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Image Entertainment presents

Rancho Grande (1940)

Gene: All that land is yours, far as the eye can see or even farther. I guess you could drop one of your great Eastern cities down there and lose it.
Kay: You could lose your mind here, too.- Gene Autry, June Storey

Stars: Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, June Storey, Mary Lee, Dick Hogan
Other Stars: Ellen Lowe, Ferris Taylor, Joe De Stefani, Roscoe Ates, Ann Baldwin, Pals of the Golden West
Director: Frank McDonald

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:07m:20s
Release Date: 2006-02-28
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

Gene Autry returns with Smiley Burnette and leading lady June Storey in a tale of East meets West. The culture gap was never wider than at Rancho Grande, which was one of the bigger titles from Republic Pictures in 1940, marketed as a Special to theater owners. It's a little bit longer than the usual Autry fare, and it certainly piles on the songs with gay abandon. But for the most part it's the usual B-western material.

Gene is the foreman of Rancho Grande, along with sidekick Frog Millhouse (Smiley Burnette). The owner of the ranch has died and left it to three grandchildren from back East who've never even seen it, Tom Dodge (Dick Hogan), Kay Dodge (Storey) and Patsy Dodge (Mary Lee). The three of them are rather spoiled and snooty, and the two older ones, Tom and Kay, are quite unsympathetic when they learn that the ranch is mortgaged to the hilt and that renewal of the note depends on an irrigation system being installed. Although Patsy takes an interest in ranch life (and especially Gene), the other two are more interested in carousing and gambling, vices that attorney Emory Benson (Ferris Taylor) is more than happy to encourage so that the Dodges lose the land and he can acquire it for a song.

While the East vs. West theme comes up in other Autry pictures, it's at its height here, and the Eastern cityfolk contingent gets a very short straw. Tom and Kay are reprehensible spoiled brats and their friends are even worse. There's a particularly nasty scene where the city slickers mercilessly mock the hayseeds, making it quite welcome when Smiley turns the tables on them and scares them off. Kay comes around a bit, but Tom really never does, making him quite unsympathetic start to finish. Gene is pretty ineffectual until we get to the finale, which has plenty of shoot-em-up action, courtesy of Benson's gang (do all lawyers in Texas have gangs, I wonder?), who take to sabotage and murder in order to prevent the irrigation system from being installed. Smiley gets some good comic relief moments thanks to Ellen Lowe, as Effie Tinker, the local social reporter who has an unrequited crush on him. Young Mary Lee, who would costar in many of the Autry-Storey vehicles, isn't nearly as annoying as she is in a lot of these films, and even manages to be fairly charming at times. The climactic chase sequence is well choreographed and often exciting, though it ends in a bit of an anticlimax.

The songs are plentiful this time around, with eight tunes filling up the running time. Most feature Gene or Mary Lee, though Smiley contributes some numbers and the Pals of the Golden West, led by future country music star Pee Wee King provide excellent backup. None of the songs qualify as big hits, but they're generally tuneful and entertaining enough. The songs include:

Alla en el Rancho Grande
Alla en el Rancho Grande
Dude Ranch Cowhands
Swing of the Range
There'll Never Be Another Pal Like You
I Don't Belong in Your World
You Can Take the Boy Out of the Country

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: The full-frame picture is generally quite attractive, with a fair amount of detail and texture present and excellent greyscale. Shadow detail is quite fine, and beyond mild speckling there's no serious frame damage. The only issue comes with the gingham shirts Gene and Smiley are wearing; they're a rainbow of moiré patterns. I don't know if a higher bit rate might have helped, but they're hard to watch.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono audio is pretty typical for the period: moderate hiss and noise, and the music is lacking in any deep bass. It's passable for what it is but nothing spectacular.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+ 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 8 cues and remote access
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Galleries
  2. Production Materials
  3. Radio Show
Extras Review: The 1987 host segments from Melody Ranch Theater are back again. This segment (12m:48s ) talks a bit about the songs and lip-synching, and also covers problems with stunt work going wrong. It's modestly entertaining but has a rambling feel to it that smacks of killing time. More succinct is the Melody Ranch radio program for May 19, 1940, which presents a sharply condensed version of the film as a radio drama, complete with June Storey as Kay. The picture makes a good translation to radio in this slimmed-down form, though not all the songs come along. Several still and poster/lobby card galleries that are presented in slideshow fashion. The 35 stills and 26 posters and lobby cards all look sharp and reproduce quite well, unlike many such presentations. A re-release presskit contains some interesting marketing materials, and the Production Materials section includes among other items copies of the agreement whereby RKO loaned out Dick Hogan to Republic for this picture (for a princely $250/week salary), as well as the lyrics to an unused song that would have been a female counterpart to Dude Ranch Cowhands. Finally, Alex Gordon provides some production notes and trivia. It feels like the Autry archives are starting to run a little thin on material, but perhaps that's just this film.

Extras Grade: B

Final Comments

Hardly fair and balanced, but it's an above-average effort with plenty of tunes. The transfer's good with some reservations, and the usual panoply of extras is here once more.

Mark Zimmer 2006-02-28