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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

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Roy Rogers (Continued)

Table Summarizing Roy Rogers Non-Major Studio DVD Sources
Title Year Alpha Comet Video Sinister Cinema Roan, VCI, TMG
Old Homestead, The 1935 * - * -
Tumbling Tumbleweeds 1935 - - - -
Gallant Defender 1935 - * - -
Mysterious Avenger, The 1936 - - - -
Song of the Saddle 1936 - * - -
Rhythm on the Range 1936 - - - -
California Mail 1936 - * - -
Big Show, The 1936 * - * VCI
Old Corral, The 1936 - - - -
Old Wyoming Trail, The 1937 - * - -
Wild Horse Rodeo 1937 * - - -
Old Barn Dance, The 1938 - - - -
Under Western Stars 1938 *Uncut *Uncut *Uncut -
Billy the Kid Returns 1938 * * - Roan
Come On, Rangers 1938 * * * VCI
Shine On, Harvest Moon 1938 * * - -
Rough Riders' Round-Up 1939 * * - -
Southward Ho 1939 * * - -
Frontier Pony Express 1939 * * - -
In Old Caliente 1939 * * - -
Wall Street Cowboy 1939 * * * -
Arizona Kid, The 1939 * * - VCI, TMG
Jeepers Creepers 1939 - - - -
Saga of Death Valley 1939 * * - -
Days of Jesse James 1939 * * - Roan
Dark Command 1940 - - - -
Young Buffalo Bill 1940 * * - -
Carson City Kid, The 1940 * * * -
Ranger and the Lady, The 1940 * * * -
Colorado 1940 * * - -
Young Bill Hickok 1940 * * - TMG
Border Legion, The (aka West of the Badlands) 1940 * * - -
Robin Hood of the Pecos 1941 * * * VCI
Arkansas Judge 1941 - - - -
In Old Cheyenne 1941 * * - Roan, VCI
Sheriff of Tombstone 1941 * * - TMG
Nevada City 1941 * * - -
Bad Man of Deadwood 1941 * * - -
Jesse James at Bay 1941 * * * -
Red River Valley 1941 - * * -
Man from Cheyenne 1942 * * * -
South of Santa Fe 1942 * * - -
Sunset on the Desert 1942 * * - -
Romance on the Range 1942 * * Uncut - -
Sons of the Pioneers 1942 - * - TMG (HTT)
Sunset Serenade 1942 * * Uncut * -
Heart of the Golden West 1942 * * - -
Ridin' Down the Canyon 1942 * * - VCI
Idaho 1943 * * Uncut * VCI (Uncut)
King of the Cowboys 1943 * * Uncut - Roan
Song of Texas 1943 * * - Roan
Silver Spurs 1943 * * * -
Man from Music Mountain, The (aka Texas Legionnaires) 1943 * * - -
Hands Across the Border 1944 * * Uncut * Roan
Cowboy and the Senorita 1944 * * Uncut - TMG
Yellow Rose of Texas, The 1944 * * Uncut - VCI
Song of Nevada 1944 * * Uncut - -
San Fernando Valley 1944 * * Uncut - -
Lights of Old Santa Fe 1944 * * Uncut * -
Brazil (cameo) 1944 - * - -
Lake Placid Serenade 1944 - - - -
Hollywood Canteen (cameo) 1944 - - - -
Utah 1945 * * Uncut * -
Bells of Rosarita 1945 * * Uncut - VCI (Uncut)
Man from Oklahoma 1945 - * - TMG (HTT)
Sunset in El Dorado 1945 * * - TMG (HTT)
Don't Fence Me In 1945 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Along the Navaho Trail 1945 * * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Song of Arizona 1946 * * Uncut - TMG
Rainbow Over Texas 1946 - * * TMG (HTT)
My Pal Trigger 1946 * * Uncut * -
Under Nevada Skies 1946 * Uncut * Uncut - -
Roll On Texas Moon 1946 * * Uncut * Roan
Home in Oklahoma 1946 * * Uncut * Roan, VCI (Uncut)
Out California Way (cameo) [TC*] 1946 - * - -
Heldorado 1946 * * Uncut - Roan
Apache Rose [TC] 1947 * * Uncut - Roan, TMG
Hit Parade of 1947 1947 - - - -
Bells of San Angelo [TC] 1947 * * Uncut - VCI (Uncut) TMG (Uncut)
Springtime in the Sierras [TC] 1947 * * Uncut - -
On the Old Spanish Trail [TC] 1947 * * Uncut - -
Gay Ranchero, The [TC] 1948 * * Uncut - -
Under California Stars [TC] 1948 * * Uncut - VCI (Uncut)
Eyes of Texas [TC] 1948 * Uncut * Uncut - -
Melody Time 1948 - - - -
Night Time in Nevada [TC] 1948 * * Uncut - -
Grand Canyon Trail [TC] 1948 * Uncut * Uncut - -
Far Frontier, The [TC] 1948 * * Uncut - VCI
Susanna Pass [TC] 1949 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Down Dakota Way [TC] 1949 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Golden Stallion, The [TC] 1949 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Bells of Coronado [TC] 1950 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Twilight in the Sierras [TC] 1950 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Trigger Jr. [TC] 1950 * * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Sunset in the West [TC] 1950 - * Uncut - -
North of the Great Divide [TC] 1950 * * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Trail of Robin Hood [TC] 1950 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Spoilers of the Plains 1951 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Heart of the Rockies 1951 - * Uncut - -
In Old Amarillo 1951 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
South of Caliente 1951 * * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Pals of the Golden West 1951 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Son of Paleface [colour] 1952 - - - -
Roy Rogers Show (100 episodes) 1951-57 16 Vol. (64 ep) - - TMG (10 ep)
Alias Jesse James [colour] 1959 - - - -
Mackintosh and TJ [colour] 1975 - - - -
TMG = Timeless Media Group
HTT = Happy Trails Theatre
TC = Trucolor

