50-Movie Western Classics, Disc 1

Roy Rogers is riding again…and Tex Ritter, Gene Autry, John Wayne and a slew of others, some singing, some not.

This is one of the early 50-Movie Packs: You can tell by the silent still TreeLine logo that starts each side. (Somewhat later ones have the same logo with motion effects and music. More recent ones have an animated MillCreek logo with sound effects.)

Many of these movies were one-hour second features, “oaters” to fill the second half of a double bill. Not all, by any means, but the total running time for the 50 movies is just under 60 hours (59:57)—more than the original Family Classics (56:36) but a lot less than, say, the Classic Musicals (66:5) or the Hollywood Legends I’m interleaving this with (73:44, about as long as any 50-pack is likely to get). I should note that those timings come from the Mill Creek Entertainment website, which now seems extremely forthcoming about what’s in each set and its actual length (although lots of the disc sleeves are still inaccurate).

Some of the discs cluster films with the same star. That can be a trifle disconcerting. For starters, five early Tex Ritter movies right in a row is probably two too many.

Disc 1

Tex Ritter did an awful lot of movies in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and you can read that any way you want. How many? Forty “Tex” movies between 1936 and 1942—in all of which his character’s first name was “Tex.” Then he did another 20 between 1942 and 1945, movies where he learned a different name for the role.

Ritter was important as a country singer and may be best known today for his singing of “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling” in High Noon—and, of course, as the father of John Ritter. As an actor and singing cowboy, particularly in these five movies from the first three years of his movie career (1936-1938), including the first? Not so much.

You could count on several things in these pictures: Ritter doing fancy (and fast) shooting, typically shooting some gunslinger’s gun out of his hand. A big fight scene, where Ritter triumphs—and the bad guy’s cohorts don’t try to draw their guns until Ritter’s done (at which point Ritter’s companion draws on them, of course). Ritter wearing a white hat (and riding his white horse White Flash) and the well-dressed lead villain (usually) wearing a black hat. A young woman deeply involved in the plot, and Ritter riding away or otherwise ending up with her (and companion, sometimes) at the end of the film—sometimes married, sometimes not.

Oh, and Ritter singing with a big smile on his face. In the first two movies here and to some extent in the others, I’d call it “singifyin’” more than singing—akin to speechifyin’ as compared to speaking. He overdoes it, going for extra effects and becoming a parody of country singing—sometimes with songs that seem to be twelve-bar compositions repeated over and over again. It’s clear that Ritter could sing well and without overdoing it, particularly since he does that (sometimes) in his very first movie. I can only assume that the over-the-top style was what his director or audience wanted.

Rollin’ Plains, 1938, b&w, Albert Herman (dir.), Tex Ritter, White Flash, Horace Murphy, Snub Pollard, Harriet Bennet, Hobart Bosworth, Ed Cassidy, Karl Hackett, Charles King, Beverly Hillbillies. 0:57

Texas Ranger Tex Lawrence is tracking down a troublemaker who’s causing grief between the sheep farmers and the cattlemen. (This time, the villains are the sheep farmers.) While gang leader Trigger Gargan is the obvious culprit, the real culprit’s a leading citizen. Smilin’ Tex and his goofy sidekicks save the day after getting in various sorts of peril, and of course he gets the girl. One of those with a huge battle on horses, where it’s really not clear who’s shooting at who—just lots of stunt men on lots of horses shooting, once in a while one of them falling over. Dark, choppy, damaged. Very charitably, $0.75.

Sing Cowboy Sing, 1937, b&w, Robert N. Bradbury (dir.), Tex Ritter, White Flash, Al St. John, Louise Stanley, Horace Murphy, Snub Pollard, Karl Hackett, Robert McKenzie, The Texas Tornadoes. 0:59.

This time, the ruthless gang leader shoots the man running a “freight company” so they can get the contract and take over the town. The woman in peril is the daughter. Tex (not a Ranger this time) and a different goofy sidekick saves the day, after getting thrown in jail. Note cast overlaps: White Flash always plays a horse, but the sidekick on one picture may be the sheriff in the next, and so on…even the villains tend to reappear. Also the murky gun battle. This one’s damaged, choppy, and really pretty awful. Purely for historical value, a token $0.25.

The Mystery of the Hooded Horseman, 1937, b&w, Ray Taylor (dir.), Tex Ritter, White Flash, Iris Meredith, Horace Murphy, Charles King, Earl Dwire, The Range Ramblers. 1:00.

My notes here consist of “arrggh…” But that may be unfair. Slightly different plot (this time it’s a bunch of hooded horsemen—not just one—terrorizing folks and in particular a should-be-worthless mine), same-as-usual woman in distress and Tex with a sidekick. Once again he gets arrested. Once again there’s a different villain than you’d expect. Once again…oh, never mind. At least the singing’s a little more normal. $0.50.

Arizona Days, 1937, b&w, John English (dir.), Tex Ritter, Sid Saylor, William Faversham, Eleanor Stewart, Snub Pollard, Horace Murphy, Earl Dwire, Bud Buster. 0:57 [0:41]

This one’s truly frustrating. Tex and yet another sidekick join up with a traveling show (essentially buying their way in—Tex pays debts owed by the show in its last town), so Tex gets to sing on a stage for a change. Then, suddenly, Tex is out trying to collect delinquent taxes from some villainous types. What happened here? What happened here is 16 minutes—a missing reel in the middle of the movie, during which (apparently) the show’s wagons get burned down and Tex has to become a tax collector to make ends meet. Better singing and a different plot (sort of), but messed up pretty badly by the missing reel. Assuming that you pay any attention to the plot in these anyway… Even so, $0.75.

Song of the Gringo, 1936, b&w, John P. McCarthy (dir.), Tex Ritter, Joan Woodbury, Fuzzy Knight, Monte Blue, Ted Adams, Forrest Taylor. 1:02.

The first of the lot and the most unusual. Tex (a Ranger again, I think) is sent to investigate the deaths of a bunch of miners and goes undercover to infiltrate the gang that’s probably murdering them. Most of this is set in a Spanish (or early California?) ranchero with the beautiful senorita as love interest, and the true villain a business partner of the head of the ranchero. Lots of singing, with one song wildly over the top but most pretty good. Oh, and this time Tex gets blamed for several murders, put on trial, and does a Perry Mason bit, sort of. Choppy and damaged, but in some ways the best of this lot. $0.75.

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