A formula-driven but agreeable Gene Autry vehicle, Home in Wyomin' (1942) was one of the singing cowboy's last films before enlisting in the Air Transport Command for the duration of the war. The war creeps into the story in interesting ways, and though the film is strictly by the numbers, it delivers the expected balance of pleasant cowboy songs, comedy, and six-shooter action.
The picture opens with Gene Autry (Gene Autry) in the midst of his very popular radio program, where he sings Irving Berlin's famous "Any Bonds Today?" In the audience are magazine photographer Clementine "Clem" Benson (Fay McKenzie) and wise-cracking reporter "Hack" Hackett (Chick Chandler), the former especially out to discredit Gene, to reveal him as the big phony she perceives him to be. After the show Gene's mentor, Pop Harrison (Forrest Taylor), asks Gene for help: Pop's unruly son, Tex (James Seay), and his drinkin' and gamblin' ways threaten the future of their traveling rodeo / Wild West show. Although Gene and sidekicks Frog and Tadpole Millhouse (Smiley Burnette and Joe Strauch, Jr.) are scheduled to make a personal appearance tour, Gene drops everything to come to Pop Harrison's aide.
Clem and Hack follow Gene to Wyoming, where Hack soon gets into a brawl with the troubled Tex. Meanwhile, Hack also recognizes that a vacationing Crowley (George Douglas) and his two friends are in fact missing gangster Luigi Scalese and two of his henchmen. When Hack is murdered Tex is blamed for the deed. Gene recognizes that the evidence points toward Scalese, but is he really responsible?
Home in Wyomin' is crammed with the usual elements associated with Autry's cowboy musicals: the city girl gradually won over to the simple charms of Western life, Gene's loyalty to his friends and respect for his elders, action scenes where Gene and his horse Champion somehow outmaneuver criminals fleeing in racing automobiles, homespun Autryisms (Gene on his affinity with nature: "Yessir, the ol' earth and I have been friends for a long time.") Gene serenading the film's love interest, Frog entertaining the townsfolk with his novelty songs. (In this film Burnette is self-accompanied on an incredible contraption he calls a "jackassaphone!")
Besides the familiar "Any Bonds Today," Autry gets to sing several other standards, including "Tweedle O'Twill," "Clementine," and his signature tune, "Back in the Saddle."
The cast is above average for an Autry picture. Seay is somewhat miscast as an out-of-control young cowboy, but a welcome presence nonetheless. He's one of those busy character actors (with nearly 200 credits) whom classic movie fans know by sight if not by name. Mainstream audiences probably remember him best as the doctor Kris Kringle secures an X-Ray machine for in Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Also in the cast is Olin Howlin (The Blob), very creepy here as a gold prospector; Charles Lane as a magazine editor, and Spade Cooley, uncredited, as a fiddle player in Gene's band. Chubby 12-year-old Joe Strauch, Jr. turned up in several films as Frog's, er - well, it's not clear what he supposed to be, perhaps a nephew - but the character mostly bellyaches and isn't very endearing.
Video & Audio
Home in Wyomin', in its original full frame format, is a composite of what would appear to be the original camera negative and something else, perhaps a 35mm print, or maybe something struck from a 16mm negative source. The film was apparently cut from 68 to 54 minutes for reissue and/or television airings, and though the film has been restored to its original length, it's easy to spot where all the cuts were. Still, the image is mostly top-notch, and the reinstated scenes look okay. The audio is also clean and free from damage or distortion, though there are no subtitle options. As with the other Autry titles released through Image, Autry Entertainment and the Autry Museum, the UCLA Film & Television Archives, The Western Channel, and RPG, are credited with the film's restoration.
More great supplements make this title highly desirable. Included is another Reminiscing with Gene Autry and Pat Buttram at the Melody Ranch Theater, a series of wraparound bits that accompanied Home in Wyomin's airings on the Nashville Network in 1987. Gene and Pat (Smiley Burnette's replacement on TV's The Gene Autry Show) are pretty tired during this particular segment, rambling on about gold mines and feebly tell a few jokes to pass the time. (Buttram does reveal the correct pronunciation of Seay's name: "C-A.")
Don't Touch That Dial! Gene Autry is On the Air is an episode of radio's "The Gene Autry Show" that originally aired on June 14, 1942.
The Production and Publicity Stills, Poster Art and Lobby Cards, Original Press Kit, and Daily Production Reports are crammed with great archival material (a close look reveals that Lew Landers was the film's original director, replaced for reasons unknown), while producer and die-hard Gene Autry fan Alex Gordon provides Trivia and Movie Facts about the film (written shortly before Gordon's death in 2003).
In honor of Gene Autry's centennial, additional extra features include yet another episode (Chapter Four) of Gene's first starring role, in the 1935 Mascot serial The Phantom Empire. (Each new Autry release this year will include one chapter, an ingenious marketing decision.)
Other "Centennial Extras" include a fascinating five-minute short promoting Gene's impending personal appearance at the Royale Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. The promo features Autry and Burnette on the grounds of Republic Studios in Studio City, where among other things Gene sings an Irish song and has Champion do a couple of tricks.
Home in Wyomin' is sure to please Autry and B-Western movie fans and probably no one else. Still, this is a great looking DVD packed with a lot of terrific extras and comes Highly Recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel.