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Image Entertainment presents
Twilight on the Rio Grande (1947)

"You'll have to excuse him, miss. He doesn't know how to act when he gets outside of a fence."
- Dusty Morgan (Bob Steele)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 20, 2007

Stars: Gene Autry, Sterling Holloway, Adele Mara, Bob Steele
Other Stars: Charles Evans, Martin Garralaga, Howard Negley, George J. Lewis, Nacho Galindo, Tex Terry, The Cass County Boys
Director: Frank McDonald

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild western violence)
Run Time: 01h:11m:24s
Release Date: November 20, 2007
UPC: 014381447828
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+AB- B+

DVD Review

As Gene Autry wound down his years at Republic Pictures, he occasionally did a few more ambitious stories that gave an inkling of what he would try to do at Columbia starting in 1948. Twilight on the Rio Grande is one of these, combining the western genre with a noir mystery and plenty of songs and action for a fun hour of entertainment.

Gene and sidekick Pokey (Sterling Holloway), along with the singing Cass County Boys, must find the man who killed Gene's partner, Dusty (longtime cowboy hero Bob Steele) in the Mexican border town of Mexona. There are plenty of guilty-seeming characters who might have placed a knife in Dusty's back, including Elena Del Rio, a tempestuous knife-throwing singer, a peculiar woodcutter named Mucho (Martin Gallaraga), and an oddly unconcerned police captain (George J. Lewis). As Gene and the boys attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery, they stumble onto a jewelry smuggling operation and manage to get themselves onto the wrong side of the law.

It wouldn't seem on first blush that the two genres would fit together very well, though the black & white of the Republic westerns at least fits into the noir mold. The script sparkles with surprisingly snappy dialogue. There's plenty of tough talk and sassiness that would be right at home on the Fox backlots. The villain, when finally revealed, gets off a series of gems that makes one suspect the writers had been saving up material for just such an occasion. One interesting social aspect to the story is the element of European refugees selling their jewelry to get a start in a border town; while not entirely illegal, it certainly seems to have been looked down on as taking advantage of the refugees.

Sterling Holloway makes one of five appearances as Gene's sidekick here (on occasion it is a shade disconcerting to hear Winnie the Pooh in a western). Adele Mara is sufficiently saucy to be an archetypical Mexican spitfire, though she on occasion lets on that there's more to the character than one sees at first blush. Especially amusing is the song It's My Lazy Day, sung by Gene unperturbedly as she flings knives at him. The action sequences are mostly well-choreographed, and there's one gem of a stunt during a chase sequence featuring Champion, Jr. However, the opening barroom brawl is pretty visibly fought with punches pulled, spoiling the effect a little.The picture is heavily loaded with songs, all of which are pleasant and a few of which, such as The Old Lamplighter, are classics. The songs:

It's My Lazy Day
The Pretty Knife Grinder
I Tipped My Hat and Slowly Rode Away
Twilight on the Rio Grande
The Old Lamplighter
Great Grand-Dad
The Pretty Knife Grinder/Twilight on the Rio Grande medley

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes

Image Transfer Review: The original full frame picture is based on a splendid print that has almost no visible damage to it beyond an occasional speckle. The greyscale is excellent, though a few interior scenes are quite dark. Textures and detail are first rate throughout. There's no sign of edge enhancement and only rarely is a little compression ringing/mosquito noise visible. This is easily one of the best-looking entries yet in the Gene Autry Collection.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 mono audio suffers from a fair amount of hiss and noise during the dialogue sequences, though the songs are quite clean with good depth. The sound of the knives being thrown during I Tipped My Hat has good presence that can make the viewer jump.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 7 cues and remote access
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio show
  2. The Phantom Empire Episode Five
  3. Galleries
Extras Review: Another bountiful roundup of extras graces this disc, starting with one of the more interesting Melody Ranch Theatre segments featuring Gene and Pat Buttram in 1989, reminiscing about Bob Steele. Somehow they wander onto the topic of Col. Tom Parker, with Buttram discussing the two pictures that he made with Elvis, and how he based his Green Acres character Mr. Haney on Col. Parker. The Melody Ranch radio show included this time is the May 18, 1947 show, aired while Autry was shooting The Last Round-Up, which would be his final picture for Republic. It notably includes a noirish mystery tale and the Cass County Boys singing Ragtime Cowboy Joe.

Also in support of the picture are a gallery of about four dozen stills, and another of about 15 posters, ads, and what appears to be a full set of lobby cards. A collection of "production reports" includes the MPAA certification, some legal clearances for town and character names, presskit materials, and a blurb about the death of Champion in the fall of 1946 and his replacement with Champ Junior in this film. The late Alex Gordon offers a brief set of production notes.

The "Centennial Extras" continue, with episode five of The Phantom Empire in an attractive version that beats the standard public domain issues, and its own gallery of stills, lobby cards and associated sheet music covers. This chapter prominently features future Autry sidekick Smiley Burnette performing a novelty musical number.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Gene goes noir in a very entertaining mystery/western that is loaded with good songs and action. Fun from start to finish with the usual mass of extras and a splendid transfer.


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