So far I haven't recommended any particular Roy Rogers title in terms of western entertainment value. I haven't seen all of Roy's films, but of the 50-odd ones I have, I'm generally partial to the 1938-42 and post-1946 titles. Some specific titles I particularly recommend are: Under Western Stars, Billy the Kid Returns, Come on Rangers, In Old Caliente, The Arizona Kid, Saga of Death Valley, Dark Command, The Carson City Kid, Bad Man of Deadwood, Red River Valley, Heart of the Golden West, My Pal Trigger, Heldorado, Springtime in the Sierras, Bells of Coronado, North of the Great Divide, and Trail of Robin Hood.

As a final and hopeful note, Turner Classic Movies debuted restorations of four of Roy's films at its 2011 Classic Film Festival in Hollywood this past April. The titles were: Cowboy and the Senorita, Trigger Jr., Under Western Stars, and My Pal Trigger. All but Under Western Stars will show up on the TCM channel itself in July as apart of that month's tribute to singing cowboys. Hope springs eternal that the new restorations will make their way to DVD as well.


Classic DVD Reviews

Twilight Time continues its strong record of releases with 1964's Fate Is the Hunter. Films about plane crashes have long been grist for Hollywood, but almost 50 years after its theatrical release, Fate Is the Hunter remains an envigorating entertainment.

Fate Is the Hunter (DVD)

The plot has a good pedigree, originating from a book by Ernest Gann who also was responsible for "The High and the Mighty", "Island in the Sky", and other aviation stories. The film focuses on the aftermath of a crash and the efforts to determine the cause. Glenn Ford delivers strong work as the chief investigator and the film weaves his efforts deftly with the stories of the plane's doomed pilot (Rod Taylor), his bereaved girlfriend (Nancy Kwan), and the flight attendant who is the only survivor (Suzanne Pleshette). Also in the cast are familiar faces such as Wally Cox, Nehemiah Persoff, and Mark Stevens with Jane Russell making a guest appearance. Director Ralph Nelson makes good use of the CinemaScope widescreen ratio and the very fine black and white cinematography by Milton Krasner (Oscar nomination) enhances the mood of the story effectively. Twilight Time's 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is very strong, offering a noticeably detailed grey scale, a generally crisp and quite clean image, and good contrast. Some modest grain is evident and the transfer is free of apparent digital manipulation. The mono audio does the job satisfactorily with clear dialogue and seems free of hiss or distortion. There are no subtitles. Supplements comprise an isolated music and effects track (standard for Twilight Time releases so far), the original theatrical trailer, and an 8-page pamphlet of production and reaction notes. Highly recommended.

