Callaway Went Thataway (1951): Melvin Frank and Norman Panama’s Spoof Comedy, Starring Fred MacMurray, Dorothy McGuire, Howard Keel

From Our Vaults:

Starring Fred MacMurray, Dorothy McGuire, and Howard Keel, and written, directed, and produced by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, Callaway Went Thataway is a spoof of the craze generated by the TV program Hopalong Cassidy.

Callaway Went Thataway

Theatrical release poster

Mike Frye (MacMurray) and Deborah Patterson (McGuire), co-owners of advertising firm, have big hit when they recycle some old Western films starring “Smoky” Callaway (Keel) for a new TV audience.

Tom Lorrison (Fay Roope), the show’s sponsor, is eager to make more films, but nobody has seen Smoky in ten years. Under intense pressure to produce the star, Frye hires Smoky’s agent, Georgie Markham (Jesse White), to go look for him.

Help comes in the form of a letter from a real cowboy named “Stretch” Barnes (also played by Keel), who complains that his friends keep making fun of him because of his resemblance to Smoky. After one look at the enclosed photograph, Frye and Patterson travel to see him. They talk a reluctant Stretch into impersonating Smoky, telling him that Smoky is dead.

After a dinner with Lorrison and his wife Martha (Natalie Schafer), a big fan of the actor, Frye and Patterson get the go-ahead to launch a marketing campaign. Patterson heads out on a nationwide publicity tour with Stretch.

Spending time together, Stretch falls in love with her, and presents her with an engagement ring. When she is reluctant to accept, he tells her to put it on only if she loves him back.

Markham finally finds Smoky in a Mexican bar, and he has not changed a bit; he is still a selfish, womanizing drunk. Smoky is uninterested in going back to work, but Markham kidnaps him, and talks him into it on the boat trip back.

Frye is not pleased when Smoky shows up in his office, but he sends Smoky to a health farm to get back into shape. However, despite strict supervision, Smoky stashes bottles of liquor everywhere.

When a woman accosts Stretch on the street and accuses him of not doing anything for needy children, he is moved. After some thought, he secretly hires a lawyer to set up a children’s foundation which will receive all of his earnings, except a modest allowance for him (and a wife).

In the end, Stretch decides to accept, intending to sign the document in front of 90,000 fans and dignitaries. When Smoky learns of his scheme, he objects; they get into brawl, and Smoky gets knocked out.

When Smoky realizes he cannot stop Stretch, he goes back to Mexico, as he would only get paid modest salary for the hard work.

In the happy ending set at the Coliseum, Stretch runs into Patterson, who approves of his plan and is wearing his ring.

A commercial failure, the film (aka The Star Said No), earned $1,071,000 in the US, and $267,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $294,000.

Fred MacMurray as Mike Frye
Dorothy McGuire as Deborah Patterson
Howard Keel as “Stretch” Barnes / “Smoky” Callaway
Jesse White as Georgie Markham
Fay Roope as Tom Lorrison
Natalie Schafer as Martha Lorrison
Douglas Kennedy as Drunk
Elisabeth Fraser as Marie
John Indrisano as Johnny Terrento (as Johnny Indrisano)
Stan Freberg as Marvin
Don Haggerty as Director Don

Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor, and Esther Williams made cameo appearances.


Directed, produced, written: Melvin Frank and Norman Panama
Cinematography Ray June
Edited by Cotton Warburton
Music by Marlin Skiles
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: November 15, 1951

Running time: 81 minutes
Budget $1,103,000
Box office $1,338,00