Reviews (457)

  • A change of settings - at least story-wise - makes this Gene Autry entry interesting to watch. Though actually shot at Big Bear Lake, California, the scenery looks Canadian to some degree although the mountains are a bit low. Gene and comical sidekick Pat Buttram (Rawhide), are sent northward to check on the boss' daughter, Sandra Higbee (played by Arkansas' own Gail Davis, TV's "Annie Oakley), who has opened a dude ranch must to the chagrin of the local lumber jacks. Gene and Rawhide uncover more than just a feud between the lumber company and the dude ranch and must find the real culprit behind the shady goings-on. There is a hilarious fisticuffs among Gene, Rawhide and two lumberjacks, played by veteran character actors, Gene Roth and John Merton, when Gene and Rawhide first arrive at the dude ranch, that's not to be missed.

    Another gal from Arkansas, Carolina Cotton, gets to strut her stuff and even sings two songs she composed, "Yodel, Yodel, Yodel" and "Lovin Ducky Daddy," showcasing her talents as an early rockabilly performer. But, alas, this was her final film. Gene gets to croon the Eddy Arnold standard, "Anytime," and performs the title tune written by the legendary songwriter, Cindy Walker. The Cass County Boys are in good form singing a modernized version of the authentic trail driving folksong, "The Old Chishom Trail." Gene joins them in "Mama Don't Allow No Music," one of the "Honey Babe" variations that permits each member of the band to show off his musical talents on different instruments.

    This was one of the last films Gene would make (he made only six more), but it still holds up well and Pat Buttram is always a treat to watch. There's a funny skit in this one when he and the boss show up at a masquerade party unknowingly wearing similar Jim Bridger outfits including a skunk-skin cap and a fake beard.
  • One of Gene's final Saturday matinée outings (his big screen tenure would end with "Last of the Pony Riders" later that year) before he devoted his time to his TV shows and other business activities to make him one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood. Sadly, "Pack Train" is at best a routine low budget oater. Even the action sequences, except for the last one which takes place aboard a speeding locomotive, are poorly edited and often the topography of the bad guys shooting at Gene is different from the topography of the Gene returning their fire. The story is meager, the humor lame, and even the music is sparse. The three songs are not bad being written by Gene and gifted songwriter Smiley Brunette. "God's Little Candle," by Gene and Smiley is pleasing and the harmony easy on the ears. Novelty tunes were Smiley's forte and "Hominy and Grits" as performed by Smiley is light-hearted and fun to hear. The other one, "Wagon Train," is lackluster but passable.

    One plus for the film is seeing Gene, Smiley, and Gene's new leading lady from Arkansas, Gail Davis, together. Pat Buttram's wife, Sheila Ryan, makes a believable lady outlaw whose in collusion with veteran character actor, Kenne Duncan. Tom London who plays Gail Davis' father in the film is always a treat for western fans. In a change of roles, Harry Lauter plays a good bad guy who because Gene spares his life sells out his boss so Gene can nab him. And then there's always Champion, who often upstaged the human actors.

    The plot centers around a group of settlers sponsored by Gene who are in dire need of supplies or face starvation and disease. The only supplies in town are controlled by the crooks who attempt to cheat the new arrivals. For a change the title of the movie actually describes the story as Smiley uses a pack train to get the supplies where needed.

    I would recommend this shoot-em-up for Gene's multitude of fans who are interesting in seeing his last three westerns. His TV shows of 1953 are actually better made. Other viewers beware.
  • This action-filled western has Gene playing a postal inspector investigating a gang empire headed by the nefarious Big Jim Lassiter (veteran character actor, Thurston Hall) who help finance their operations by robbing the mail stage. Gene poses as a robber known as the Whirlwind because he moves surreptitiously across the prairie like a dust devil. Gene hooks up with a fellow undercover postal inspector who turns out to be Smiley Burnette. It's a treat for fans to see the two together in the twilight years of the Saturday matinée cowboys. The romantic duties are performed this time around by the captivating lady from Arkansas and TV's Annie Oakley, Gail Davis, playing Elaine Lassiter, niece of Big Jim, who took her in following the mysterious death of her father, Big Jim's brother. In the process of getting the goods on Big Jim, Gene and Smiley tangle with some of the toughest of the budget western badmen including the likes of the unflappable Dick Curtis who was also adept at slapstick comedy. Playing henchman Lon Kramer, Dick and Smiley have a grand old time, especially in their first encounter where Smiley whips Lon and his buddies in a fisticuffs filled with belly laughs. Harry Harvey as the crooked sheriff, Harry Lauter as a shyster attorney, and a bevy of bad guys, including Bud Osborne and Kenne Duncan, make for a delightful outing. Stan Jones, who wrote the title song, has a bit part. A talented singer/songwriter and member of the classic Sons of the Pioneers, Stan is today best remembered for penning the oft-recorded "Ghost Riders in the Sky." Also in the music department, Gene and Smiley harmonize beautifully on the novelty ditty "Twiddle O'Twill," co-written by Gene with help from Fred Rose who is credited with discovering Hank Williams Sr.