Fruit of VCI's new accord with ITV/Carlton that makes many classic Rank Organization titles available to them is VCI's recent release of 1945's The Way to the Stars. The film is a superior evocation of life at a bomber airfield in England during World War II.

Way to the Stars (DVD)

The focus is on the inter-relationships between RAF and USAAF personnel sharing the field, as much from their point of view as that of the various civilians of the neighbouring town whose lives they touch. There is essentially no actual airwar footage though the effects of the crews' various forays over enemy territory is closely integrated into the story. The story relies greatly on its fine British cast and is not let down by the likes of John Mills, Michael Redgrave, Stanley Holloway, Basil Radford, Joyce Carey, and Rosamund John. American Douglass Montgomery plays one of the key USAAF roles well. The strongly dramatic story, touching but not cloying, is chiefly due to Terence Rattigan. Its central focus is a young new pilot played by John Mills who struggles with committing to a young woman he meets when he sees other relationships severely tested by war's events. VCI's full frame transfer is a very good one, offering a clear, fairly clean image. Contrast is very good and the image is generally bright and crisp. Best of all, we get the original British cut that easily exceeds 100 minutes (though at 104 minutes still a few minutes shy of the 109 listed on the disc packaging) rather than the edited American release version that came in under 90 minutes and was entitled Johnny in the Clouds. The mono sound is fine. There are no subtitles or supplements. Recommended.

I would imagine that the U.S. Air Force would have been fairly satisfied with 1956's Toward the Unknown. Filmed with its assistance and focusing on the USAF flight test centre at Edwards AFB, the film is generally interesting throughout (despite a somewhat clichéd script) due to the aerial footage and some fine performances, principally from William Holden and Lloyd Nolan.

Toward the Unknown (DVD)

Nolan is the base's commanding officer, still trying to hang on in the young man's test pilot game at an age where, still competent as a pilot, his body begins to betray him under the physical stress of aerial testing. The film's nominal star is Holden, playing an officer who cracked under brainwashing in Korea but now trying to redeem his career by serving as a test pilot. He helps his case by discovering structural defects in a new plane that the air force is considering for purchase, and by rescuing Nolan from a tricky situation during a joint test flight. As a result he bolsters his chances of getting the plum job of testing the X-2 jet. The film came after a streak of pretty fine films for Holden in 1954-56 including Picnic, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, The Country Girl, and Executive Suite. Not quite as weighty as any of those fine vehicles but still worthy fare, Toward the Unknown, was Holden's entrée in the realm of independent production, made for his Toluca Productions and distributed by Warner Bros. The film also benefits from a number of familiar and strong supporting players such as Charles McGraw, Murray Hamilton, Paul Fix, and L.Q. Jones, as well as featuring a 28-year old James Garner in his first feature film. It's available on a MOD disc in a remastered edition from the Warner Archive. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks quite good. The image is quite clean, sharp, and nicely detailed, and the WarnerColor is bright though occasionally looks muted from the reds and blues that frequently dominate that process. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no subtitles and no supplements. Recommended in general and a must for Holden fans.

The Prize (1963) is no prize. Returning to MGM where he had had success a year earlier with Sweet Bird of Youth and joining director Mark Robson whom he had last worked with in 1960's From the Terrace, Paul Newman plays a Nobel Prize winner for Literature who joins his fellow winners in Stockholm for the award ceremonies.

