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Image Entertainment presents

The Big Sombrero (1949)

Tico: Only a little while the señora is teaching me, and already I hit everything.
Angie: The trick is to get you to hit just one thing.- Neyle Morrow, Vera Marshe

Stars: Gene Autry, Champion, Elena Verdugo, Stephen Dunne
Other Stars: George J. Lewis, Vera Marshe, William Edmunds, Martin Garralaga, Gene Stutenroth, Neyle Morrow
Director: Frank McDonald

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:18m:27s
Release Date: 2007-09-04
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BA-B B+


DVD Review

When Gene Autry moved to Columbia Pictures, one of his goals was to at least periodically do his films in color. But that only happened for two feature films: The Strawberry Roan and this feature, one of the longest in the Autry canon. The titular Big Sombrero isn't a hat, but a ranch that takes Gene south of the border to try to help the downtrodden and foil the evil money men.

Gene is on the road after the show he was with closed down, when he runs into Angie Burke (Vera Marshe), a former trick shooter turned duenna for seņorita Estellita Estrada (Elena Verdugo). Estellita is owner of a Mexican ranch, El Sombrero Grande, though she has little interest in its operations. She leaves that to boyfriend Jimmy Garland (Stephen Dunne), who is secretly in cahoots with wealthy Ben McBride (Gene Stutenroth) to get control of the ranch by marrying Estellita and then sell out to McBride. Jimmy hires Gene on as foreman with orders to throw all the Mexican squatters off the lands before they can get their cattle to market. Gene accepts, but conspires with the Mexicans to move their cattle off the ranch. McBride doesn't take no for an answer, though, and things turn deadly before long.

The picture opens with quite a shocker: Gene pawns his guitar! That doesn't stop him from being musical, though, and the movie features seven songs (though none of them are particularly memorable). Nevertheless, they're well staged and there's a fair amount of colorful Mexican costuming, taking advantage of the Cinecolor presentation. It's also a bit more violent than the typical Autry feature, with a gun battle resuting not only in the death of a sympathetic character, but blood as well.

Verdugo makes for an appealing leading lady, with plenty of spitfire in the character. The main shortcoming is that her accent comes and goes with alarming regularity. Dunne is so sleazy and villainous that it's hard to see what Estrellita sees him. Without the usual Autry sidekick in tow, the comedy relief is handled by Marshe, who is frequently hilarious in her sauciness. There are also some good bits with William Edmunds as the elderly padrino, Don Luis, who is horrified by the skimpy bathing suits of Estellita and Angie. Which, come to think of it, is as good an excuse for color as any.

While it sticks close to the Autry formula, the added running time allows for more fleshing out of the characters, to their benefit, and the sympathetic look at the poor Mexican squatters may come across as shocking to some today.

The songs are:

You Belong to My Heart
I'm Thankful for Small Favors
Rancho Pillow
La Golondrina
My Adobe Hacienda
Goodbye to Old Mexico

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: While the Cinecolor on The Strawberry Roan had some issues, that on this disc looks marvelous, without any fringing, and nice strong blue levels. There are no issues beyond the occasional speckle. Detail is nice and crisp for the most part and the colors seem natural if a shade subdued. The scenery looks first rate. The use of a dual layer disc permits a nice high bitrate that avoids any compression issues, which have occasionally been a problem on a few past volumes.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: As is the case with the video, the audio in its 2.0 mono format is quite clean as well. The range is limited as one would expect for 1940s mono, but the songs sound good and the dialogue is clear. Hiss and noise are quite subdued and almost never noticeable.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 7 cues and remote access
23 Other Trailer(s) featuring Red River Valley, Sioux City Sue, Saddle Pals, The Last Roundup, The Strawberry Roan, Loaded Pistols, Riders of the Whistling Pines, Riders in the Sky, Mule Train, Cow Town, Beyond the Purple Hills, Sons of New Mexico, Texans Never Cry, Hills of Utah, Valley of Fire, The Old West, Night Stage to Galveston, Wagon Team, Blue Canadian Rockies, On Top of Old Smoky, Gold Town Ghost Riders, Pack Train, Saginaw Trail
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Melody Ranch radio show
  2. Still and poster galleries
  3. The Phantom Empire episode 8
Extras Review: Gene and Pat Buttram reminisce again in the Melody Ranch Theatre segments devoted to this feature, and Gene also talks a bit about his various guitars and their history. The Melody Ranch radio show from April 30, 1949, when The Big Sombrero was in release, features Pat and his talking duck, a mail order Mexican girl, and Gene's rendition of Ghost Riders in the Sky, which is all I need to recommend this disc by itself. But there are over 75 stills and more than 25 lobby cards and posters in several galleries, and a brief set of production notes. The eighth episode of The Phantom Empire "Jaws of Jeopardy" is included as the Gene Autry Foundation continues to celebrate his centennial. Fans of movie trailers have hit the jackpot here, with an amazing array of 23 Autry trailers included (but oddly, none for The Big Sombrero). They're mostly from his Columbia years, and some are reissue trailers, but they're in reasonable condition and a lot of fun to boot, with about a quarter of Autry's entire output represented here.

Extras Grade: B+

Final Comments

Another fun and colorful Autry film that makes good use of a longer running time. It looks and sounds terrific, and trailer fans will be overjoyed by the collection included on this DVD.

Mark Zimmer 2007-10-19