    A note of interest, Gene shows off his skill as a telegrapher, a job he was doing in Oklahoma when discovered by Will Rogers.
  • Gene often named his movies after popular songs (usually to promote his recording of the tune). Seldom did the song title have much to do with the plot of the story. "On Top of Old Smoky" is a traditional American folk song most likely from the Appalachians that was given a new life in 1951 by the famous folk group The Weavers, selling over a million records that year. The catchy call and response rendition received an added oomph by the tongue-in-cheek interpretation of a young Pete Seeger. Over a year later, Gene's version came out. At the beginning of the film, Gene rides the trail alone singing a plaintive version of the unrequited love ballad. And it's not bad. He even adds a final cowboy verse making the song apropos to the prairie where a person is unlikely to find a "mountain all covered with snow."

    There are other pleasant songs sung by Gene with help from the Cass County Boys (you've probably heard the voice of one member of the trio without realizing it - Jerry Scoggins sang "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," the theme to long-running (and still re-running)"The Beverly Hillbillies") and Smiley, the best being "I Hang My Head and Cry," co-written by Gene. Smiley does some great harmony with Gene on this one. "If It Wasn't For The Rain" is also a fine ditty.

    For a change, Gene plays a phony rather than a real Texas Ranger as a result of a misunderstanding. Seems Gene is with group of singers known as the Rangers (Cass County Boys). Those who see the fake badge think it's real. This leads Gene and Smiley into all kinds of chases, fisticuffs, and shenanigans trying to get evidence against a band of crooks attempting to force Jen Larrabee (Gail Davis) to sell her toll road and station to them because of valuable minerals found on her land. An added oddity in this one is Gene taking Smiley's girlfriend away from him. Usually, Smiley's women were more like female frogs, but this go-around she's the lovely Gail Davis from Arkansas (TV's Annie Oakley). Shelia Ryan has a small role as a small-time thief and showgirl, but she makes every minute before the camera count. The redoubtable Kenne Duncan is around to supply meanness and mayhem.

    Though this viewer favors the early Gene Autry Republic westerns, "On Top Of Old Smoky" is a winner and the music is infatuating, especially if you're already a Gene Autry fan.
  • There's plenty of action including a scene where Gene & Champion try to catch a speeding locomotive in this entertaining oater. As expected, Smiley "Frog" Burnette is along for a few belly laughs but unfortunately doesn't get to show off his musical talents much, mainly just observing Gene (one time throwing him a guitar) and a group called the Sherven Brothers Rodeoliers, sort of a budget Hoosier Hot Shots. Frog does have a novelty tune at the beginning called "There's Nothing Like Work," which is fun. The romantic interest is provided by the lovely June Storey as Martha Wheeler whose father's ranch stands to lose a lot of money if the herd has to be destroyed because of the hoof and mouth disease. Gene and Smiley are government inspectors who report finding a diseased animal to the main official who drives out to check out the story. In reality, the Belnap ranch (Belnap is played with just the right amount of insidiousness by Walter Miller)has in reality the only infected herd, but Belnap is in collusion with the equally sinister H. R. Shelby (Gordon Hart). Both villains are determined to put the blame on Gene, Smiley, and the Wheeler herd. Gene loses his job and spends the remainder of the film trying to prove himself innocent and the villains guilty. There is still enough time for a few musical outings, none up to the usual Gene Autry standards, but a few pleasing to the ears, the standout being one written by Gene called "I'm Gonna Round Up My Blues." With two of the best songwriters around why didn't Republic let Gene and Smiley compose more songs for their films? An added attraction is Earle Hodgins playing a film-flam man as only he could do.

    Oh, I forgot to mention, an elephant plays a key role in the plot. And where's the prairie?
  • This is a fun-filled romp for Gene and Smiley, and there's plenty of action to go along with the shenanigans. Gene & his leading lady, Judith Allen (Doris Maxwell), are a good match with a seemingly love-hate relationship that naturally ends in love. In the meantime, Gene and Judith keep the audience guessing as to what next crazy trick one will play on the other. Smiley is along to provide the juvenile comedy. This outing he also provides some fine music, showing off his versatility by playing both the piano and the accordion (his favored musical instrument). Smiley "Frog" Burnette was also adept at inventing musical contraptions. This time around it's the Maple City Boys who play on some of these concoctions. Smiley provides one of the songs, "Honey Bringing Honey To You," a clever play on words, written by Frog. Though mostly traditional music from the time period (using authentic western music was mainly the reserve of Tex Ritter in those days), the soundtrack is a winner. "Git Along Little Dogies," the title of the movie (Gene often used song names - usually his latest hit - for his film titles) is a true song of the cattle drive and has several variations. The one Gene, Frog, and the Mape City Boys sing during the opening credits is the standard version.

    The story has Gene at first promoting the cattlemen's water rights over the oil company's rights to drill, which is polluting the streams where the cows drink. Influenced by his attraction to Judith, who has a radio station above a Chinese restaurant (yes, that's right) that is sponsored by the oil company, and by a new revelation, Gene begins to have second thoughts.

    The Chinese restaurant is run by Sing Low (Willie Fong)who steals part of the show from Frog, especially when Sing Low sings high his version of "Git Along Little Dogie," with a Chinese "Woopie Tie Ya Yo." Gene even sings "China, My Chinatown," at least a sliver of it.