The Prize (DVD)

Among them are Edward G. Robinson, Kevin McCarthy, Sergio Fantoni, and Micheline Presle. All these winners somehow get involved in a round of international intrigue, sexual adventures, and interpersonal silliness that comes across on screen as such a hodge-podge of drama and comedy that one is left completely cold and unengaged. The film quickly takes on the sense of a grand ship on an ill-fated voyage and never recovers from that course. Based on a pot-boiler by Irving Wallace, some of the goings-on seem more suited to the awards ceremony for the Miss Nude World Pageant than the Nobel Awards, but then I guess it was easier to fit in Cold war subterfuge at a Stockholm setting. Few of the actors escape unscathed from this debacle in terms of acting credibility, but at least Elke Summer (as Newman's Swedish "handler"), Diane Baker (as the Robinson character's niece) and Micheline Presle (as the Chemistry award winner) do nothing to compromise the physical attractiveness reasons for their casting. Paul Newman never seems comfortable in his role - his efforts at comedy seem forced and his participation in the search and pursuit aspects of the film is unpersuasive in terms of portraying a character of intrigue. The film has been released on a MOD disc in a remastered edition by the Warner Archive sporting a 2.4:1 anamorphic transfer. The image looks reasonably sharp but colours seem somewhat muted at times. The image, like the film, never gives the feeling that one is watching anything very special. The mono sound is clear and free of hiss or distortion. There are no subtitles and the only supplement is the theatrical trailer.

With its focus on the Warner Archive, Warner Bros.' ambitious programme of classic releases on pressed DVD is a distant fond memory now, but here's one title that's made it to unburnt disc from the company - 1933's Night Flight.

Night Flight (DVD)

It's originally a major MGM production from executive producer David O. Selznick, directed by Clarence Brown and starring quite a list of acting talent - John Barrymore, Clark Gable, Helen Hayes, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Montgomery, Myrna Loy - as well as lesser lights such as William Gargan, C. Henry Gordon, Irving Pichel, and Dorothy Burgess. The film is based on a novel by French aviator Antoine de Saint Exupery which is drawn from his experiences as an airmail pilot and director of an Argentinian airline. The book's original French title was "Vol de Nuit" and it won a French literary prize called the Prix Femina. MGM apparently only had a 10-year window of exhibition for its film from the book's author and since that licence expired in the early 1940s, Night Flight has been unavailable for authorized viewing. Warners cleared that legal hurdle recently, making the film finally available for the home video market (as it has incidentally for The Constant Nymph, a 1943 WB title similarly in limbo for many years). Would that with the wait, Night Flight were a better film. With its cast implying a Grand Hotel-of-the-air type picture, expectations are high, but the film is very compartmentalized. It's a tale of trying to establish an air mail service between southern South America and Europe. Flights from the southern tip of the continent and from the west coast (Santiago, Chile) must converge in Buenos Aires, Argentina by midnight in time to have their cargos transferred to another plane bound for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and points north where it will meet a boat to carry the mail across the Atlantic Ocean. The only real human hook in the story is the need for polio serum to get to Rio from Santiago quickly. John Barrymore plays the director of the fledgling service much worried about meeting his timetable with little concern for his pilots. Gable and Montgomery play the pilots of the planes from the south and west respectively while Gargan pilots the plane from Buenos Aires north. Hayes, Burgess and Loy are their respective ladies. All the actors are fine, but they virtually never interact. Clark Gable spends his time looking grim in a plane while every so often scribbling out notes that he passes to his radio operator. There are certainly some well-mounted aerial sequences, particularly some in a severe storm, but the dearth of direct human interaction is disappointing and even puzzling given producer Selznick's involvement. Well at least the DVD quality doesn't disappoint. The full frame image (correctly framed) looks bright and quite sharp. Shadow detail is a bit variable, but overall quite acceptable. The mono sound is clear and free of distortion. English SDH and French subtitling is provided. The supplements consist of two MGM shorts. Swing High profiles a high wire act while When the Cat's Away is a cute Harman-Ising cartoon made in an early colour (looks like two-strip) process. A featurette on the production's history including its long-time unavailability would have been welcome. Still, a release worth your support and early sound enthusiasts should consider it a must.

