Happy Trails… 50 Movie Western Classics, Disc 12

OK, so the song doesn’t appear in any of these movies—but the writer, Dale Evans, does. Given that, given that all four movies star Roy Rogers, and given that this wraps up the set, somehow the title seems appropriate.

My Pal Trigger, 1946, b&w. Frank McDonald (dir.), Roy Rogers, Trigger, Gabby Hayes, Dale Evans, Jack Holt, Sons of the Pioneers. 1:19.

This odd item purports to tell the story of how Roy Rogers got Trigger, with some voice-over narration and pretty clearly aimed at kids. Gabby Hayes plays a very different role: Not only isn’t he Rogers’ sidekick, he’s a rancher and owner of Golden Sovereign, a great golden palomino, and becomes Rogers’ enemy. Why? Well, Rogers wants to breed his horse (not Trigger) with Golden Sovereign. Hayes will have nothing to do with it (he only wants to breed Golden Sovereign with his own horses)—but the horses have other ideas, getting together on their own. Through a plot involving a nefarious neighboring rancher and casino owner, a wild stallion and some remarkably bad shooting, Golden Sovereign winds up dead, Roy Rogers winds up blamed for shooting him—and Rogers’ horse winds up pregnant with Trigger.

Now here’s where things get a little strange, or maybe I just don’t know recent history. First, our hero Roy Rogers, the whitest of all white hats—and playing Roy Rogers—jumps bail, flees the state, breaks into a barn (and fights the owners to stay there, since his horse is foaling) and hides out for more than a year. Second, the movie appears to be set in contemporary times—lots of cars and, oddly, apparently-legal casinos in Colorado (but this was 1946, way before casino gambling was legalized)—but somehow it would never occur to anyone to remove the bullet from Golden Sovereign to determine whether it’s a rifle bullet or pistol bullet, which would also have proved Rogers’ innocence. Naturally, it all works out in the end. Apparently, this was Roy Rogers’ personal favorite of his many movies—and probably the most personal of his movies. It does have fairly subtle acting, actually—and the bad guy isn’t pure evil, which is unusual.

Good stuff, despite the oddities. We get Dale Evans (as Gabby’s daughter), who suits the movie well. We get the Sons of the Pioneers, although not singing with Rogers. It’s a good print most of the time. This is the full-length version, not the 54-minute chop job. It’s sort of an odd Western, but I’ll give it $1.50.

Cowboy and the Senorita, 1944, b&w. Joseph Kane (dir.), Roy Rogers, Trigger, Mary Lee, Dale Evans, John Hubbard, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Fuzzy Knight, Hal Taliaferro, Jack Kirk, Sons of the Pioneers. 1:18 [0:51]

Roy and companion hear about a kidnapping as they come into a town mostly owned by one affable gent, Craig Allen, and naturally offer to help—but one of the posse spots Roy’s companion, “Teddy” Bear (Guinn Williams) playing a slot machine (more legal casinos—my history must be faulty) with a slug that turns out to be from the kidnapee’s bracelet (which he picked up along the trail into town). So, naturally, they assume Roy and friend are the kidnappers, and Roy and friend flee. They find the “kidnapped” girl—Chip—in the hills. She’s fled for reasons that never seem quite clear. Anyway, that little mess resolved, her older sister—played by Dale Evans—is about to sell their apparently-worthless gold mine to the Allen, who’s also her fiancée. (He’s supposedly buying it as a favor to the older sister, to pay for the kid’s education, and plans to mine for manganese) But Chip’s sure her father buried a box in the mine, and it’s important to her.

Well, sure enough, the box is important, there’s a false wall in the mine, and…well, everything just barely turns out OK, including lots of stunt mine-wagon riding. A fairly typical B Western, but with a good party sequence added including some fancy dancing and singing. I saw a much shorter version than the original, apparently the 51 minute edited version. I’d imagine the other 27 minutes would help! Apparently the first time Dale Evans and Roy Rogers appeared together in a movie. Good print overall. I’ll give it $1.00.