    Added attractions are The Cabin Kids, sort of a precursor do-wop harmony group, and a song and dance from Gladys and Will Ahern. The "Stock Selling Song (We're the Boys From the Circle A)" by the Maple City Boys may be a bit much, but does foreshadow later musical innovations such as the opening number in "The Music Man." This oater has romance, fun, music, and action. Who could ask for anything more?
  • The opening musical/comedy skit may be a bit much and even downright offense to the modern viewer, but it does provide a historical glimpse of a dead art form, the minstrel show, which evolved into vaudeville and thus found a place in early Hollywood movies. Since the story takes place in 1860, the skit is apropos for the plot of the film. The producer takes the show westward via wagon train and with it many-a showgirl, including a runaway, Lettie Morgan (played with aplomb by beautiful Ann Rutherford, aka Polly Benedict of the Andy Hardy series), whose aunt has just told her that she is not as rich as she thought she was, to ward off an undesirable suitor. The wagon train runs smack into trouble and to the rescue ride Captain Tex Autry, aka Gene Autry, and his band of cavalry buddies, including, of course, the redoubtable Smiley "Frog" Burnette. As Rosanne Rosannadanna would say, from there if it's not one thing, it's another. Tex (Gene) is framed by the bad guy, Utah Joe, played with standout surliness by Allan Sears. And the rest of the movie involves Tex (Gene) and his buddies trying to prove his innocence and Utah Joe's guilt. This includes a rousing shootout between the cavalry and renegade Indians who have been stirred up by Utah Joe. The wagon filled with explosives provides a fitting closing for this action-packed, early Gene Autry entry that most should enjoy. Unfortunately, the songs are not up to Gene Autry standards, even though he and Frog, both talented songwriters, helped pen most of them.
  • One of Hoppy's old sidekicks, Russell "Lucky" Hayden, rode tall in the saddle...and he could really ride, one of the best in the west. Following his success playing Lucky Jenkins in 27 Hopalong Cassidy oaters, Lucky was lucky enough to land his own series at Columbia during the war years, 1942-1944. These proved to be action-packed horse-opera fodder that entertained young and old alike.

    Dub "Cannonball" Taylor as the comic relief was, as always, a hoot and in "The Lone Prairie" is given some clever lines. When the stagecoach carrying money for rancher Jeff Halliday is attacked by outlaws at the beginning of the film, Cannonball holds a shaky gun on two of the robbers. His warning to them, "The way I'm aiming, I kin kill both of you at once." And when Lucky, who with Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, capture the robbers, killing one of them, calls Cannonball "stranger," he retorts, "Don't call me stranger. My name is Cannonball." Too bad Cannonball doesn't get to play his xylophone in this picture. Today, Dub is perhaps best remembered as the backstabbing, abusive father in "Bonnie and Clyde," Ivan Moss.

    A special treat are the film's musicians, also playing important roles along side Lucky, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Bob shares some good-natured banter with Lucky in several scenes, especially when Bob tries to "make time" with Lucky's romantic interest, Rancher Halliday's feisty daughter, Joan. Bob and the boys also aid Lucky in rounding up the bad guys. If the paint Bob rides in the show looks familiar to western fans, it's because it was Diablo, later ridden in many a TV-show by Duncan Renaldo as the Cisco Kid. The only let-down for Bob Wills fans is his choice of songs for the film. The opening/closing song is mediocre at best as is the love song in the middle of the movie. The only selection that should please Bob Wills' legion of admirers is the fiddle breakdown done at the dance during the jailbreak. Bob also throws in a follow-up called "Fiddle Man" that's almost up to par. The breakdown is the old standard "Liberty," done with a particular western swing flair by Bob, as only he could do it.

    The plot has a few unusual twists to it for a budget western. The bad guys, the inimical John Merton being one of them, want to grab the Halliday ranch because of a railroad coming through - a traditional ploy - but what makes this one different is the bad guys are robbing the stagecoaches carrying mortgage money for Halliday so he can't pay off the lien holder. Even Cannonball, the stranger, plays a role in the land grab. A revenge motive is added when Lucky kills Merton's brother at the first of the story. Determining just who is the boss of the heavies is another interesting sidelight for there is a power struggle going on involving at least two of the henchmen.

    It's too bad that Lucky was eventually released by Columbia to make way for Charles Starrett, for his series including "The Lone Prairie" was a winner all the way. As usual for budget westerns, the title has nothing to do with the plot.
  • In this action-filled budget western, Eddie Dean rides into Red Gap to visit his pal, soapy, who has opened a barber shop and finds his old singing buddies (The Plainsmen) have found ranch jobs near the town. This calls for a song and Eddie was one of the best singing cowboys around and an even better songwriter. He gets to warble three in this film, none of them standouts - Maybe it's because Eddie only wrote one of them and he was a co-composer on it. Leave it to the Hollywood moguls to have others write songs for one of the best songsters of the day.

    Soapy was funny-looking, but not very funny, although he did appeal to the kids. Soapy is not as dopey as usual and is actually a help rather than a hindrance to Eddie this go-round.

    There is a bevy of cowboy character actors with Stan Jolley leading the pack as the heinous Taggert, the boss of the town...or is he? Bill Fawcett is possibly the most recognizable of the bad guys, this time playing a corrupt judge in collusion with Taggert. Others such as Marshall Reed as a gunslinger have only brief parts but make the most of their short time before the camera. A standout performance is given by henchman Mikel Conrad. One wonders why his film career was so short-lived.