The Gene Autry estate has been diligent in its presentation of Autry's screen heritage on DVD. Many of Gene's feature films were made available on DVD through Image Entertainment in above-average restored editions, though most are now out of print. Now the estate has struck a deal with Timeless Media Group (TMG) to release all of the feature films to DVD, both those previously available from Image as well as all the others that hadn't seen the light of day. Included in this package also is the complete run of Gene's 1950s TV program The Gene Autry Show and his 1935 Mascot serial, The Phantom Empire. Both the latter and The Gene Autry Show: The Complete First Season are now available from TMG as the first fruits of the new arrangement.

The Gene Autry Show: The Complete First Season (DVD)The Phantom Empire (DVD)

Long in the public domain, the 12-chapter serial The Phantom Empire is an interesting blend of western and science fiction. Gene plays the owner of a ranch who can only retain control by living up to a radio contract that calls for him to broadcast a program from the ranch each afternoon. Complicating things is the presence of radium on the ranch which attracts unscrupulous speculators and even more importantly the discovery of the underground civilization of Murania whose queen is intent on retaining her world's secrecy and her control over it. Viewers will find some crude special effects here, particularly some recycled tin robots, but the serial's blending of genres is infectiously entertaining. In his first starring role, Gene Autry is quite adequate, his charisma showing why he would become one of the best B western heroes, even though his inexperience is evident at times here. The serial's action sequences are well-handled reflecting Mascot's and directors Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason's extensive experience in the serial field. The serial also benefits from the presence of young veteran Frankie Darro. Smiley Burnette, here billed as Lester (Smiley) Burnette, is also around for comedy support. Timeless Media Group's DVD release consists of three DVDs each in individual thincases all housed in a cardboard slipcase. The timeless release looks marginally better than the only other version I've seen, that of VCI's. As with VCI's effort, TMG's offers good image detail and sharpness, but contrast is noticeably improved for the most part. Some scratches and speckles continue to exist, but nothing that detracts from one's enjoyment. The mono sound is in good shape with hiss being minimal. There are no subtitles. The only supplement is a short gallery of images from posters and lobby cards. It is in this respect that the TMG effort falls short of VCI's for the latter included a brief featurette on the making of the serial, the theatrical trailer, a Gene Autry text biography, a photo gallery, a 7-minute musical excerpt featuring Autry and Gabby Hayes from the feature film In Old Santa Fe, and the complete 1937 Republic Autry feature Boots and Saddles. The new TMG release of The Phantom Empire is recommended, but if you already have the VCI version, I'd stick with it. The Gene Autry Show debuted on CBS in July 1950. The first season consisted of 26 half-hour episodes starring Gene along with his horse Champion and sidekick Pat Buttram. The shows were made by Gene's Flying "A" Pictures production company, many at Pioneertown, a new western shooting location in the high desert near Palm Springs. The show came at a time when William Boyd was having great success with his Hopalong Cassidy films and TV series, and was similarly a successful vehicle for Gene. Gail Davis, a flame of Gene's in real life and also a co-star of a number of his final feature films was a frequent performer in the TV series also. Guest appearances from the likes of Sheila Ryan, Alan Hale Jr., Harry Lauter ( a very familiar face in TV westerns), Chill Wills, John Doucette, Fuzzy Knight, Dick Jones, and the Cass County Boys added luster to the first season. The shows were filmed in black and white with the exception of two that were shot in Kodachrome Color for airing by CBS during a test period leading up to the FCC decision on authorizing colour television service. In the first season's programs, Gene takes on various roles though mainly he's a sheriff or investigator of some sort. The stories are briskly told and generally high in entertainment value. Gene often introduced the shows and those introductions are included in TMG's four-disc release of The Gene Autry Show: The Complete First Season. The four discs are packaged in three thincases housed in a cardboard slipcase. The full frame video is consistently good, offering clean, sharp, nicely-detailed images. The black and white shows all exhibit good gray scales and the two colour shows are bright with fairly strong, accurate-looking colour. The mono sound is in good shape with little hiss and no distortion evident. There are no subtitles. Supplements include seven trailers from Gene's feature films, a gallery of Gene Autry trading cards, and a 29-minute "Melody Ranch" radio show from December 1950. Recommended.

