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Image Entertainment presents
Whirlwind (1951)

"You may run the biggest cow outfit west of the moon, but your bullies are not gonna kick a kid's dog around as long as I'm here. And I plan to be here quite a spell."
- Gene Autry (Himself)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: September 12, 2004

Stars: Gene Autry, Gail Davis, Thurston Hall, Champion
Other Stars: Harry Lauter, Dick Curtis, Harry Harvey, Gregg Barton, Smiley Burnette
Director: John English

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:10m:30s
Release Date: September 14, 2004
UPC: 014381231427
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C C+BC- B-

DVD Review

There's a great moment in the opening of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West when the shocked audience realizes that the man in black who has murdered a family in cold blood is none other than perennial good guy Henry Fonda. There's a similar shock in the opening of this Gene Autry western, as Gene rides across the range under the credits, only to stop, pull his neckerchief over his face and as "the Whirlwind," robs a stagecoach! The kids in 1951 must have been thoroughly appalled at their hero.

But since it is a Gene Autry western, the shock is short-lived. Heading to the next town, Red Valley, the picture pretty quickly degenerates into the usual material, which is a disappointment after the startling opening. Big Jim Lassiter (Thurston Hall) owns most of the countryside, but also runs the gang of thieves that have been hitting the mail coaches. Gene, with the aid of Smiley Burnette (himself) poses as a rancher looking to buy into the area from Lassiter, tempting him with a registered mail shipment of $50,000 cash. Along the way there's also Lassiter's niece Laine (Gail Davis), who dislikes Autry at first but (surprise) grows to like him, and a forged will and other chicanery packed into the 70-minute running time.

Burnette had been a mainstay in the pre-war Republic westerns with Autry, and was called back into service for a few pictures after Pat Buttram was badly injured by an exploding cannon. Little of his shtick changed over the years, but it's a pretty entertaining shtick nonetheless. Gail Davis makes the usual predictable transformation of character for no apparent reason. There are some good heavies, with Thurston Hall making a credible frontier boss obsessed with making wooden models while he increases his empire. Dick Curtis is pretty frightening as the creepy henchman who has his sights set on Laine, trapping her out in the desert (until of course Gene rides to the rescue). Gene gets into a surprisingly lengthy knockdown, dragout fistfight with the town's prosecuting attorney (Harry Lauter).

There are only three songs in this outing, including the title number penned by Stan Jones (Riders in the Sky), which shows up twice, but only sung by Autry once. The other two are the reliably amusing and oft-used As Long As I Have My Horse and the kiddie-favorite Tweedle-O-Twill. A fairly average outing that doesn't live up to its amazing opening.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: The full-frame image has significant graininess that tends to flicker a bit. The picture is quite a bit softer than usual, lacking in fine detail and at times looking a little dupey. The source print has been restored, however, with hardly any speckling to be seen. Perhaps early generation materials do not survive, or perhaps we're just spoiled by the high quality of the transfers in other pictures in the Gene Autry Collection.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono English track is quite noisy, with a fair amount of crackle and noticeable hiss. The brass and strings are shrill, though the bass levels are acceptable for the period.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English (Closed Captioning Only) with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio program
  2. Souvenir program
  3. Still, poster and lobby card galleries
Extras Review: The usual substantial assortment of extras are present here. The Melody Ranch Theater reminiscences are particuarly good this time, with Pat Buttram and Gene discussing the songs in the picture, stunt man mishaps and Gene's saddles. The Melody Ranch radio show from September 15, 1951, with a mystery story up front. A souvenir program is reproduced onscreen, along with a New York News review from April 9, 1951. The usual bios, presskit, filmographies, large still gallery, posters and lobby cards are also here, along with a generous set of production notes. Finally, there's a brief (2m) excerpt from another Annie Oakley episode starring Gail Davis.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

The best part about the picture is the opening, and it doesn't take long to become just another entry in the series. The transfer's not quite as good as usual, but the typical wealth of extras are all present and accounted for.


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