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Image Entertainment presents
Heart of the Rio Grande (1942)

"How long's it been since your father gave you a good spanking?"
- Gene Autry

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 23, 2003

Stars: Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Fay McKenzie, Edith Fellows
Other Stars: Pierre Watkin, Joe Strauch Jr., William Haade, Sarah Padden, Jean Porter, The Jimmy Wakeley Trio, Champion
Director: William Morgan

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:08m:58s
Release Date: November 11, 2003
UPC: 014381400120
Genre: western

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

DVD Review

This last of ten discs in the initial issue of the Gene Autry Collection from Image has a somewhat different slant from most of his westerns. One of the final pictures he made before going off to serve in World War II, it features character relationships in preference to action.

Gene and Frog Millhouse (Smiley Burnette) are working at the Smoky River Dude Ranch, owned by Mrs. Forbes (Sarah Padden), who weirdly enough used to be a tugboat skipper. Teacher Alice Bennett (Fay McKenzie) brings her girls' school class to the ranch for a stay, but that doesn't suit spoiled brat Connie Lane (Edith Fellows), daughter of tycoon Victor Lane (Pierre Watkin). Gene and Frog more than have their hands full in trying to get Connie to become a decent human being, and then they need to tackle her father's poor attitude too. Meanwhile, the disgruntled ex-foreman of the ranch, Hap Callihan (William Haade) is gunning for Gene.

As usual, the reformation of the characters here is perfunctory and things turn around in fairly laughable fashion. Gene pushes Frog out of the way in a fairly rude way himself in heading after Alice Bennett, stooping to deceiving Frog, which seems out of character. McKenzie is colorless and completely opaque. Fellows does a better job as the spoiled rich girl, even if the script calls for her character to be quite unrealistic. Joe Strauch, Jr. costars as Tadpole, Frog's little brother, and does a good job of mimicking Burnette's movements and attitudes. The script calls for him to perform some surprisingly antisocial activities, including substituting horse liniment for hair tonic, gambling, and playing mumblety-peg.

Interestingly, the picture incorporates an advertisement for War Bonds; as Gene hands out the pay to the ranch hands, he persuades them to invest in the war effort instead of playing poker or going to the dance halls. The concluding segment (shot in Bronson Canyon) features a pretty exciting stampede to boot. The picture incorporates the big music hit of the year, Deep in the Heart of Texas, even though the title of that song was used a bit earlier for a Johnny Mack Brown/Tex Ritter western.

The songs this time around are:

Let Me Ride Down in Rocky Canyon
Deep in the Heart of Texas
Dusk on the Painted Desert
Oh, Woe is Me
Rumble Seat for Two
Rancho Pillow
Rainbow in the Night
I'll Wait for You
Deep in the Heart of Texas (reprise)

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: Once again, the restored source print looks very nice, with only the occasional speckle to mar things. The frequent checked shirts look quite decent for the most part, with artifacting and moire appearing only when there is quick movement. The heavy grain is very well rendered, and the greyscales are extensive. Black levels are very good, and I didn't detect any edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio doesn't sound very good, however. There's plenty of crackle and noise, hiss and buzz throughout the picture. It's not terribly distracting but it's nonetheless there. The songs are typical 1940s mono, with little in the way of bass or presence, unsurprisingly.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 10 cues and remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Shooting High
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio show
  2. Still and lobby card galleries
  3. Presskit
  4. Production documents
Extras Review: Gene and Pat Buttram talk a little about the movie in the 1987 Melody Ranch Theater host segment for this feature (12m:32s), but it tends to be rambling chatter for the most part. There is some interesting talk near the end about Gene's song writing, despite not being able to read music. A Melody Ranch radio program (49m:08s) from April 5, 1942 features Deep in the Heart of Texas as well as Call of the Canyon and a World War I skit for war effort inspiration. There are also inspirational war pep talks presented by Gene in an effort to boost morale.

In support of the feature are a set of production notes, a set of stills set to a song from the picture, a gallery of the complete lobby card set, and a trailer for the companion DVD release. There's also a press kit reproduced, but something is wrong with the coding; it plays through in rapid-fire fashion instead of being stepped through, and then ejects the disc, so it's best to leave this feature for the last.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

This Autry film is a bit offbeat but fairly unsatisfying if you're looking for Western action and adventure. The transfer looks good, though.


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