26 March 2006 | krorie
Gabby Hayes as a survivalist
This somewhat routine Gene Autry oater is worthwhile for several reasons. One, the fans get not only Smiley Burnette (Frog Millhouse) and his rather sophomoric humor but Gabby Hayes and his tall tales as well. Gabby starts out as a survivalist against the government, even firing his pistol at a passing US plane, but ends up a patriot thanks to Gene's intervention. Gabby tells those who will listen that he's fought in seven wars and explains several different times, each one involving a different legend of the Old West, how he won the medal he wears on his chest.
Second, the fabulous Hoosier Hot Shots are part of the action and get to showcase their musical talents, with Frog joining in. The Hoosier Hot Shots were exceptional musicians who let music making become a fun activity. They were sort of a hillbilly version of Spike Jones' City Slickers, and had several hit records to their credit. Their leader, Hezzie (Paul Trietsch), played a souped-up washboard the likes of which you've never seen. There's one scene in particular where their antics foreshadow those of Jerry Lee Lewis. While performing on stage, they proceed to destroy their musical instruments. Frog even rips the keys from the piano and Hezzie gets hit over the head with the guitar.
Third, there are several rousing action sequences including Gene atop Champion chasing down a speeding locomotive, Frog attempting to maneuver a runaway tank, and Gene shooting down an airplane with a rifle. The stunt work is marvelous. Even the few musical interludes fail to impede the excitement of the chases and fisticuffs.
On the minus side, two hillbilly ladies from the Grand Ole Opry, Sarie and Sallie, make a lame attempt to be funny. Where is Minnie Pearl when we need her? Thankfully, this was their only film role.
Another weakness is the length of the film, way too long. Even big budget B westerns worked better in a 50 to 60 minute time slot. Several subplots such as the one involving the boy Jimmy Whittaker could have been eliminated.
Hitler's war had begun in Europe with his invasion of Poland, so much of the patriotism, including the singing of "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean," was topical and relevant. But today this part of the film seems quaint and distant, though still important from a historical perspective.