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Image Entertainment presents

Riders in the Sky (1949)

"This looks like a town where guns come in handy."- Gene Autry

Stars: Gene Autry, Champion, Pat Buttram, Gloria Henry
Other Stars: Mary Beth Hughes, Robert Livingston, Steve Darrell, Alan Hale Jr., Tom London, Hank Patterson
Director: John English

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (moderate western violence)
Run Time: 01h:10m:05s
Release Date: 2007-11-20
Genre: western

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


DVD Review

The western song Riders in the Sky took the country by storm when it was released in the 1940s, and it was soon covered by a multitude of singers. But it was Gene Autry that cornered the movie rights to the song, according to legend by handing a check to songwriter Stan Jones in a chance meeting. However it happened, the end result is another in the top rank of Autry oaters, with plenty of action and humor for fans. The structure is rather unusual in that it's told almost entirely in flashback.

Gene stars as an investigator who resigns to start ranching after he inherits $16,000. But before long, he gets involved in a drama in the cow town of Desert Wells, where Ralph Lawson (Steve Darrell) has been put in prison unjustly. His daughter Anne (Gloria Henry) is determined to clear his name, especially with the help of Old Man Roberts (Tom London), who saw the shooting that sent Ralph to prison. But not only is gambler Rock McCleary (Robert Livingston) willing to intimidate and murder witnesses, but the law in Desert Wells, Marshal Riggs (Alan Hale Jr.) is thoroughly corrupt. It's up to Gene to restore law and order, with the help of sidekick Chuckwalla Jones (Pat Buttram).

This was the first film in which Pat served as Gene's sidekick, and there's still not quite a good sense of how best to use him. Lacking Smiley's musical talent, Buttram's parts are little more than silly comedy relief that is a bit juvenile and dependent on slapstick. There are, however, some witty moments in the script that make for laughs amongst the standard Autry fistfights and horse chases. There are plenty of these, however, so action fans will be reasonably satisfied by quantity even if it is fairly mild in quality. There are some good chases, with a particularly spectacular stunt featuring a runaway water wagon and another with a runaway stagecoach.

Gene is reunited with Gloria Henry of The Strawberry Roan and they have solid chemistry together as they rub each other the wrong way. Henry is spunky and hardly the usual helpless heroine, even going into business for herself. The supporting cast is loaded with veteran character actors, such as Robert Livingston, longtime Western actor Tom London, Alan Hale Jr. and an uncredited Hank Patterson. Gene gets in some highly entertaining scenes as he outcheats the villains, first at cards and then at a sharp land deal. While it's not quite true to the Cowboy Code, it's all in the service of bringing the guilty to justice so some allowances can be made.

The performances (there are three) of the title tune are solid if a shade smooth. One features a prominent supporting accordion part, and the one that comes in the middle of the picture offers a double exposure montage that's quite effective even if it is a shade unimaginative. The other two songs are The Cowboy's Lament (better known as The Streets of Laredo), and It Makes No Difference Now.

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 looks very good, with a lovely range of greyscale. Some exteriors are a bit on the soft side, but that appears to be an issue with the original footage since the interiors look fine. Detail is reasonably good, except in the day-for-night sequences, which are a little on the murky side. Picture detail is clear enough that some dodgy rear projection elements really stand out like a sore thumb. The source print (which is complete with a British censor approval card) is in great shape, with hardly a speckle visible.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono audio is reasonably clean for its age, with the songs as usual sounding a bit better than the dialogue due to the more careful recording conditions. Range is fairly limited and there's no directionality, which is par for the course with a mono track. Dialogue is clear throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 4 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
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. Galleries
  3. Gene's Cowboy Code
  4. The Phantom Empire chapters 9 and 10
Extras Review: The Melody Ranch Theater excerpt from 1987 (10m:39s) is more informative than usual, with Pat reminiscing about his joining Gene as a sidekick, talking about the song rights, and veering into an anecdote about George Gobel, of all things. It's pretty fun. The Melody Ranch radio show dates from November 19, 1949, and among other things includes Gene's rousing rendition of the song Mule Train as well as a promo for the movie Riders in the Sky. The disc features galleries of over 70 stills, half a dozen posters and four lobby cards, plus selections from the pressbook. The supporting materials are rounded out by a dupey rerelease trailer for the feature and a brief set of production notes.

The Gene Autry centennial extras continue with not one but two excerpts from the Autry serial The Phantom Empire, being chapter 9 (Prisoners of the Ray) and 10 (The Rebellion). Again, these are nicer prints that one usually sees of this public domain staple, though the audio is a bit muddy on chapter 9. Another gallery of materials in support of the serial appears here, as well as an explication of Gene's Cowboy Code so youngsters could emulate their hero, as well as a pressbook style news story plugging the Code.

Extras Grade: B+

Final Comments

A fun and rousing Western that features Gene at his best, and the title track is one of the greatest ever. The transfer is excellent and the usual horde of extras is here again.

Mark Zimmer 2008-05-23