    The title actually has to do with the plot for a change. Determined to clean up Red Gap, Eddie becomes sheriff and demands that everyone check his guns while inside the town limits. Those who refuse must pay the price. Cleaning up Red Gap is not as easy as first believed. There are twists and turns along the way that make room for plenty of shoot-outs, gun plays, and one fisticuffs between Eddie and Mikel Conrad (Ace) that actually looks real with Eddie almost being bested by Ace.

    The love interest is provided by Nancy Gates as Cathy Jordan, whose father was killed by the Taggert gang and who now wants justice. Nancy was a beauty and does a rousing job at the end of the film helping Eddie sing the closing number.

    Even non-Eddie Dean fans should enjoy this one...that is those who like Saturday matinée fodder the way I do.
  • Only his ardent fans remember Bob Allen today, and they are becoming fewer all the time, but Bob Allen fit the part of a Saturday matinée hero, even his duds were somewhat outlandish compared with other movie cowboys of the times. Mainly in 1937, Bob Allen made six ranger films for Columbia: "The Unknown Ranger," "Rio Grande Ranger," "Reckless Ranger," "Ranger Courage," "Law of the Ranger" -this one, & "The Ranger Steps In." According to pundits of the genre, Bob Allen's fondest movie memories were of the Ranger series. And it's easy to see why.

    "Law of the Ranger" has all the traditional elements of a good budget western. The plot is a typical land-grabbing one with the mustachioed villain (John Merton) obviously enjoying his role. (His dastardly deeds are shown at the beginning of the movie adroitly edited with his image continually popping up to reveal to the audience the lead bad guy.) Bob Allen and his saddle pal, Wally (Hal Taliaferro), must stop the night riders led by Bill Nash (Merton)from taking over a key piece of land for water rights. Along the way, Bob Allen has time for dalliance with the daughter (Elaine Shepard) of the local crusading newspaper editor. All this leads to action aplenty that should please Saturday matinée fans.

    Of special note is the appearance of Hal Taliaferro, aka Wally Wales, as Bob Allen's sidekick, not really a comical sidekick in the traditional manner. Wally is more of a buddy in the saddle, but he is a superb actor and handles the part with ease, making it an enjoyable performance. Unfortunately, Hal Taliaferro's acting talents were basically ignored by the Hollywood establishment and he was relegated to playing bit parts (mainly as a bad guy)in budget westerns.

    Legendary cowboy character actors appear in the film that all fans will recognize. Tom London, later the sheriff on many-a Gene Autry TV show, plays one of Bill Nash's henchmen. Others include Slim Whitaker, Lane Chandler, & Bud Osborne.

    Bob Allen may not have succeeded as a cowboy hero, but his six Columbia ranger oaters are all worth seeing.
  • Roy Rogers deserved his title "King of the Cowboys." He was a singing cowboy who could really sing and act. Having started his career with the legendary Sons of the Pioneers, Roy (or Leonard Slye back when) could warble with the best of them and could yodel better than anyone around at the time, since the blue yodeler, Jimmie Rodgers, had passed on. The only rivals he had among the singing cowboys were Tex Ritter and, later, Eddie Dean. Roy has time for just one song in this Civil War horse opera, but he makes the most of it by adding a little romance - beautiful Pauline Moore, a former model, plays the woman who loves two brothers, one of them Roy. The other brother is played by the highly underrated, Milburn Stone, now known to all oater fans as Doc from "Gunsmoke." The conflict of good brother vs. bad brother is well handled by the two lead actors and by the script writers.

    One of the highlights of "Colorado" is the appearance of Gabby Hayes, who was always at his best when playing the comical sidekick of Roy Rogers. Unlike so many of the cowboy sidekicks in the low-budget westerns who generally appealed to the kids, Gabby's humor could make adults laugh as well. Roy & Dale (Dale had not yet entered the scene when this film was made in 1940) had a TV show on the Nashville Network during 1980's where they would show one of their old movies and then reminisce about it and life in Hollywood in general. On one show Roy told a story about Gabby which may have been apocryphal, but is still funny. Gabby was visiting with Roy and Dale when he looked out the window and saw a small boy sitting on the porch steps crying. Gabby went out to comfort the little tyke. "What's the matter, Buckaroo?" Gabby inquired. The boy looked up at Gabby. "I can't do what the big boys do," he sobbed. When Gabby heard this, he sat down beside the boy and began to cry too.

    The plot is an effective one with Roy, a federal agent, attempting to clean up parts of Colorado of secessionists posing as Union defenders. The Confederate sympathizers are led by Roy's own brother. When most of the Hollywood movies of the period, such as "Gone With the Wind," were promoting Southern interests (many of the early directors & producers had Southern roots), it's refreshing to see a Union slant for a change.

