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Image Entertainment presents
Home on the Prairie (1939)

"This show wouldn't be complete without a song from our singing inspector, Gene."
- H.R. Shelby (Gordon Hart)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: August 28, 2003

Stars: Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, June Storey
Other Stars: George Cleveland, Jack Mulhall, Walter Miller, Gordon Hart, Champion
Director: Jack Townley

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild non-bloody violence)
Run Time: 00h:59m:16s
Release Date: May 20, 2003
UPC: 014381400229
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C C+B-C+ C-

DVD Review

During the 1930s and 1940s, low-budget shops such as Republic churned out B-Westerns by the dozens every year. Enormously popular, they made household names of some of these stars, but one of the biggest of the time period was Gene Autry. A new series from Image features selected films from the Autry series, in restorations by RPG with some interesting extras.

Gene stars as himself (as usual), this time in the persona of a border inspector. He not only checks incoming vehicles but outgoing ones as well. When the herd of crooked rancher Belknap (Walter Miller) comes up with hoof and mouth disease, he hits on the idea of smuggling them out. When Autry foils that, Belknap, in connivance with cattle broker Shelby (Gordon Hunt), not only arranges for the brands on his sick cattle to be altered to match that of Autry's sweetheart Martha Wheeler (June Storey), but he frames Autry for covering it up. Somehow Gene has to escape from jail, with the aid of trusty sidekick Frog Millhouse (Smiley Burnette) and the elephant Nee Pa that has fallen into Smiley's care.

That's quite a bit of plot to cram into an oater of this type, and it's even more impressive when you realize this clocks in at just about 58 minutes (nearly a minute of the running time listed above is taken up by studio and restoration logos). Director Jack Townley keeps things moving at an efficient rate so as not to lose the interest of the kids who no doubt made up the primary audiences. The result is a decent entertainment, if hopelessly square. Autry sings a couple songs (and Burnette even gets one in). In a mildly clever bit, Autry uses the lyrics of one tune to surreptitiously suggest a course of action to Smiley; clearly the bad guys are dimwits because even Smiley catches on before they do. Autry is confident in his onscreen persona and his chemistry with Burnette works well; the romance with Storey predictably doesn't quite work so well. She's stiff and has "obligatory romantic interest" written all over her.

Interestingly enough, the storyline is still fairly relevant as the cattle industry attempts to cope with the aftermath of the outbreak of hoof and mouth disease not so long ago (for some reason best known only to them, called "foot and mouth disease" by the city-folk media). Autry comes across as a conscientious public servant not afraid to use his fists to enforce the law. Less conscientious is the state veterinarian, who having identified the Wheeler ranch as the one with the sick cattle, cavalierly approves everyone else shipping their cattle out without checking how far the disease has spread. I guess some things haven't changed all that much. In any event, Autry shows off his riding skill with his horse Champion a bit too. As nostalgic entertainment, this is harmless enough, though the brevity of the program makes it a somewhat questionable value. I'd be able to recommend this disc more highly if it were a double feature.

Songs included:
There's Nothing Like Work
I'm Gonna Round Up My Blues
Moonlight on the Ranch House
Big Bull Frog

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: The restored picture generally looks acceptable. There is a fair amount of grain and minor speckling present, but the picture looks quite nice considering the age and tiny budget of the film. Contrast seems to be a bit on the high side, with the blacks lacking in shadow detail. Texture is generally good, but fine detail is a bit lacking. This may be due to the source print or it may be a result of excessive digital noise reduction. Edge enhancement and ringing is frequently severe, so those sensitive to this kind of artifact will want to steer clear.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The optical soundtrack is noisy and full of hiss as one would anticipate from such a picture. The sound quality does get significantly better during the songs, however. Dialogue is for the most part clear enough. Surprising bass levels are heard from the cattle trucks, but the music suffers from shrillness and lacks depth and presence.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio program
  2. Trivia
Extras Review: A few modest extras are included (pay no attention to the "Loaded with extras" label on the front). Most interesting are the Melody Ranch Theatre host segments from a 1987 airing of this film. Longtime sidekick Pat Buttram cohosts with the aged Autry, and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are guests. However, most of the time (13m:23s) is spent discussing Rogers' career rather than Gene or the movie. The information is interesting, though, with talk about the formation of the Sons of the Pioneers and Rogers' early movie career. A January 1940 radio program, Gene Autry's Melody Ranch features Gene singing and performing. Wrapping up the package are sets of trivia about the film and elephants, and a few "movie facts." The chaptering is excellent for such a brief picture. More substance related to the feature would have been nice, though.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Entertaining but somewhat slight old programmer, in a decent restoration with some worthwhile extras.


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