Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gene Autry: Melody Trail (1935)

Another modern setting, and another movie we really enjoyed. Singing star Gene wins a bronco-riding contest at a rodeo and $1,000 -- but that night, while he and Smiley are asleep (and Gene is dreaming about marrying a girl he saw in the stands at the rodeo), bad "gypsy" Black Frantz sneaks in and steals all the dough. And even though Gene is a nationally famous singing star who performed at the rodeo....somehow they are flat broke and don't know what to do next.

He doesn't stay bummed out for long though, because the next morning they meet Gene's dream girl! She's local ranch owner daughter Millicent, who's in town with her dad and her kleptomaniac dog Souvenir (who is played by Buck the Wonder Dog). Gene is mad for her, so he and Frog go and apply for jobs as cook and bull cook at her ranch, even though they of course cannot cook at all. Meanwhile, the ranch's cowboys have all been suspended on suspicion of rustling the ranch's cows, and Millicent has hired herself a full complement of cowgirls! And to complicate things further...Souvenir has actually stolen a baby from the gypsy camp! Holy smokes!

 Even broke Gene is a sharp dresser. I love this simple piped gingham shirt. 
Also, how handsome is he here?

When Gene discovers the baby at the ranch, Millicent lets him think she is the mother (she thinks this is funny) so he's put off a bit since he can't figure out if she's a widow, divorced or.....what. He and Frog need the money, so they ask for the job anyway. Millicent's dad says no, but after Gene catches a pony going bonkers he relents. Probably a mistake, because when Souvenir steals their only cookbook, they improvise and nearly kill all the cowgirls. But they warm up to him eventually when they find him singing a lullaby to the baby.

A little role reversal as the cowboys dish up dinner for the cowgirls....
 ooh, don't ever let Gene and Frog cook for you....

Black Frantz tracks down the baby and tries to take him (her?) home, but Gene thinks Frantz is kidnapping Millicent's baby and goes after the ensuing confusion Black Frantz wrecks his car, thinks Gene's after the money and returns almost all of it to Gene (who seems suprised, as if he's completely forgotten losing a thousand dollars, which is something like $16,000 in today's money!) who then takes the baby back to the ranch.

 A rare look at the gentle side of Smiley Burnette.

But oh wait! There are cattle rustlers, remember? They steal the cowgirls' clothes to keep them busy while they get down to some more cattle rustling. But, they're bad so they're not going to win -- Gene chases the ringleader (a neighboring rancher who wants their land, I think....) in a car (?!?) and the cowboys are vindicated, because of course they were unjustly accused. When everyone gets back to the ranch, Black Frantz is there to collect his baby and everyone's relieved -- Millicent's happy to return the baby, Frantz and his wife are happy to have their baby back, and Gene's relieved to find out that Millicent is not a mother after all.

Millicent's dad is still cranky though, and he fires Gene and Frog, then fires the cowgirls because they still haven't come back. They then turn up, wearing boxes and barrels (really! the Post Toasties box was my favorite). Millicent's dad hires the cowboys back, but Millicent wants the cowgirls to agree first. Finally, everything is settled by a giant mass wedding of all the cowboys and cowgirls, including Gene and Frog!

 Amazingly, the comedy relief sidekick does not get the comedy relief girl!

Most of the rodeo sequence is shot on location at an actual rodeo (with some weird matched clips from the announcer's booth -- notice the random bottle of milk that seems the be there only because someone noticed that in the location footage there is a bottle of milk sitting on that rail) so there's a lot of rodeo action in the beginning. And the cowgirls are a lot of fun to see, I loved their outfits. And their forewoman, Nell, is a riot. The gypsies are ridiculous, of course, but they are such over-the-top Hollywood creations they don't seem like they have any connection to real people and it didn't raise any questions.

Ann Rutherford plays Millicent and is pretty cool, running around in jodphurs and bossing the ranch. She's in a few more Autry films, but this is her best appearance as far as I'm concerned. This movie also introduces Smiley's fully formed "Frog Millhouse" character, who he will continue to play throughout his  Republic career. And Buck the Wonder Dog is actually a great dog actor - when he stole the cookbook it just about killed me! I was surprised to see that this film is not out on DVD yet, I think it's much more enjoyable than some of the films that have been released.

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