    Roy Rogers and Saturday matinée cowboy fans should enjoy "Colorado," one of Roy's early films that isn't shown as much on TV as some of his others, but should be. I saw it recently on the Encore Westerns Channel.
  • Almost all the episodes on "Lock Up" were better than most TV fare of the day or today. There were a few other forerunners of "Lock Up" that equaled the show, "Dragnet" in particular. One aspect of this show that makes it worthwhile watching is the writing of Robert Bloch, who made the audience terrified in the Hitchcock masterwork, "Psycho." He was at the height of his creativity when he penned "The Beau and Arrow Case." Another reason for viewing this particular episode is the watch a young James Best in action. Best has never got the recognition he deserves, ending up playing such one-dimensional characters as Roscoe P. Coltrane on "The Dukes of Hazzard." The case involves the victim being killed by an arrow being thrust into his back. Although the plot is somewhat predictable, "The Beau and Arrow Case" is still a well-written, well-acted mystery drama with a surprising chemistry between MacDonald Carey and character actor John Doucette.
  • This somewhat routine action/romantic comedy from the late 1930's is still entertaining and the action sequences keep the viewer from becoming overly bored with the love scenes between Warner Baxter (Hank Topping!), a news hound on the skids, and Alice Faye (Emmy Jordan), a lady on the run.

    The title is allegorical for several reasons including the on-going world dilemma concerning China and Japan, with the Chinese government being threaten from without and within. A curiosity is the partnership at the time between the United States and the Soviet Union with Alice Faye faining to be a Russian married to an American as a ruse to escape China.

    The film has one of the cleverest lines of the decade delivered I believe by an uncredited performer, Jonathan Hale, playing the Assistant Secretary of State. When asked about the consulate head, Uncle Sam Cady (played with typical élan by character actor, Charles Winninger), who was appointed by President McKinley and has had a transfer request delayed since 1912, Hale replies, "At least now we've found the forgotten man."
  • Ski competition in a department store in New York City? That's what this short is about and you'll have to see to appreciate the transition from outside ski slopes to the department store ramp, which is handled with skill.

    The plot of this musical comedy two-reeler is simple: A guy who sells sausages at the department store is enamored of a salesgirl who works down the aisle from him. Hoping to impress her, he takes ski lessons so he can win the competition. Sandwiched between the light comedy sketches are two delightful musical treats, "Girl Wanted," and, would you believe, "The Harlem Yodel!"

    The real stars of the show are the wonderful Dandridge Sisters, Dorothy Dandridge, Vivian Dandridge, and Etta Jones, each uncredited. The beautiful Dorothy Dandridge was to go on to a highly successful movie career including a nomination for the Academy Award for her role in "Carmen Jones," not long before her tragic death from a drug overdose.

    The title is derived from lame yet harmless attempts at slapstick humor, centering on Charles Judels as Schlitz and Chester Clute as King Winter who gets fake "snow in his eyes" when he attempts to introduce the competition. "Snow Gets in Your Eyes" came out over a decade before the popular hit tune, "Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes," dominated the nation's musical charts and thus is not a parody of that song but rather a pun on "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," from the 1933 musical, "Roberta."
  • One of the few films directed by multi-talented Mickey Rooney, "My True Story" is an entertaining programmer, with a top-notch cast doing the best they can with a somewhat hackneyed script that is predictable most of the way.

    What a wasted talent was Helen Walker. Her promising career was sunk by a traffic accident that involved the death of one of the passengers. In "My True Story," she gives a magnificent performance for such a low-budget entry. She is able to transform her character from a prissy, well-behaved model prisoner into a gun moll and then back into a good-hearted motherly type with such ease that the viewer longs to see her in a role more challenging to her acting abilities. Aldo Ray, who later suffered from many-a critic's barb, shows in his debut film that he was capable of much more than was asked of him. There is not a stinker in the crowd. Even the small roles are fleshed out.

    The worst aspect of this flick is its nondescript title. Why the producers and director Mickey Rooney settled on such an abomination is a mystery. The title alone would keep many a moviegoer away.

    The story concerns a setup in a small town by big-town hoodlums to heist a secret oil ingredient of an expense Parisian perfume kept hidden by the elderly widow of the concocter, the original formula having been lost. A parole is arranged for Ann Martin (Helen Walker) so she can get close to the old woman and uncover where the oil is kept. Though the rich old lady won't sell the oil in its entirety, she will parcel it out to a former paramour for $2000 a shot. The plot becomes complicated when Ann Martin falls for the local pharmacist who in turn seeks to romance Ann.

    As the old banjo player, Floyd Holland, used to say before performing, "If you don't expect much, you won't be disappointed." "My True Story" is worthwhile for the fine acting and to see how Mickey Rooney directs on a minuscule budget.
  • Obviously B-grade mass-consumption fodder from the likes of Sam Katzman and William Castle to cash in on the 3-D craze of the early fifties, "Jesse James vs. the Daltons" still has its moments. The story though presented in a somewhat mediocre fashion is intriguing: A man who has been told that he is the notorious Jesse James' son desires to find the truth and to verify the rumors that Jesse James is still alive, that the shot in the back while hanging a picture mythos was a ruse to get the Pinkertons off his back. He seeks to join the Dalton gang to learn more about Jesse, hearing that they are searching for loot stashed by Jesse while he was riding with Quantrill's Raiders. Along the way he joins up with Kate Manning, saving her from the hangman's noose. He does this because he has learned that she knows where the loot is hidden and that she and her father were confidants to Jesse. The film ends with the shoot-out in Coffeyville, Kansas, on October 5, 1892.