20th Century-Fox must have liked its 1962 film The Comancheros because only two years later it essentially remade it as Rio Conchos, even employing Stuart Whitman once again and the efforts of screenwriter Claire Huffaker. Of course, they didn't have John Wayne this time, settling instead for Richard Boone to play the main character. The story about a wayward group striving to run its own show and create a haven by using the Apaches as a smokescreen is an interesting one, but is muddied here by a plot involving an ex-Confederate officer who is offered freedom from prosecution on a stolen rifle charge if he leads a small group into Mexico. As the officer, Richard Boone provides an unlikable and irritating portrayal, not helped by Tony Franciosa's unbelievable Mexican prisoner. Jim Brown makes his film debut as an army sergeant and he's fine though not particularly memorable. Edmond O'Brian as the leader of the group involved with the Apaches is easily the film's most memorable character (though one would expect nothing less from that fine actor). Rio Conchos has not been available previously on DVD and it has now been released by Shout! Factory as one half of a Wild West Collection double feature. The other title in the one-disc set is 1975's Take a Hard Ride.

Rio Conchos/Take a Hard Ride (DVD)

If Rio Conchos had some of the nihilistic feel of the violent spaghetti westerns that were starting to make inroads in the early to mid 1960s, Take a Hard Ride was the real deal. The focus is Mexico once again and there's even reference to a haven in that country. Lee Van Cleef is the iconic spaghetti western villain while the good guys are portrayed by Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, and even Jim Kelly. There's plenty of action, all well-orchestrated by that well-known Italian director Anthony Dawson. Throw in a good score by Jerry Goldsmith (another link to Rio Conchos) and you've got an enjoyable piece of western entertainment. A few links to classic Hollywood with the presence of Dana Andrews, Barry Sullivan, and Harry Carey Jr. don't hurt either. Both films look very good on Shout! Factory's new release. Rio Conchos, a CinemaScope film , is given a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that's quite sharp and offers good detail. Colours are bright and look accurate. There's some modest grain evident and no sign of over-zealous digital manipulation (no overt edge effects intrude). Take a Hard Ride was previously released by Anchor Bay with a pretty good anamorphic transfer. Shout! Factory's new 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks quite sharp but isn't strikingly different from the Anchor Bay one. Grain is evident and colour fidelity looks good. The mono sound on both films does an efficient job with clear dialogue, reasonably hefty gunshot sounds, and Jerry Goldsmith's scores well conveyed. Supplements include a trailer for each film and new informative interviews with Take a Hard Ride stars Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly. Recommended.

Exposé films about the mob including the word "confidential" in their title and the name of a major American city were common fare in the 1950s. We had Kansas City Confidential, New York Confidential, and of course Chicago Confidential.

Chicago Confidential (DVD)

The latter, a 1957 United Artists release, has now been made available as an item in the MGM MOD program. It's a slick little programmer that stars Brian Keith as an Illinois States Attorney fighting corrupt unions in Chicago. A gambling syndicate attempts to muscle in on one particular union and when the union presdient (Dick Foran) is uncooperative, he finds himself framed for murder. When Foran and his secretary (Beverly Garland) go to Keith, Keith attempts to prove Foran's innocence and trap the union vice-president (Douglas Kennedy) who's sympathetic to the syndicate. It's all fairly predictable, but it's told briskly and features a cast of welcome familiar supporting faces (Elisha Cook Jr., Jack Lambert, Anthony George, and Jim Bannon). Keith is quite sturdy in the lead role though he seems to get his hands dirty much more than one would expect from an attorney. MGM's MOD release is presented with a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that looks quite presentable. It's reasonably sharp and shadow detail is okay. Contrast looks good. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no subtitles and no supplements. Recommended.

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