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Image Entertainment presents
Beyond the Purple Hills (1950)

"If you keep on mixing whiskey and gunpowder, you're gonna kill somebody."
- Gene (Gene Autry)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 06, 2006

Stars: Gene Autry, Pat Buttram, Jo Dennison, Don Beddoe, James Millican, Don Reynolds, Hugh O'Brian
Other Stars: Roy Garden, Harry Harvey
Director: John English

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (moderate western violence)
Run Time: 01h:10m:08s
Release Date: December 26, 2005
UPC: 014381213720
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Gene Autry is back in the saddle again in this 1950 action-packed oater from Columbia, along with sidekick Pat Buttram. Throw in an obnoxious little kid, a Miss America, a budding film star and plenty of horse tricks, and you've got a pretty good idea of what this offering entails.

Gene plays himself as a rodeo star/musician in Nortonville, Utah in the Old West. After the sheriff (Harry Harvey) is shot during a bank robbery, Judge Beaumont (Roy Gordon) appoints Gene to be the new lawman in town. The Judge has problems of his own, however, not least of which is his hard-drinking and gambling son Jack (Hugh O'Brian). When the Judge turns up shot and Jack is found leaving town, suspicion immediately falls on the young man. This causes disruption, since Jack's younger brother Chip (Don Reynolds) had previously admired Gene but now hates him and suspects that Gene may be framing Jack to make time with Mollie Rayburn (Miss America Jo Dennison). Gene has to solve the crime and patch everything up and has barely over one hour of running time to do it.

The story is pretty pedestrian stuff in the Autry canon. The central mystery will prove puzzling only to exceptionally dull children, despite some half-hearted efforts at red herrings. On the positive side, the film manages to pack in plenty of fist and gun fighting, and there are several thrilling chase sequences that are nicely staged. There's a good running gag featuring Buttram confused by Champion and Little Champ, thinking that they're a single horse that keeps changing size.

The picture is perhaps most notable as being the first significant film role of Hugh O'Brian, who would go on to star as TV's long-running Wyatt Earp a few years later. O'Brian was already a stage veteran at this point, so he acquits himself very well, hampered by the part being written rather broadly. At least the romantic interest betwen Jack and Mollie is a little more reasonable than the usual young girl infatuated in Gene. Dennison doesn't get much to do but is engaging enough as the ingenue. Reynolds is incredibly obnoxious and it's hard to understand why Autry would possibly put up with such an insufferable child. Buttram doesn't fit into the story until it's nearly halfway through, tucked in as an afterthought as a stranger passing through town who is deputized by Gene on a whim.

Those looking for plenty of Gene Autry songs are liable to be seriously disappointed since there are only two: the title tune and the hit song Dear Hearts and Gentle People. But there are enough other things going on that even Autry fans won't mind the omission. There does, however, tend to be a bit too much of the trick work with Champion and pony Little Champ (one of their main gags would be reprised in The Old West a few years later). Autry is showing his age a little here; one leap onto Champion is clearly a splice of two different takes (one of which may be a stunt man).

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: The full-frame transfer looks quite attractive, with plenty of detail and texture. Some sequences are a bit dark and slightly contrasty; one short segment looks very dupey and seems to be interpolated from a poor print. The contrast between that segment and the rest of the film points up just how nice this looks overall. No complaints here.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono sounds pretty good, with decent sound quality. Hiss and noise are nominal and never distracting. The songs have nice presence, though one can't reasonably expect much on that count.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 2 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Hugh O'Brian
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Galleries
  2. Pressbook
  3. Radio Show
Extras Review: The Gene Autry Collection has always been packed with extras and all the standard ones are here. The 1987 introduction from Melody Ranch Theater (9m:26s) presents talk about Little Champ and his hammy qualities, as well as the story behind the song Dear Hearts and Gentle People by Sammy Fain. The Melody Ranch radio show from June 24, 1950 is here, and in addition to the usual allotment of songs (making up for the dearth in the movie), there is a very funny sketch about Pat Buttram taking up politics. A re-release trailer for the feature is included, as well as bios of O'Brian, Buttram and Little Champ (the latter with a 13-still gallery of his very own), an Autry filmography, a gallery of about 75 stills and another of a dozen assorted posters and lobby cards, plus selections from the pressbook (which tantalizingly mentions the inclusion of a third song, nowhere to be found: The Girl I Left Behind Me).

But that's not all. For the first time in the long-running DVD series, there's a commentary included, featuring 81-year-old Hugh O'Brian chatting about this film, Autry, Wyatt Earp, his own charitable works and visit with Albert Schweitzer in Africa, among other topics. O'Brian has a ton of great anecdotes and he's very charming and forthright. It's only billed on the case as an 'audio interview,' but it plays under the film so I'm counting it as a commentary even though it's not quite as long as the entire picture, nor is it scene-specific. Very interesting and a valuable addition to the Collection.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

A feisty ride through the Old West, though some may find it a bit lacking in songs. The transfer's nice, and for once there's a commentary on one of these pictures.


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