    The story is not as fanciful as it first appears. Jesse rode with Quantrill's Raiders in l863, the year Lawrence, Kansas, was burned by them. Jesse was sixteen at the time and old enough to father a son. To this day some believe that Jesse was not killed on April 3, 1882, that he lived to be an old man. His body was actually exhumed in 1995 to discredit the doubting Thomases and though the medical examiners determined that this was indeed Jesse's body and that he was shot in the back as told, there are still a few die-hard believers who refuse to accept the historical account. Also from the historical perspective, Joe Branch (Brett King) would have been the right age to give credence to his claims in the movie (had he been born in 1863 as explained in the film, he would have been in his late twenties on that fateful day when the Daltons rode into Coffeyville, Kansas).

    Another positive feature of "Jesse James vs. the Daltons" is the camera work by Lester White. When not having to gimmick up the screen with 3-D shots of objects flying toward the viewer, White is able to capture some effective angles such as the one where the riders are gently loping from afar down the plains toward the camera. The eye of the camera lingers on the vision for several seconds creating a livid picture of isolation and doom.

    There are also believable characterizations by many of the actors. Even if Bret King is a bit lame for the lead role--he would have been better suited for a second lead part--Barbara Lawrence does well as the leading lady. Best of all is the virtually ignored character actor James Griffith as Bob Dalton. Why Griffith never made it in Hollywood except in bit parts is a mystery. He could always be counted on to give a good performance. Rory Mallinson makes a good Bob Ford and the rest of the cast turn in acceptable portrayals. Of note is Nelson Leigh as a priest with a sense of humor, Father Kerrigan. Seldom in films is a man of the cloth shown in a lighthearted manner, making Leigh's role much more interesting than it otherwise would have been.
  • The transformation of Boston Blackie the jewel thief in the story by Jack Boyle in 1919 and in the early silent films to Boston Blackie the right hand of the law represented by Inspector Farraday in the TV series evolved over a thirty-year period, including fourteen top notch B films starring venerable actor Chester Morris as Blackie. On radio Morris reprised his movie role until it was taken over by Richard Kollmar. Ultimately, the fine actor, Kent Taylor, slipped comfortably into the part for television.

    All presentations of Boston Blackie, movies, radio, and TV, were well done by all concerned. The Television version was a popular early entry in detective oriented programs that held sway until demoted by the shoot-em-ups of the mid to late 50's.

    There were a few minor character changes: No Runt as in the Chester Morris flicks nor millionaire pal. A steady girlfriend, Mary, now played second lead; plus a pooch, in the manner of Asta, named Whitey was added, leading to a Thin Man persona for the series.

    Inspector Faraday came to be portrayed by Frank Orth, a buddy to Blackie, whereas Richard Lane's Faraday of the Morris movies tended to be at best a friendly enemy to him, always suspecting Blackie of being up to no good. Blackie's lifestyle was upgraded somewhat for television with Blackie driving around town in a snazzy convertible.

    The stories were tidy, fitting their half hour time slot gracefully with plenty of action. I watched the early episodes as a child and recall them to be as exciting as any on the tube at the time. A colleague of mine told me that she had a tremendous crush on Kent Taylor when she was a little girl. After watching a few of the restored shows, her bubble popped. Kent Taylor seemed to be a bit older than she remembered him and a lot less chivalrous. Nonetheless, Kent Taylor fit the part almost as well as Chester Morris, who remains the definitive Boston Blackie.
  • I saw "Stop!Look!and Laugh!" as part of a double bill when I was a teenager and found it amusing, but strictly for the small fry. Whether the viewer enjoys this picture or not depends greatly on being a fan of the Three Stooges and Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney. Even Three Stooges addicts will be disappointed with the disjointed nature of the editing culled from some of the Stooges best film shorts.

    Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney became TV's answer to the extremely popular Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy radio program. Though Winchell was a much better ventriloquist than Bergen, his humor basically was for the kids whereas Bergen appealed to a much wider audience, pleasing adults as well as children. So in this movie, Mahoney is presented as Winchell's little boy who hates school and uses all types of stratagems to stay home.

    The film has a major problem in making transitions from Winchell and Mahoney's comic routines to the archival footage featuring the Three Stooges. The transitions are at best forced and at times complete failures. The archival footage of the Stooges presents the goofy trio in much edited versions, sort of like a celluloid Reader's Digest. Still, the slapstick humor of the Stooges often rises above the sloppy editing to make the audience laugh.

    Never serious competition for Laurel and Hardy or the Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges could deliver the belly laughs at times, especially the original Moe, Larry, and Curly, with Curly turning out to be one of the best visual comedians of his day. Many of the scripts were well-written and the early shorts well directed. Unfortunately Curly's humor suffered in later years as a result of poor health. So rather than wasting your time on "Stop!Look! and Laugh!," rent "Disorder in Court," the Clark Gable parody, "Men in Black," or "A Plumbing We Will Go" to see the Stooges at their very best. If you're a fan of old-time slapstick you will certainly enjoy the Classic Stooges but may find "Stop!Look!and Laugh!" a bit disappointing.
  • This often neglected programmer is filled with suspense and mayhem aboard a fast-moving train and well worth a watch, even though the acting is often overwrought, a holdover from the silent film days when histrionics were sometimes necessary to compensate for the lack of sound. Being an early sound production, the dialog too is often stilted. But the crisp photography, at times reminding the viewer of a Hitchcock picture, and apt direction more than make up for the movie's shortcomings. Sometimes as exciting as today's action hits, especially during the runaway train sequence at the end, "By Whose Hand?" proves a winner all the way.

