50 Movie Pack Western Classics, Disc 2

[In addition to Tex Ritter, star of the five flicks on Disc 1], two other singing cowboys also made loads of westerns in the 1930s, 1940s and beyond, winding up with their own TV shows: Gene Autry and Roy Rogers (who both died in 1998, Autry 91 years old, Rogers a mere 86).

This disc includes five more one-hour oaters, apparently with slightly better budgets and certainly more skillful production and acting than the Tex Ritter quintet on Disc 1. All five are Republic pictures directed by Joseph Kane; four of the five have dual timings on IMDB (original and a slightly shorter TV-edited time), and in most cases the version here is the shorter one.

It’s interesting to compare the three heroes, noting that these movies aren’t necessarily characteristic for their careers—particularly not for Roy Rogers.

Where Tex Ritter plays some character with the first name Tex, a cowboy who also happens to sing a little, Gene Autry always plays Gene Autry, a singing cowboy—who might also have some other job (he’s a ranch foreman in one of these but also an entertainer), and pretty much always has a group of singers with him. He sings far more naturally here than Tex Ritter does in his early flicks and also acts considerably better. Oh, and his sidekick’s always Smiley Burnette, clearly a costar with high billing and his “Froggy” character name and vocal abilities.

Then there’s Roy Rogers. In his early movies (1938-1939—there are earlier ones but he’s not credited except as part of the Sons of the Pioneers), he plays a character named Roy Rogers. In his later movies, from 1942 on (he did more than 100 in all), he plays Roy Rogers, frequently with his wife Dale Evans. In these three 1940 movies and in a group of other 1940 and 1941 movies, he plays entirely different characters—and he hadn’t met Dale yet. While Gabby Hayes is a costar of all three films, always as a boastful lovable old coot, he isn’t always Rogers’ sidekick (but always has the same character name, Gabby Whittaker). There isn’t all that much music in these; then again, none of Rogers’ characters are musicians as such.

If you remember the later Autry and Rogers, both consistently fine singers but a little more weathered, the young Autry and the very young Rogers (freshfaced and 29 years old) are remarkable. Rogers is instantly recognizable, particularly with that voice and smile. My last (and lasting) memory of Roy Rogers comes from 1990: His duet with Randy Travis on “Happy Trails” (written by Dale Evans)—and his voice at age 78 or 79 was still fine.

Round-Up Time in Texas, 1937, b&w, Joseph Kane (dir.), Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Maxine Doyle, LeRoy Mason, Champion. 1:03/0:54 [0:55]

Here’s a curious one. The title is the name of the song under the titles and elsewhere in the movie—but the movie, at least most of it, is set in South Africa. Seems Gene Autry’s brother has found a big diamond mine and needs horses, so Gene and his sidekick have to take a whole bunch over by boat. Naturally, evildoers intervene…and, sigh, a “native” tribe gets involved, with a bunch of kids who instantaneously learn five-part harmony singing flawless English. As with the next flick, this is supposed to be contemporary. While the singing is great and the acting’s decent, the plot’s even more ridiculous than most and the stereotypes are unfortunate. $0.75.

Springtime in the Rockies, 1937, b&w, Joseph Kane (dir.), Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Polly Rowles, George Chesebro, Champion. 0:56/0:54 [0:55]

Were cattlemen still fighting against incursion of sheep in 1937? I thought the range wars were pretty much over by 1920 or so, and maybe this flick is set slightly in the past (but it does mix seemingly 1930s-vintage cars and horses). Anyway, Gene’s the foreman at a cattle ranch and an entertainer; the young woman who actually owns the ranch shows up fresh out of college with an animal husbandry degree. Somehow she buys a bunch of sheep—and the cattlemen will gladly kill her and Autry to get rid of them. Autry convinces her that a dilapidated, worthless farm (which he won in a poker game and can’t give away) is her ranch and too poor even to raise sheep. Lots of action ensues, including the usual “frame the hero for murder” bit. Well played, and apart from historical issues the plot’s pretty good too—as is the music. $1.00 as a one-hour flick.

The Carson City Kid, 1940, b&w, Joseph Kane (dir.), Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Bob Steele, Noah Beery Jr., Pauline Moore, Francis McDonald, Hal Taliaferro. 0:57 [0:53].

The jacket copy says “Roy Rogers, posing as The Carson City Kid, is determined to exact vengeance on his brother’s killer, Morgan Reynolds.” The way it looked to me, Roy Rogers played the Carson City Kid, an “outlaw” who stopped stages only to look for a particular letter leading him to Reynolds. Unfortunately, his sidekick (not Hayes) is a thorough scoundrel. Fairly typical plot, but Rogers brings flair to the role and the rest of the cast is good as well. $1.00

Colorado, 1940, b&w, Joseph Kane (dir.), Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Pauline Moore, Milburn Stone, Maude Eburne, Arthur Loft, Hal Taliaferro. 0:57/0:54 [0:53].

Set in the Civil War, with Rebs posing as a Preservation of the Union group in Colorado financing Indians and renegades to keep the troops too busy to go fight. Rogers is Lieutenant Burke, sent to investigate. Among other things, he finds that his brother’s one of the problems—but Burke eventually saves the day. Another good cast, fine acting, a coherent plot, and Roy Rogers—who here as in the other pictures gets the girl (except that Rogers tends to marry the girl as well). Even for a short flick, this gets $1.25.

Young Bill Hickock, 1940, b&w, Joseph Kane (dir.), Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Julie Bishop, John Miljan, Sally Payne, Hal Taliaferro. 0:59/0:54 [0:53].

Also set in the Civil War, near its end. Rogers is Bill Hickock, sent with his sidekick Calamity Jane to investigate Indian uprisings that threaten to cut communications to the West Coast. The villain is a highly-respected townsman who’s actually an agent from some unnamed country, out to seize California and its gold while the Civil War’s progressing. Some great stunts and solid acting; if you can ignore the “history” it’s a nice little movie. $1.25.

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