Bells of San Angelo, 1947, color. William Witney (dir.), Roy Rogers, Trigger, Dale Evans, Andy Devine, John McGuire, Sons of the Pioneers. 1:18 [1:15].

This time, Roy Rogers is a border investigator on the (Texas?)-Mexico border and friends with the people in San Angelo (on the Mexican side). Something funny’s going on—and, specifically, locals from San Angelo are turning up dead, shot for stealing silver from the U.S.-side silver mine.

And, in a parallel plot, Western writer Lee Madison’s coming to town and Roy’s disgusted, saying his novels are trash. When the bus arrives, there’s no man named Lee Madison on it—and when the woman on the bus overhears Roy’s comments, she comes up with a different name to play along. Shortly thereafter, the stage from the bus station to the lodge is held up by a lone masked gunman who’s really out to give Hamilton a scare—and who apologizes to the woman (who notices a Texas Ranger’s ring on the gunman’s finger).

The twist here is interesting—it’s not the usual mining story. The silver mine is worthless—but it connects to a long-abandoned Mexican silver mine. That mine’s also played out, but silver’s a lot cheaper in Mexico than in the U.S. So, you got it: They’re “mining” smuggled silver. As the plot progresses, lots of people get shot, Lee (and by now Rogers knows it’s her) gets nabbed by the bad guys, and in a final confrontation, the fact that he finally read her book Murder on the Border saves the day. (Hamilton is played by Dale Evans—who else?) Andy Devine plays a funny sheriff who also turns out to be landed gentry.

Good plot, well played, good music. Some surprisingly realistic fight scenes, leaving the actors bruised. This is the full version, albeit missing a few minutes. Unfortunately, much of the time the focus is soft, suggesting digitizing problems. That and some choppiness in the print prevent this from getting more than $1.25.

Under California Stars, 1948, color. William Witney (dir.), Roy Rogers, Trigger, Jane Frazee, Andy Define, George Lloyd, Wade Crosby, Michael Chapin, Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers. 1:10 [1:12].

First we get a typical Western fight scene—then the director yells “Cut.” The movie’s over, and time for Roy to go back to the RR Ranch—where, this time, Andy Devine is Cookie, the cook and general factotum. (The Sons of the Pioneers are ranch hands/cowboys, and Cookie’s hired a bunch of relatives as well—including a young woman, a cousin who’s the new horse trainer.)

Where do we go from there? Some scoundrels are trying to round up wild horses on Roy’s range, to sell them to the government for meat and skins. Roy’s boys run them off, and we find that the bad guys are working for the town’s old horse trader, Pop Jordan—and the lead bad guy has a cute stepson with a thieving dog and a limp. Somehow, the stepson winds up at Rogers’ ranch and gets a job of sorts—and the horse trader figures that horsenapping Trigger for a healthy ransom is a faster way to make a buck than rounding up or rustling horses.

Well, in the process of horsenapping, one of the bad guys shoots another—and the sheriff says Roy can’t pay the ransom, since murder’s involved. So they try to set a trap for the outlaws. It doesn’t go perfectly, but in a fairly complicated final 10 minutes (involving double-crossing among thieves, naturally), it all works out. Oh, and Cookie—who has an awful voice—proves himself to be a good songwriter (the title number). So we end with Roy and Cookie—and the kid, who will get the operation he needs to walk properly—on their way back to Hollywood. Naturally, several full songs during the process.

OK, it’s not great acting, but the plot’s pretty good, the scenery’s fine, the print’s usually good, the sound’s good (although occasionally a little hollow) and it’s good “metaWestern” fun. I enjoyed it. (The reported run time on IMDB is two minutes less than the actual DVD run time, which makes no sense.) A little on the short side for a full feature, so I’ll give it $1.25.

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