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Image Entertainment presents
Rovin' Tumbleweeds (1939)

Gene: I'm no politician.
Mary: You were no radio singer, either, until I shoved that mike in front of you.

- Gene Autry, Mary Carlisle

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 26, 2003

Stars: Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Mary Carlisle
Other Stars: Douglass Dumbrille, William Farnum, Champion
Director: George Sherman

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:02m:38s
Release Date: March 25, 2003
UPC: 014381401028
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+AB+ B-

DVD Review

Most of the time, the Gene Autry musical westerns shot for Republic were pretty thin formulaic fare, with just enough plot to get from one song to the next. But now and then, there was actually some substance behind the musical dramas, beyond the usual rustling and western hijinks. Such is the case with this Autry version of Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Gene stars as himself, this time as a rancher who helps to prevent damage from the flooding of the Green River. Radio reporter Mary Ford (Mary Carlisle) gets Gene singing on the air, and he becomes a sensation, which Autry puts up with since he is able to use the money to help the flooded-out ranchers, who have now become migrant workers. Local power broker Holloway (Douglass Dumbrille) has been standing in the way of flood control so that he can buy up the local land on the cheap. Autry mobilizes the ranchers and uses his radio celebrity to get himself elected to Congress. But he finds that getting his flood control legislation enacted is not as easily done as he had hoped, with Holloway thwarting him at every turn.

As can be seen from this description, this is pretty atypical for a B-western. There's a ton of cynicism and a cadre of corrupt politicians, not to mention Everyman resentment at the migrant workers and a lynch mob mentality that displays American politics at its worst; Autry's idealism is put to the test by the monied powers, particularly Holloway, despite having significant media backing and being enormously popular, not to mention having an inarguably sound cause to stand behind. The situation is grim, if not for the unlikely help of Senator Nolan (silent star William Farnum), but even this doesn't go in predictable directions. The only thing that spoils it is a completely absurd resolution that bears no resemblance to earthly reality.

Autry is at his best in the Jimmy Stewart role, with a deadpan earnestness that works well, even if the script requires him to resort to punching lobbyists in the nose after ineffectually trying to buy one off. Mary Carlisle, a frequent Bing Crosby co-star, is entertaining as the spunky and smart-mouthed reporter who falls for Gene and helps show him the ropes of Washington. Smiley Burnette is more in the background than usual here, though he does get one comic song. Speaking of songs, the picture is probably best remembered as introducing what would become Autry's theme song, Back in the Saddle.

It's corny but entertaining fare, and should be required viewing for those who think undoing social safety nets is good policy. There's not a tumbleweed to be seen, however; a working title of the film (and a more appropriate one) was The Washington Cowboy, but presumably the studio decided that Autry's bread was best buttered with oats.

Other songs include:

Ole Peaceful River
Away Out Yonder
The Sunny Side of the Cell
Paradise in the Moonlight
Rocky Mountain Express
We've Got a Date with Nolan
A Girl Like You and a Night Like This
Away Out Yonder (reprise)

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture has been beautifully restored. Other than an occasional speckle, it looks very nice indeed. The print is very clean, with rich blacks and excellent greyscale and detail. The main problem is that a few day-for-night shots are too dark to make out very clearly. All 1939 films should only look this good.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Despite a dated quality, the audio measures up well to the video. Hiss and noise are barely present, making for a crystal clear audio that if it weren't for the lack of bass and slight tinniness could pass for a recently-recorded soundtrack. Dialogue is fine and the music sounds crisp and clear. Absolutely no complaints here though obviously not reference material.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring South of the Border
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio show
  2. still and lobby card galleries
  3. presskit
  4. production documents
  5. Government information
Extras Review: Plenty of extras here. Gene discusses the politics of the time and also the farm crisis of the 1980s in the 1987 comment segments from his Melody Ranch Theater program, as well as discussing Smiley's penchant for doing his own stunts. In addition to a set of production notes, a smattering of stills (set to an Autry song) and another gallery of lobby cards, there are also excerpts from the British original release press kit and several of the original production reports.

An amusing extra is the complete second program of Melody Ranch aired on January 7, 1940. The audio quality is astonishingly good on this episode that features numerous songs and some yarn-spinning. In keeping with the political theme, there are phone numbers and URLs for a number of government agencies as well as the White House and Congress. There's a trailer for the companion initial release, also from 1939.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

This picture presents a very different side of Autry, and despite a weak ending it's pretty memorable stuff even at a scant 63 minutes running time. The transfer is terrific, and quite a few useful extras are included.


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