might believe that the films had really been turned out for immediate television airing.
They’ll get to television soon enough anyway. In the meantime, it seems as if Universal were bent on setting back the art of the commercial US film by 25 years, as well as on destroying the money-making reputations of the stars involved.
The least intellectually offensive – if not the least boring – of the two pictures is The Ballad of Josie, which starts promisingly enough with Miss Day, a plucky little frontier wife, being tried for manslaughter. It seems she has accidentally dispatched her husband with a pool cue. Thereafter, however, the story dwindles down into just another variation of a widow Day comedy, this time with the lady trying to make her way in the Wild West first by raising cattle and then sheep.
Giving the film some fleeting interest is the purity and simplicity of Andrew V McLaglen’s direction. Mr. McLaglen, the son of the late Victor McLaglen, observes the conventions of frontier comedy with such fidelity that one might be moved to admiration before slipping off to a sound sleep. It’s the kind of film in which the very proper Miss Day gets passing-out drunk on two small glasses of brandy, and in which a cowboy, on seeing a lady wear Levis for the first time, is so startled that he stumbles right into a watering trough.” – The New York Times
“Doris Day, 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.” – Derald Hendry
“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 harder 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.” – BBC Radio Times
The original title for The Ballad of Josie was The Epic of Josie. Doris took a refresher course in riding, roping, handling a six-shooter and a rifle. She practiced horseback riding on the beach in Malibu.
Jean Louis made Doris three pairs of pants for the film. One pair was for standing, the second pair was for sitting and the third pair was for Doris mounting her horse. Reportedly, 1,500 sheep were hired for a film scene and the numbers grew to 1,525 by the ninth day of shooting the sequence
It had been 14 years since Doris made the very successful Calamity Jane (1953). Variety reported that the ads for The Ballad of Josie were billed, Doris as (Calamity Josie) Day. The film was released in November 1967. As with most of Doris’ films, her character Josie was strong, bright, confident, self-respecting and could match or better the abilities of any male character. Doris was a feminist (meaning equal in all respects) long before the word became part of American culture. I think this is true of Doris Day in her present life.
I believe that cinema history will take a second look at The Ballad of Josie and appreciate the film in a new light. At the time (1967) the film western was going, if not gone, out of fashion. Films such as The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde were capturing the attention of the audience.” – Johnny, The Doris Day Forum
Starring Doris Day and John Wayne?
In between The Epic of Josie and The Ballad of Josie, the film was also called, Meanwhile Back at the Ranch. In fact Screen Stories Magazine which would do features on new film releases, complete with pictures, cast information and the complete storyline, featured the film with its Meanwhile Back at the Ranch title.
At one point – very early in discussions – John Wayne was interested in co-starring. His good friend and frequent director Andrew V McLaglen was directing and they envisioned it as a more McLintock type film – one of their great hits together. Unfortunately, Marty and Attorney Rosenthal felt Wayne’s asking price was too steep and would have prevented their profit participation from kicking in as quickly. In addition, Wayne’s Batjac Productions would have co-produced and Marty didn’t want that.
The first teaming of Miss Day and Wayne (Wayne was willing to take second billing even though he was in the midst of a huge and renewed wave of popularity and was always guaranteed first billing) would have probably been hugely popular and might have proven a more balanced film since Wayne would have had his role fleshed out more. Unfortunately, it never happened, a fact Wayne noted to Miss Day at the AFI Tribute to James Cagney in 1974, telling her how he’d always wanted to work with her. – Paul E Brogan