We’re back to b&w and the hour-long B-movie “programmers.” Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, to be sure.
The Lawless Frontier, 1934, b&w. Robert N. Bradbury (dir. & story), John Wayne, Sheila Terry, Jack Rockwell, George “Gabby” Hayes, Yakima Canutt, Earl Dwire. 0:59 [0:49]
The sleeve makes more of this plot than I think it deserves—but maybe that’s the missing ten minutes (out of an original 59 minutes!). What I got from the plot was horse riding, more horse riding, an occasional shot being fired, an idiot sheriff, even more horse riding, Gabby Hayes apparently can’t be killed with a knive in his back and bullet upside the head, more horse riding, really? a sheriff stupid enough to think that cuffing the outside of huge cowboy boots to a bed is somehow going to keep an outlaw trapped?, even more horse riding, and of course the woman in the cast winds up married to John Wayne, who’s the new and less stupid sheriff.
Even Yakima Canutt’s stunt riding’s not that great. Mostly for John Wayne completists. Charitably, $0.50.
Rim of the Canyon, 1949, b&w. John English (dir.), Gene Autry, Champion, Nan Leslie, Thurston Hall, Clem Bevans, Walter Sande, Alan Hale Jr. 1:10
This is more like it—even if there isn’t much real gunslinging (a fair amount of shooting, basically none of it precision or stunting). It’s a real movie with an actual plot, and long enough that it could be considered a feature rather than a programmer. Gene Autry—and this one’s late enough that it’s “A Gene Autry Production”—may not be the #1 singing cowboy and wonder-horse, but he’s a strong #2. And, of course, the character he almost always plays is named Gene Autry of the Flying A Ranch and his horse Champion.
The plot (yes, there is a plot): three prisoners have escaped, notably including one who staged a holdup netting $30,000 in silver (a lot of money at the time) and was caught and put away by Autrey’s father, the sheriff at the time. The escapee wants revenge, but also wants his $30,000, and the other two escapees are there to help out. Autrey just wants to win a stagecoach race as part of the town annual festivities (and with winning, a local hot number will go to the dance to follow), but a competitor has removed one wheel’s nut, so he craches; the competitor laughs at his request to take him back into town—and he limps (he twisted his ankle) two miles to a ghost town, formerly owned by the miner whose $30,000 was stolen. There, he meets up with the local teacher (female and a whole lot more interesting than the town floozie) who goes out there every couple of weeks and swears she’s heard the miner speak to her.
Meanwhile, the thugs have lost one horse and decided to steal Champion as a replacement—forcing him into a nasty-looking metal bit that he really, truly does not like.
That’s just the beginning. In the end, all is well (but no phony “and the hero marries the girl” ending), and along the way, it’s a solid picture. As usual, The Hero prefers fistfights to actual gunplay—and it’s Champion who deals the fatal blow to the chief villain. Along the way, we get to see Gene as his dad in a flashback. Only two songs, which is OK. Even though it’s 1:10, I’ll rate it as a B flick—whilch means $1 in this case.
Man from Music Mountain, 1938, b&w. Joe Kane (dir.), Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Carol Hughes, Sally Payne, Ivan Miller, Ed Cassidy. 1:00 [sleeve; 0:58 IMDB, 0.53 actual on the disc]
Perhaps a more typical Autry flick, with his cowhands all being singers and his sidekick being Smiley “Froggy” Burnette. Lots of songs, an interesting instrumental number with some surprising instruments, a couple of Burnette-written comedy songs—and enough plot to keep it moving. It’s an odd one, though: it starts with con men buying up an old ghost town and abandoned gold mine and selling lots (and shares) on the basis that the recent opening of Boulder Dam means electricity and water coming soon, and with hydraulic mining they can work the mine. It’s a con—and Autry, on his way back from a cattle run, spots it—but it takes in lots of people, including Froggy.
Where things get strange is that, between Autry’s counter-con (he salts the mine to con the con men into buying back the mining shares) and shootouts…well, he winds up making the con men’s case: The town winds up with electricity and a worthwhile mine. If he’d been in cahoots with the con men, he could scarcely have done a better job (but they probably wouldn’t have wound up arrested for killing one of his hands, a crime he doesn’t seem to take as any big deal). It’s missing five or minutes and possibly some plot development.
Do note that this is the 1938 Gene Autry flick, not the 1943 Roy Rogers flick with the same title prefaced with “The.” The sleeve description of the plot is just plain wrong—and the sleeve has the “The” from the 1943 flick. Anyway, it’s OK but nothing special. I’ll give it $0.75.
Public Cowboy #1, 1937, b&w. Joe Kane (dir.), Gene Autry, Smiley “Froggy” Burnette, Ann Rutherford, William Farnum, Arthur Loft, James C. Morton. 1:01 [0:53]
Another Gene Autry one-hour B-movie songfest with seven minutes missing—but this time, instead of being Gene Autry of the Flying “A” Ranch in some unstated location, he’s Gene Autry, a deputy sheriff in Grand Junction, Wyoming (ol’ Froggy’s the other deputy). And the aging sheriff and deputies have a real problem: a band of rustlers using airplanes and shortwave radio is ruining the local cattlemen. The rustlers have an interesting MO: the plane spots a herd on the move with relatively few cattlemen; they radio the main group telling them where to go; the main group—a truck full of horses, a couple of cars full of bad guys and a couple of big refrigerated trucks—kill off the horsemen, round up the herd into a makeshift corral, slaughter and skin them on the spot and load the carcasses into the trucks—adding the butcher’s signs later on.
There’s not much three guys with horses can do against this big high-tech gang, even if one of the horses is Champion. The townsfolk demand that the sheriff resign (egged on by the new editor of the local paper, that editor being—of course—young and pretty, since this is a singing cowboy movie). They bring in a hotshot detective agency to replace the sheriff and his deputies. There’s some entertainment (I find that I really don’t care for most of Autry’s written-for-the-movies songs, at least at this early stage, and the Burnette number is flat-out racist), and the deputies manage to spring a trap, showing up the modern detectives. It’s all a lot implausible, but not bad as B-movie entertainment. I’ll give it $0.75.