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Image Entertainment presents
The Sagebrush Troubadour (1935)

"Well, that proves you shouldn't spank girls before you're introduced to them."
- Frog Millhouse (Smiley Burnette)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 05, 2006

Stars: Gene Autry, Barbara Pepper, Smiley Burnette, Champion
Other Stars: Fred Kelsey, J. Frank Glendon, Hooper Atchley, Julian Rivero, Dennis Moore
Director: Joseph Kane

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (western violence)
Run Time: 00h:58m:45s
Release Date: September 26, 2006
UPC: 014381227024
Genre: western

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

DVD Review

Although many of Gene Autry's feature the hero and his sidekick Frog Millhouse (Smiley Burnette) unraveling an unsavory plot that involves someone getting killed, only two of Autry's films are full-blown murder mysteries. One of those is Autry's third starring feature, The Sagebrush Troubadour, and true to its title, it is complete with a healthy dose of songs.

Gene and Frog are lawmen posing as vagabond troubadours in old Texas, trying to solve the murder of Old Man Martin, armed only with a pair of bizarre clues: the guitar string with which he was strangled, and Martin's broken-down swayback horse. On the way to the Martin ranch, they're nearly run down by a stagecoach driven by a young woman (Barbara Pepper), who they later learn is Joan, Martin's granddaughter. Being incognito has its drawbacks, however, for the fact they have the guitar string and the horse throws suspicion onto Gene and Frog. Somehow they need to find the real culprits and clear themselves in the process, while singing over half a dozen songs.

The story is pretty flimsy, and it's not terribly compelling either. Even though it's less than an hour long the pacing is pretty slack and the viewer grows a bit impatient with the obtuseness of the characters. The action is fairly limited too, which doesn't help any. It does have the unusual sequence of Gene being thrown off Champion early in the picture as the horse steps in a gopher hole; I can't remember ever seeing Gene unhorsed in another movie. The bad guys are even more blatant that typical, with some of them being so racist as to brag of hanging Chinamen for sport. The script does have some very funny lines, however, with more wit than one might expect from these movies.

Autry's acting has improved substantially in the months since his first feature, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, with a much more natural attitude and pleasant aspect. Gene's heavy eyeshadow is gone too, so that's another positive. Smiley is entertaining as always, with a comic number, Lookin' for the Lost Chord that allows him to play quite a few of the many instruments at which he was proficient. Barbara Pepper is best remembered today as Doris Ziffel on Green Acres. Thirty years earlier, she was pretty cute, though already a bit inclined to plumpness. She gives a feisty performance that makes her a memorable Autry heroine, and she's one of the best things about the picture. Sadly, the songs are all pretty lackluster, other than Smiley's song and a wistful ditty about The End of the Trail. The tune rundown is as follows:

Way Out West in Texas
On the Prairie
End of the Trail
My Prayer for Tonight
Lookin' for the Lost Chord
I'd Love a Home in the Mountains
On the Prairie (reprise)

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: Even though the film is over 70 years old, it's in very nice shape, with little damage beyond occasional flickering. The transfer is reasonably well done, with good detail and texture. Greyscale is excellent for a 1930s movie, with no blown-out whites and surprising amounts of shadow detail. It's easily one of the more attractive of the early Gene Autry DVDs.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono track has the limitations one might expect circa 1935, but hiss and noise are quite restrained. The songs, especially Smiley's comedy number, have a good presence. Dialogue is a little muffled at times, but most of it is quite clear. The contrast of Frog's various assumed voices works very well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 7 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio show
  2. Galleries
Extras Review: The 1987 Melody Ranch Theater intro this time out features music legend Pee Wee King, who chit chats with Gene and Pat Buttram about songwriting. It's pretty interesting, if writing music intrigues you. The Melody Ranch radio show is the February 18, 1940 installment, featuring Shorty also writing songs, as well as a cautionary tale about the dangers of poker. It also includes a performance of The Missouri Waltz with its original racist lyrics, so parental guidance is suggested. The usual set of galleries of stills and lobby cards is here, but only a single poster is present. There's a UK presskit and some original production documents, including the contract for the rental of the swayback horse! Finally, there are a set of production notes that include bios of some of the supporting actors. Solid as always, but a trailer would have been nice if any still exist.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A tepid but intermittently humorous entry in the long-running series. The transfer is quite attractive, and there are as always plenty of extra materials.


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