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Image Entertainment presents
The Strawberry Roan (1948)

"You don't want to kill Champ. He's a good horse."
- Gene Autry

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: October 03, 2007

Stars: Gene Autry, Gloria Henry, Jack Holt
Other Stars: Dick Jones, Pat Buttram
Director: John English

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:19m:07s
Release Date: September 04, 2007
UPC: 014381348026
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+B+B A

DVD Review

One can hardly blame Gene Autry Entertainment for holding back some of Gene's best pictures for the centennial of his birth in 1907; The Strawberry Roan by nearly any measure qualifies as one of the better Autry vehicles, with a number of important firsts, some solid songs and the DVD release sports an enormous cornucopia of extras to boot.

In his first color feature, Gene stars as the foreman of the Bailey ranch. After he and a number of men capture a wild strawberry roan (Champion), they aim to break the horse and make him rideable for Joe (Dick Jones), the son of rancher Walt Bailey (cowboy veteran Jack Holt). But Joe is thrown and trampled by the roan, given the name Champ, and suffers a severe injury. Determined to get ride of the killer horse, Walt goes after Champ with a shotgun, but Gene intervenes, knowing that the horse will be important for Joe's recovery, and also recognizing that the horse is an unusual one. Faking Champ's death, Gene trains and befriends the roan in secret. But Joe cannot bring himself to walk again, even though the doctor believes there's no physical cause. When Walt learns that Champ is still alive, he fires Gene and has a reward posted against him for rustling the roan.

Obviously working with a much bigger budget than usual, director John English shoots much of the picture on location in Arizona, with plenty of beautiful scenery. There's also plenty of action present, and Champion really makes an impression as a pseudo-wild horse, as well as an injured horse. Never mind that he's not a roan at all, but is at best a chestnut or sorrel. But that wouldn't do for purposes of making the song work, of course. The famous tune is given several excellent renditions by Autry during the running time.

The picture is rather unusual in that Gene spends much of the running time as an outlaw, in hiding and resorting to taking food from unoccupied cabins (though leaving behind money to cover the removal of the goods). Gloria Henry (who would go on to play Dennis the Menace's mother on television) is the leading lady, playing Joe's older sister. There's not much hint of romance between the two, with Autry at one point expressing a clear preference for a horse over a woman. She nevertheless proves herself more than capable, acting as midwife to a foaling horse and reducing Autry to a helper under her direction. Holt is tightly-wound at all times, convincingly carrying out a vendetta against what he believes to be a killer horse, while grieving over his crippled son.

The other songs include Texas Sandman, The Angel Song, and When the Roses Bloom. On occasion they're almost ridiculously forced, as when Gene makes a comment about how comfortable a rawhide bed is, followed by a cut to the bunkhouse boys starting up Texas Sandman. Rufe Davis serves as the comic relief here, doing a number of goofy imitations; although Pat Buttram is in the cast, he hadn't yet become Autry's sidekick, and thus has a fairly limited role. Although dependent on a bit too much pop psychology, the picture has a striking if not shocking finale and fills the ample running time without feeling padded.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in a restoration by UCLA. The color is by Cinecolor, and rather resembles the red-green effect of two-strip Technicolor. The first reel or so seems to have shrunken inconsistently, and there's a fair amount of red fringing visible. But at about the 10-minute mark that clears up and the registration is excellent. The color isn't exactly lifelike, and tends to flicker a bit, but it's still a novelty for the Autry pictures. The appearance takes a little getting used to but it's certainly nice to see in its original format. There's very little visible damage beyond the occasional speckle.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono English track is reasonably clean for its vintage, though the second reel has a bit of electronic buzz audible in the background. The songs sound decent but are of course lacking in range and presence, as one would expect. It sounds about as good as it likely can.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Gloria Henry and Dick Jones
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Melody Ranch radio show
  2. Pilot for The Strawberry Roan
  3. Still, poster, lobby card and pressbook galleries
  4. Serial episode
Extras Review: Although these Gene Autry Collection discs always have plenty of extras, for the Autry Centennial they've really gone to town. Gloria Henry and Dick Jones provide a solid commentary, moderated and encouraged by the VP of Gene Autry Entertainment, as they chat enthusiastically about making this picture nearly 60 years ago. They're both still plenty sharp and have tons of tales and observations about the cast and crew as well as the rigors of training Champion to work with Dick. Chapter 7 of the serial The Phantom Empire, "From Death to Life" is here in a nicer-than-usual print. There's also the unsold pilot for the series The Strawberry Roan (1958), which is actually a repackaged episode of The Adventures of Champion, with Champ's name clumsily dubbed out. It's a fun episode, though, with plenty of animal action as the roan is captured by a rodeo and the boy who loves him tries to free him. There's also a black-and-white theatrical trailer for a rerelease of the feature (though it's not clear whether that rerelease was itself not in color).

The standard extras are here as well, with the Melody Ranch Theatre episode (5m:56s) featuring Gene and Pat reminiscing about the film. There's also a Melody Ranch radio show from about the time of the release of The Strawberry Roan. A gallery of production and publicity stills features about 100 photos, while there is a gallery of lobby cards and posters and selected reproductions from the pressbook (though much of it is reproduced too small to be readable). Finally, there's a brief set of production notes. A very satisfying array of extras indeed.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

One of the best Autry pictures, in color and loaded with extras. If you've been meaning to give one title in the Gene Autry Collection a try, this would be an excellent choice.


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