    Though Ben Lyon was a fine actor, he did much better as a second lead. He never had the charisma nor the looks to play top banana as he does in this film. The drunk played by Tom Dugan was probably a laugh riot to audiences in 1932 but by today's standards becomes a bit grating after a few minutes. Intended mainly for comic relief, the part should have been whittled down considerably. Otherwise, the casting is first rate with standout performances by the vivacious Barbara Weeks, the always delightful Dwight Frye, William V. Mong as a crotchety old man, and the versatile Nat Pendleton. The racial stereotyping that was rampant in Hollywood at the time is omnipresent, but if the viewer keeps an open mind this aspect is also tolerable.

    The plot involves a hotshot reporter, Jimmy (Lyon), who takes a train ride to scoop a story on Chick Lewis (Frye), the man who plea-bargained with the police and is therefore the target of an escaped killer, Delmar(Pendleton), who stabs his victims. And there are two steak knives missing from the kitchen! Jimmy accidentally meets Alice (Weeks) and falls madly in love with her (who wouldn't!). All the while the locomotive speeds full throttle toward San Francisco.
  • Perhaps more than any other coming-of-age angst film, this made-for-TV gem captures the fad-drenched arrogance and superciliousness of teenagers, pinpointing certain dangers that accompany such an attitude. It is the character of Lisa Harris (brilliantly portrayed by Tammy Lauren)that exudes this smart-ass front the best. Kim Fielding (Shawnee Smith) is putty in Lisa's hands as she is led down the road to perdition for the selfish motive of wanting a place for the night to rendezvous with her profligate boyfriend.

    This nifty little film has it all, thrills, chills, name it. Obviously much of the credit not only belongs to the superb cast, including the two Carradine brothers who play crazed brothers, but to the script by Cynthia Cidre, since both this TV flick and the earlier Joan Crawford "I Saw What You Did" (1965) are based on the same novel by Ursula Curtiss, not to slight the original William Castle production which itself is a fine addition to the horror genre. Yet this TV version goes beyond mere terror to a more thorough psychological analysis of what makes the main players tick. Even the smaller parts are more fleshed out than is usual for a TV show.

    The plot is a familiar one by now. Two bored teenage girls, alone except for one's pesky little sister, decide to make prank phone calls. As expected, they accidentally reach a mad man in the midst of a murder. One bad move leads to another until the mad man is hot on the trail of one of the girls. But director Fred Walton, of "When a Stranger Calls" fame, keeps the show moving at a fast pace and though the ending is not that unusual it still comes as a surprise and as presented is extremely effective.
  • Maybe "Wandering Here and There" should have been entitled "Wandering Aimlessly Here and There," for there is no rhyme or reason for the journey except to fill Americans with patriotic zeal for the crusade in Europe against the Nazis and the war in the Pacific to annihilate the Japanese warlords during the final months of that conflagration. Still, the camera work is breathtaking and narrator James A. FitzPatrick's voice as enthralling as ever, even with its nasal twang. The chosen spots are still interesting though time has wrought many changes since 1944.

    One of America's most noted natural wonders, Crater Lake in Oregon, one of America's most famous man-made sites, the world's largest open-pit copper mine in Utah, the boyhood home of one of America's most gifted authors, Mark Twain, in Hannibal, Missouri, on the mighty Mississippi, log rolling in the state of Washington, and the grand finale featuring a tour of Arlington National Cemetery highlighting the Grave of the Unknown Soldier with the apropos closing poem, "The Bivouac of the Dead," written by Theodore O'Hara in memory of the Kentucky troops killed in the Mexican War read with gusto by Fitzpatrick make up the contents of the film. Glorious Technicolor always made the Traveltalk series a step above what most moviegoers were used to seeing at the time.

    Though the World War II nimbus is now absent when watching the Traveltalk, the beauty and wonder of the five scenic vistas hold the viewer's interest and at times still tug a little on the heartstrings.
  • Of all the so-called adult westerns that hit the tube in the mid to late 50's, "Bat Masterson" was one of the best. Gene Barry played his historical character with just the right amount of seriousness and lightness to make what could have been a cardboard creation viable. "Adult westerns" back in those days when the TV west was young meant more talk and less action with stories that supposedly dealt with mature subject matter where characters were not just all good or all bad. In the "Bat Masterson" series, usually there would be a fair amount of action with Bat whipping the meanies with his cane and using his gun only when absolutely necessary.

    Another improvement in the TV western wrought by the "Bat Masterson" series was a weekly change of scenery (in reality, all the shows were shot on the same Hollywood lot), not just in Dodge City, Tombstone, or Abilene. "Incident in Leadville" is a good example. Leadville, now a Colorado tourist mecca, was then a silver mining town with its share of claim jumpers and bushwhackers.

    Bat rides into Leadville to clear his name. It seems that the lady who runs the local printing press, Jo Hart (Kathleen Crowley), has slandered Bat by lumping him together with notorious outlaws such as King Fisher, a cameo by the fine character actor, Jack Lambert. The local city boss, gambler Roy Evans, portrayed by future "Get Smart" chief, Edward Platt, also has an ax to grind with Jo Hart but wants to put her out of commission permanently. Evans decides to terminate Bat in the process, a notion not to the liking of the man with the cane and derby hat.

