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Image Entertainment presents
Tumbling Tumbleweeds (1935)

"I came out here after the man that killed my father. He's hidden in this house and I want him."
- Gene Autry

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 05, 2006

Stars: Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Lucile Browne, George "Gabby" Hayes
Other Stars: Norma Taylor, Edward Hearn, Eugene Jackson, Jack Rockwell, George Chesebro, Frankie Marvin
Director: Joseph Kane

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (western violence)
Run Time: 00h:58m:15s
Release Date: September 26, 2006
UPC: 014381229622
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

There have been many entries thus far in the Gene Autry DVD Collection, but this may be one of the most epochal releases yet. Tumbling Tumbleweeds is notable on a number of counts: it's Gene Autry's first starring role in a feature film (he had previously appeared in the serial The Phantom Empire and had a few small roles before that); it was the first singing cowboy movie, starting a genre that would be hugely popular for the next 15 years; and it was apparently the first movie produced by Republic Pictures.

The storyline would lay the template for many of the similar features (nearly 100 for Autry alone) that would follow. Gene stars as himself in the Old West, as the son of a rancher (Joseph W. Girard) who is in a range war against the small homesteaders, or Nesters. Gene is sympathetic to the Nesters' desire to build a home for themselves and is disowned. Returning to his home after five years as part of a medicine show led by Dr. Parker (George Hayes), Gene is shocked to find his friend Harry Brooks (Cornelius Keefe) wounded and wanted for murder. Gene is convinced that Harry has been framed, and with sidekick Smiley Burnette sets out to find the real killer. But Gene becomes conflicted when he learns that the victim is none other than his own pappy.

One might suspect that there was a certain nervousness as to whether a singing cowboy could carry a film. As a result, there is plenty of rollicking action here, from a wild shootout at the beginning to the climax, a fistfight aboard the runaway, driverless medicine show wagon. There's plenty of gunplay throughout, though Gene seldom is compelled to use his pistols, relying on stratagems to save the day. The excitement factor is ratched up by a number of very fast pans that gives the picture a fairly modern feel. The central mystery is pretty thin, concentrating more on proving the guilt of the responsible parties since their identity is pretty obvious even to Gene.

Autry is very stiff in his early outing, and he clearly doesn't know what to do with his hands yet. By contrast, Smiley Burnette has a comfortable easiness before the camera. Autry isn't helped by a ridiculous amount of makeup that makes him look like a refugee from the silents. Hayes is practically unrecognizable; this film was shot before he let his beard grow and he took on the "Gabby" persona. But he's quite solid and between him and Smiley there's plenty of good comic relief throughout. The romantic interest is former Ziegfeld Girl Norma Taylor, as Harry's sister-in-law; she's reasonably good with a natural style, but she can't coax much of a performance out of Autry. The exception comes when he's singing, as he then knows how to move and his instincts take over. The song selection is limited but excellent, with the marvelous title tune borrowed from The Sons of the Pioneers (who do not appear in the picture), the classic Ridin' Down the Canyon and That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine, which won Autry the first gold record ever awarded.

The IMDB suggests that this film originally ran 61 minutes; if so, about 3 minutes is missing (possibly when the film was cut for television). There's one abrupt scene jump that has a still image, which may be where some of this footage is missing. The restoration is by UCLA, which suggests that the missing film may be gone for good, but there is no discussion of the restoration effort here and we're reduced to speculation.

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 too bad, considering the age of the film. It's grainy and a bit on the soft side, and there are little nicks throughout. But the greyscale is very good, and overall the film is in fine condition with no major tears or damage. As a result, detail is apparent if not plentiful. The location shooting looks terrific, with some evocative compositions, such as the medicine show riding along, with a large, dark cactus framing them in the foregound.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio sounds rather like old 78s, with hiss and noise quite rampant. The songs sound acceptable under the limitations, but don't expect a sonic sensation. Dialogue is clear enough for the most part. Gunshots and explosions are rather booming and I suspect they may have been artificially boosted. It's a passable warts-and-all presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 5 cues and remote access
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Presskit, poster and still galleries
  2. Radio Show
Extras Review: Not only was this Autry's first feature, but the 1987 Melody Ranch Theater episode seems from its context to be the first one that was taped by Autry and Pat Buttram. Since they're fresh, it contains a ton of information, including a thorough discussion of the significance of the film, how Gene met Smiley Burnette and how he trained Champion. Well worth checking out.

The Melody Ranch radio show hadn't yet begun in 1935 when this picture was released, so a random selection from January 28, 1940 is included. It's quite unusual, since it features Gene in Washington DC, where he hosts remote musical performances honoring American music such as spirituals, hillbilly music and barbershop quartets. At the end, Eleanor Roosevelt makes a brief appearance, lending it some historical interest.

A gallery of 54 stills provides plenty of documentation, and a set of 20 lobby cards and half a dozen posters are supplemented by the music cue sheets from the film. Finally, there are a substantial set of production notes. I really would have liked to have seen the trailer for this film, to see how the new genre was being sold (though the presskit materials provide an inkling of that).

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Gene Autry's first singing cowboy outing is certainly important historically, and it holds up quite well even if he's not quite ready for prime time acting himself. The transfer is reasonably good for a film of its period, and the usual set of extras are present.


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