follow us on twitter

dOc on facebook

Microsoft Store

Share: email   Print      Technorati.gif   StumbleUpon.gif   MySpace   digg.gif delicious.gif   google.gif   magnolia.gif   facebook.gif
Permalink: Permalink.gif

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Amazon.com

Image Entertainment presents
The Singing Cowboy (1936)

"Shorty, don't you know it's bad luck to shave with your hat on?"
- Frog Millhouse (Smiley Burnette)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 09, 2005

Stars: Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Champion, Lois Wilde, Lon Chaney Jr.
Other Stars: Ann Gillis, Earle Hodgins, Harvey Clark, John Van Pelt, Earl Eby
Director: Mack V. Wright

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 00h:56m:22s
Release Date: October 25, 2005
UPC: 014381240320
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Although the last few sets of releases in the Gene Autry Collection have focused on his last films, made for Columbia, the newest issue are going back to the beginning of his career with Republic Pictures, just a year after he first became a leading man and was just becoming to be renowned as "The Singing Cowboy." Capitalizing on that characterization, this brief programmer is firmly in the Autry mold, but packs a whopping 11 songs into less than an hour.

Gene and Frog (Smiley Burnette) are hands on the ranch of Steve Stevens (John Van Pelt). Stevens' evil partner Martin (a black-hat-wearing Lon Chaney Jr.) has learned there's gold on the ranch and determines that the best thing is to encourage Stevens to sell out. Martin arranges for the cattle to be stolen and sets fire to the barn, and when he's discovered by Stevens, Martin guns him down in cold blood, leaving his little daughter Lou Ann Stevens (Ann Gillis) orphaned and badly injured in the ensuing fire when she tries to rescue her kittens. Martin intends to take the guardianship of the little girl, but Stevens had named Gene as guardian. Not suspecting Martin's treachery, Gene and Frog and some of the ranch hands go on the road as television troubadors for Covered Wagon Coffee, in an effort to make the $10,000 needed for Lou Ann's operation. Martin can't have that, so he makes arrangements to wreck the coffee caravan and disrupt the television contract.

Yes, you read that right. This is a darned prescient script, acknowledging already in 1936 the commercial possibilities of television long before sets were commonly owned, not to mention the enormous appeal of westerns in the 1950s. Even though it must have felt almost like sci-fi to kids in the audience at the time, the film just treats it all in quite matter-of-fact manner, concentrating instead on the songs and the action. Most of the songs are by Autry or Burnette, and although there aren't any bone fide classics here, they're certainly pleasant enough tunes that fit well into the story.

The romantic interest here is Lois Wilde, who appears as the Covered Wagon Coffee magnate's daughter Helen Blake, who disappears to join the caravan, pursued by her father (Harvey Clark) and fiancee Herbert Trenton (Earl Eby). Wilde was a former Ziegfeld girl who has a voice better suited to the stage than to film, but she's decent enough. Despite not having much of a chemistry with Autry, the film nonetheless shockingly implies that the two end up married, which was a mistake that Autry's writers wouldn't often make. Chaney makes a great heavy, playing the two-faced Martin to the hilt, sneering up a storm.

The film is thick with story for its short running time, especially considering all the songs that are packed in. There are a couple good action sequences, including the runaway covered wagons. It does feel a little exploitative though, not just threatening little girls, but kittens too. Autry seems rather uncomfortable with some of his lines, giving very stiff readings that sound as if he's struggling to remember them. Alas for him, on such cheaply-made and quickly-shot pictures additional takes were a luxury that was seldom indulged in. Burnette's comedy material primarily consists of a long-running gag about his superstitious nature and his insistence on avoiding bad luck consistently backfiring on him. Not laugh out loud funny, but decent enough for such pictures.

The songs include:

There's an Empty Cot in the Bunkhouse Tonight
We're on the Air
True Blue Bill
Rainbow Trail
Down in Slumberland
The New Jassackaphone
Washboard and Room
My Old Saddle Pal
I'll Be Thinking of You
Rainbow Trail (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 isn't up to the usual standards of this series, partly due to its age. The print is somewhat dupey and soft, with fairly heavy grain. There's moderate speckling, especially at the reel heads, but no serious damage visible. It's quite tolerable for its age, and the restoration certainly makes it look better than one would expect. At least no edge enhancement is used to try to make it look better than it is.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio sounds like a 1930s quality optical track, with crackle and hiss and seriously limited range. There's obviously not a lot that can be done with such source material, but the music sounds acceptable if not spectacular.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Melody Ranch radio show
  2. Original review
  3. Stills and lobby card gallery
  4. Production materials
Extras Review: The 1987 introductions from Melody Ranch Theater are here as usual, with Gene and Pat chatting about the film and various other topics. Due to the brevity of the feature, they have to vamp for a while to fill time, covering Lon Chaney Sr. as well as his son, Jack Dempsey and autograph seekers. It's a fun little bit of eavesdropping that is entertaining in its own right if not particularly informative about the feature itself. Autry didn't have a radio show yet in 1936, so instead the disc includes one of Gene's first programs, the January 5, 1941 radio show (30m:01s), featuring a western drama filled with songs.

The disc also includes an original review from May 12, 1936, an essay on Gene's television career (plus a complete list of episodes to his program), and selected filmographies for Gene, Smiley and Chaney. A stills gallery includes about 3 dozen shots, and another gallery includes a full set of lobby cards, several posters and the UK presskit, though the latter isn't easily readable even on a large screen. The "trivia" section as usual is really a set of production notes. Finally, the production reports section includes some fascinating material: Chaney's contract for the film, plus the music cue sheets for the picture including the rights clearances. It will be very useful for anyone interested in the business of filmmaking in the period. Another solid set from the Autry estate.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

If you like Autry singing in his pictures, this is the film for you. Packed with songs and action, it's a fun though short entry in the long-running series. The usual panoply of extras are here too.


Back to top

Microsoft Store

On Facebook!
Promote Your Page Too



Original Magic Dress.com

Susti Heaven

Become a Reviewer | Search | Review Vault | Reviewers
Readers | Webmasters | Privacy | Contact
Microsoft Store