    The "Bat Masterson" theme song was an added treat, with catchy lyrics and a hummable tune.
  • Of all the so-called adult westerns that hit the tube in the mid to late 50's, "Bat Masterson" was one of the best. Gene Barry played his historical character with just the right amount of seriousness and lightness to make what could have been a cardboard creation viable. "Adult westerns" back in those days when the TV west was young meant more talk and less action with stories that supposedly dealt with mature subject matter where characters were not just all good or all bad. In the "Bat Masterson" series, usually there would be a fair amount of action with Bat whipping the meanies with his cane and using his gun only when absolutely necessary.

    Another improvement in the TV western wrought by the "Bat Masterson" series was a weekly change of scenery (in reality, all the shows were shot on the same Hollywood lot), not just in Dodge City, Tombstone, or Abilene. "Incident in Leadville" is a good example. Leadville, now a Colorado tourist mecca, was then a silver mining town with its share of claim jumpers and bushwhackers.

    Bat rides into Leadville to clear his name. It seems that the lady who runs the local printing press, Jo Hart (Kathleen Crowley), has slandered Bat by lumping him together with notorious outlaws such as King Fisher, a cameo by the fine character actor, Jack Lambert. The local city boss, gambler Roy Evans, portrayed by future "Get Smart" chief, Edward Platt, also has an ax to grind with Jo Hart but wants to put her out of commission permanently. Evans decides to terminate Bat in the process, a notion not to the liking of the man with the cane and derby hat.

    All the shows were similar in format. Fans could be assured of being entertained for thirty minutes. The "Bat Masterson" theme song was an added treat, with catchy lyrics and a hummable tune.
  • What should have been an exciting action flick filled with dynamic entertaining special effects turns out to be a complete bore with cheesy computer graphics that make many a B movie look big budget in comparison. Even the humor, which is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek of the "Lake Placid" variety, falls flat. The snake going for the penis elicits only a chuckle rather than the intended cackle. Ditto for the snake crawling around the fat woman's boobs inside her dress. The only scene that actually turns out as funny as intended is the bathroom scene where the couple getting it on are attacked by the reptiles. When the middle-aged woman hearing the commotion comments on the guy's virility but then retracts her statement when the believed orgasm comes to a deadly halt is well timed and works.

    Even the marvelous actor Samuel L. Jackson comes up short delivering a performance that is copied from his Jules Winnfield character of "Pulp Fiction" fame. What is appropriate for one film is not necessarily appropriate for another. He does play his part for laughs but the script and direction let him down.

    Perhaps the worst part of the movie turns out to be the snakes themselves, the ones who are supposed to be the stars of the show. The generic hybrids, not really rattle snakes, nor pythons, nor coral, or whatever, but computer generated freaks, appear more curious than scary. And what's with the ending? Hasn't that trick been used ad nauseam?
  • Today's movie fans used to media exploitation of any topical curiosity may find "Five of a Kind" boring, but audiences of 1938 eagerly devoured any current sensation such as the first recorded birth of quintuplets who survived infancy. I recall a calendar on the wall at my grandmother's house that featured the Dionne quintuplets posing after they had reached adulthood. Much has been written about the inhuman exhibition of the quintuplets as if they were freaks or circus animals. Even their own mother had to stand in line and pay to see them, although after lengthy court battles she eventually received custody of them. The Ontarian government reached a settlement with the surviving quintuplets in 1998. The 1994 TV movie, "Million Dollar Babies," is recommended for those interested in learning more about the Dionne quintuplets. Two of the quintuplets, Annette and Cecile, are still alive.

    "Five of a Kind" is one of four Hollywood movies released to capitalize on the Dionne quintuplets frenzy. The film is done in a light manner which helps when the oh-too-cute Dionne Quintuplets are before the camera performing as if they were spoiled and well adjusted to the media blitz.

    The story centers on the rivalry between roving reporter Christine Nelson (Claire Trevor) and radio reporter Duke Lester (Cesar Romero). In typical Hollywood fashion the two reporters find themselves attracted to each other romantically but their competitiveness interferes with their libidos.

    "Five of a Kind" is not unlike hundreds of such movies churned out in the 1930's, many of them starring the likes of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Yet the two leads, Claire Trevor and Cesar Romero, purport themselves well and prove to be a good match in comedic sparring. A bevy of character actors including Jane Darwell, Slim Summerville, and John Qualen add to the enjoyment with Jean Hersholt giving a believable performance as Dr. Dafoe, the man in charge of the Quintuplets and accused now by many as being the chief instigator of the exploitation of the girls.

    Following another story, Christine Nelson, stumbles on to the Dionne quintuplets by accident. Unfortunately for her, rival reporter Duke Lester is also on the scene. This leads to a cat and mouse game between the two with Lester sabotaging the efforts of Nelson to become a famous on-the-spot radio personality, an idea that she actually steals from him fueling his determination to undermine her fledgling career. Toward the end, the film takes a remarkably satirical turn spotlighting the travesty of the entire quintuplet game when Lester concocts a sextuplet scam to topple Nelson from her popularity peak.

    An added treat is the watching of a newsreel presented by Fox Movietone News, with legendary broadcaster Lowell Thomas narrating, by an audience coming to see the Dionne quintuplets at the movies. A later take of the Dionne quintuplets being viewed on the big screen via television makes it even more apparent that TV would have been with us much sooner had World War II not intervened.
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