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Image Entertainment presents
Public Cowboy No. 1 (1937)

"This modern method of cattle rustling is sure making saps out of the ranchers."
- Thad Slaughter (Maston Williams)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: February 05, 2007

Stars: Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Ann Rutherford, William Farnum
Other Stars: Arthur Loft, Frankie Marvin, House Peters Jr., James C. Morton, Maston Williams, Frank LaRue
Director: Joseph Kane

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild western violence, ethnic humor)
Run Time: 01h:01m:09s
Release Date: February 06, 2007
UPC: 014381347722
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+CC+ B+

DVD Review

As 2007 brings with it the Gene Autry centennial, Image Entertainment and the Gene Autry estate continue to release classic musical westerns from the Autry catalogue. This entry in the long-running series is a pretty memorable one in a number of respects, not least of all for its clash of the modern and the Old West.

Gene, Frog (Smiley Burnette), and Stubby (Frankie Marvin) are deputies to old-timer sheriff Matt Doniphon (silent star William Farnum) in Prairie Junction, Wyoming. Although they persist in the old ways of horseback riding, they can't keep up with the modern techiques of a rustling mob run by meat packer Jack Shannon (Arthur Loft), complete with shortwave radios, airplanes, and refrigerated trucks. After persistent criticism in the newspapers by young editor Helen Morgan (a waifish Ann Rutherford), the townspeople of Prairie Junction clamor for the sheriff and his deputies to be replaced by Eastern detective Eustace P. Quackenbush (James C. Morton). But Gene may still have a plan or two up his sleeve to try to make good.

The theme of the clash of cultures is stronger here than in many of Autry's pictures. Doniphon is almost a self-pitying wreck, whose situation isn't improved any as he's shot off his horse by the driver of one of Shannon's trucks. Although Helen's criticism of the old-fashioned ways of the lawmen is well-founded, it's also worth noting there's more than a little hypocrisy there since she's using an ancient printing press to produce her newspaper. There's a fair amount of violence here, including one character being beaten to death, which is a bit startling in this generally rather bloodless series.

The comedy relief borders on the bizarre this time, with both Smiley and Frankie Marvin (in the persona of Stubby rather than his more frequent name of "Shorty") engaging in strange antics. That's clear from the start, as Frog opens the picture riding his horse backwards, wearing a mask on the back of his head so as to be prepared for anything. At another point, Frog and Stubby put on a highly implausible steer costume to try to fool the bad guys, and in several spots Frog dresses as a Chinese coolie, claiming to be Charlie Chan. One sequence where he's caught on a meat hook in a refrigerated truck and slammed around is spoiled by poor staging; sides of beef keep the audience from being able to see very much. Rutherford is an appealing leading lady, but her delivery of several lines is a bit too studied to be convincing.

While the songs aren't exactly Autry classics, they're plentiful. They also play an important part in the story, especially when Smiley sings Heebie-Jeebie Blues to Shannon's younger brother (House Peters Jr.) in order to convince him to turn state's evidence.


The West Ain't What It Used to Be
Heebie-Jeebie Blues
I Picked Up the Trail to Your Heart
Defective Detective from Brooklyn
Old Buck-a-roo
Wanderers of the Wasteland

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 has some issues. The opening credits are in somewhat rough condition. There is wear visible throughout, and quite a few random nicks and scratches. The day-for-night sequences are practically illegible most of the time. The transfer is a bit lacking, with aliasing present throughout. The heavy grain is a bit on the sparkly side, though textures in general are pretty good. Although the picture is soft, at least no edge enhancement was slapped on top of it.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono track isn't bad, considering its age. There is mild noise and crackle, but the dialogue is quite clear throughout. The songs, as usual, sound better than the surrounding feature. As one would expect, there's little bass and it's slightly shrill, but these are issues with the original recording rather than a shortcoming in the transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 6 cues
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio show
  2. Galleries
  3. The Phantom Empire episode 1
Extras Review: The usual extras from the Gene Autry Collection are all here, starting with the 1987 Melody Ranch Theater with Gene and Pat Buttram, joined by Rutherford, who is full of anecdotes. It's a shame that they didn't have time for more chatting, since it feels cut short at 15m:56s. Gene takes on murderous gangsters in an episode of the Melody Ranch radio show from July 14, 1946, seemingly selected at random. There are also galleries of stills, posters and lobby cards and a short set of production notes. Some call sheets and documents relating to the loan of Rutherford to Republic Pictures can be found here as well.

For the centennial, the substantial ante of extras has been upped with the inclusion of episodes from the classic (if primitive) sci-fi serial The Phantom Empire (1935), Autry's first starring role. Succeeding episodes will follow on other releases throughout 2007, according to the accompanying materials. The first episode runs 31m:29s and is packed with action, songs and enormous dollops of plot relating to conspiracies, robots and underground kingdoms. It looks substantially better than most public domain releases, giving the fan even more reason to check into this year's volumes. Yet another set of stills, lobby cards and posters specific to this serial are also included, as well as a general overview. The package is wrapped up by two promos for personal appearances by Autry at various theaters. It's plenty of fun, and a good incentive to collect them all.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

An intriguing if flawed Autry western picture, with a slightly rough source print but even more extras than usual. Happy 100th birthday, Gene!


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