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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Gene Autry Collection: Ridin' on a Rainbow
Gene Autry Collection: Ridin' on a Rainbow
Image // Unrated // July 25, 2006
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted August 21, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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Sunset in Wyoming (1941) is a Gene Autry Western that's bit off the trail for the King of the Singing Cowboys. It's as much a vehicle for Autry protegee Mary Lee, Republic's answer to Judy Garland, and features enough songs to qualify it as a Musical with a Western setting, as opposed to a Western with musical numbers. Though at times pure, unadulterated corn, Sunset in Wyoming benefits from Republic's B-movie know-how, and compensates for a general lack of standard Western action with ingratiating performances and a slam-bang climax that in some ways cribs the rescue of Dorothy from the Witch's Castle in The Wizard of Oz.

As president of the local cattlemen's association, Gene Autry (Gene Autry) talks his fellow ranchers into socking away their hard-earned dough in the local bank. Unfortunately, the bank is robbed soon thereafter and a guard is killed, and it's up to Gene to catch the robbers. Peripherally involved in the robbery is Pop Evans (prolific character player Byron Foulger), a washed-up hoofer whose spirited and talented daughter, Patsy (Lee), is with trained dog Spotlight poised to take over their riverboat act and, in turn, support her no-good father.

The robbers (Ralf Harolde and Anthony Warde), along with Evans, escape and Patsy is reluctant to reveal her father's whereabouts, so Gene and sidekick Frog (Smiley Burnette) join the showboat Jolly Betsy as cowboy entertainers.

Ridin' on a Rainbow is crammed with a lot of songs for such a short (79 minutes) film, but many of these are excellent, and most were co-written by the great Jule Styne. "Be Honest with Me" was nominated for an Academy Award, while other familiar tunes (such as "Carry Me Back to the Lone Prairie") are heard throughout. Carol Adams, apparently Republic's answer this time to Eleanor Powell, looks pretty silly hoofing through a few cowboy songs in front of bales of hay. There's so much singing and dancing in fact that, surprisingly, there's not enough time left over for Burnette to sing one of his popular novelty numbers.

The story, such as it is, isn't very well thought out, relying on multiple misunderstandings between sincere Gene and the suspicious showboat entertainers who question his motives. In one particularly clumsy sequence, Frog repeatedly (though accidentally) sprays the entertainers with water from a firehose. Director Lew Landers (The Return of the Vampire) handles the action a bit better, though in one chase audiences are expected to accept that Gene, riding at full gallop, can with his six-shooter hit one of the getaway car's tires from what looks like three-quarters of a mile away.

(This sequence has a throwaway line that briefly addresses the anachronistic jumble of Old Western iconography and modern conveniences. One of the villains in the getaway car, looking back at Gene on horseback, quips, "Well, it won't take long to lose him!")

Overall the film is a bit more ambitious than the usual Republic B; no doubt Gene's enormous popularity justified the somewhat meatier production values. The picture has a fine cast of familiar character actors including Ferris Taylor (as riverboat Captain Bartlett) and Guy Usher (as the sheriff), while Walter Long and Harry Wilson turn up in uncredited bits. Several members of Preston Sturges' growing stock company of actors appear, including Georgia Caine as Captain Bartlett's wife, and Jimmy Conlin as Boxoffice Joe.

Video & Audio

Ridin' on a Rainbow, in its original, 79-minute theatrical cut, is in better condition than the concurrently released Sunset in Wyoming. The image is quite good, almost flawless for an early-1940s feature, sharp with good contrast. The audio is also clean and free from damage or distortion. Kudos once again to Autry Entertainment and the Autry Museum, the UCLA Film & Television Archives, The Western Channel, and RPG, who jointly restored the picture and sound. There are no subtitle options.

Extra Features

Once again, Gene Autry Entertainment has done a fine job supplementing this film with scads of extra features all in especially attractive and easy-to-use animated menus.

First up is another Reminiscing with Gene Autry and Pat Buttram at the Melody Ranch Theater. The conversation, from 1987, is warm and nostalgic, though yet again ol' Gene and Pat run a little dry near the end - the conversation actually turns to a discussion of Gene's shoes!

Don't Touch That Dial! Gene Autry is On the Air is a 24-minute episode of radio's "Doublemint Melody Ranch" that originally aired on March 23, 1941. It also features Mary Lee and is presented over animated ad art and stills from the movie.

The usual wide assortment of Production and Publicity Stills, Poster Art and Lobby Cards, and Original Press Kit are a nice extra, though this time there's no sign of the Daily Production Reports. (It would have been interesting to learn this film's cost relative to the average Autry Western.)

The late Alex Gordon provides Trivia and Movie Facts about the film that help put the film (and Mary Lee's career) into context.

Parting Thoughts

Ridin' on a Rainbow probably won't appeal to mainstream Western fans, but fans of B-Westerns in general and Gene Autry in particular will be pleased as punch. Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.

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