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Trigger, Jr.

Kino // PG // April 17, 2018
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted April 22, 2018 | E-mail the Author
The cultural significance of B-Western star Roy Rogers has sadly faded and lost on modern viewers. Roy died in 1998, his faithful palomino Trigger, the Smartest Horse in the Movies, long before him, and his faithful wife, Dale Evans, soon after. Even the popular chain of restaurants bearing his name has dwindled to around 50 locations. His popular Apple Valley, California museum closed years ago, and its contents scattered to the winds.

Roy's devoted fans, men that were boys in the 1940s and ‘50s, now in their 70s and 80s, are a dwindling number, too. My late colleague Bill Warren wrote mainly about classic science fiction but his heart belonged to Roy. He met or interviewed scads of celebrities, from Jack Nicholson to Akira Kurosawa, but only meeting Roy Rogers for the first time made his knees quiver. He adored Roy Rogers, his boyhood hero and briefly, shaking his hand, he was a 10-year-old kid all over again.

Born Leonard Slye, Roy Rogers was raised in Ohio, and first embarked on a singing career with what eventually became the Sons of the Pioneers, recording, and sometimes introducing cowboy standards like "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and "Cool Water."

The fame of the Pioneers led Roy to Hollywood, where he soon became a staple at Republic Pictures. Rogers played leads from the late 1930s, but it wasn't until the mid-1940s, when the company's leading attraction, Gene Autry, went off to war, that Rogers became the top-earning B-Western star, a position he held from 1943 to 1952, when B-Westerns effectively moved to television. The Roy Rogers Show (1951-57) was an even greater success, and Roy Rogers merchandise was everywhere.

Trigger, Jr. (1950) is a fairly typical example of late B-Western Roy Rogers, not much better though certainly no worse than Roy's other Bs. What's significant here is that the video transfer lives up to its billing: a "Brand New HD Master from a 4K Scan of the Original 35mm Trucolor Nitrate Negatives by Paramount Pictures Archives." Dozens of Roy's films are, technically, available on DVD, but until recently these have all been presumed public domain titles, for reasons unclear to this reviewer. Gene Autry and William "Hopalong Cassidy" Boyd owned outright and carefully preserved all their movies, as DVD releases of those movies confirm. By comparison, Roy Rogers movies all looked like dog meat on home video, and the reputation of those films suffered because of it.

Trigger, Jr. follows the release of another Roy Rogers Blu-ray title from Kino, Sunset in the West (also 1950), a positive sign that things may finally be shaping up for the legacy of Roy Rogers.

During a windstorm, Roy Rogers and his traveling Western Show arrive at the ranch of Col. Harkrider (George Cleveland), whose daughter, Kay (Dale Evans), has secretly made arrangements with Roy's dimwitted publicity man, Splinters (Gordon Jones), for the entire troupe to winter there. This comes as a surprise to crotchety, cantankerous Col. Harkrider, former Western show impresario now restricted to his wheelchair and overly protective of Kay since an accident that left his grandson, Junior (Peter Miles) deathly afraid of horses, even gentle Trigger, Jr.

When Roy asks the terrified Junior to hold onto Trigger Jr. during the storm, the boy allows him to run off, and when Roy and Splinters go to retrieve him, they run afoul of the Range Patrol, a private organization led by Manson (Grant Withers) supposedly to safeguard ranchers' livestock, but really a criminal protection racket.

The festive atmosphere, including modest but impressive performers from the Raynor Lehr Circus help the Colonel's and Junior's spirits. But when the Colonel convinces the other ranchers to give up the Range Patrol as a waste of money, Manson unleashes a vicious stolen white stallion slated for euthanasia. Moving from ranch to ranch, the equestrian serial killer leaves a trail of dead horses right and left. Can Roy stop it before it threatens Trigger, Trigger, Jr., and Junior?

Pat Brady played Roy and Dale's sidekick on their TV show and is billed fourth in the credits (after Roy, Trigger, and Dale) but in Trigger, Jr. Brady's role is actually pretty tiny and the sidekick role instead went to Gordon Jones. Best remembered as Mike the Cop on The Abbott & Costello Show and for his smallish roles in John Wayne movies up to McLintock!, released after his death in 1963, Jones is painfully stupid throughout Trigger, Jr., far more than he was on Abbott & Costello's TV show, and he was awfully dense on that. His attempts at broad comedy are labored and unfunny.

Conversely, Peter Miles earns much sympathy as the horse-phobic boy, whose grandfather mercilessly chastises his supposed weakness. In scenes that must have resonated with Roy's fans, Rogers shows much empathy and gently encourages the boy to look after Trigger Jr., clearly on the boy's side as well.

Beyond the circus acts, the most unusual aspect of Trigger, Jr. is its extensive footage of horse vs. horse violence, tamely staged by today's standards but perhaps traumatic for kids when the movie was new. (Spoilers) Unexpectedly, the runaway white stallion gets little sympathy from Roy, who matter-of-factly shoots it dead during the climax.

The usual suspects made and appeared in Trigger, Jr., part of the Roy Rogers unit particularly or busy Republic employees generally. William Whitney directed, and the cast also features I. Stanford Jolley (as a corrupted veterinarian), stuntmen Dave Sharpe, Tom Steele, and Dale van Sickel. The Riders of the Purple Sage provide Western harmony and with Roy manage to find time for three pleasant songs in this 68-minute film.

Video & Audio

Trigger, Jr. was photographed in Republic's color process, Trucolor, which began as a two-strip process but under the same moniker expanded to three. According to Wikipedia the first three-strip release was the company's Honeychile (1951), a Judy Canova comedy, but the color on Trigger, Jr. doesn't in any way resemble two-strip Technicolor but is quite rich with strong blues. Whatever the explanation, it looks and sounds great (2.0 HD Master Audio mono) in this 4K restoration. No subtitle options on this Region "A" disc.

Extra Features

The lone supplement is an audio commentary by Toby Roan and Jay Dee Witney, son of the director, who is also heard via archival audio.

Parting Thoughts

An emblematic B-Western in the best sense of the word, Trigger, Jr. is Highly Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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Highly Recommended

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