"There's more'n one thing about this house that don't sit quite right with me."
I suppose most TV series went for something off the beaten path at least once. Here a classic Western tries a mystery/suspense episode with nothing distinctively Western about it, set almost entirely in an elaborate Victorian mansion. Betsy Garth has been invited back to the home of her friend who died in a fire two years ago. Randy, who drives her from Shiloh, is also forced to stay by an approaching storm despite ominous hints that he is not welcome - a fortunate circumstance, as it turns out, since he seems to be the only one who entirely keeps his head during the ensuing spooky evening. In a classic mystery set-up, Mrs. Brynmar (Jane Wyatt) has also invited the other three friends (Brooke Bundy, Mark Goddard and Tom Skerritt) who were present the night of the fire, and we learn that she believes one of the four was responsible for her daughter's death and intends to find out who it is.
It's a nice little mystery, with a limited field of suspects and the usual red herring. (The only minor plot hole I noticed involved the letter; the script doesn't make it quite clear whether it ever reached its intended recipient two years before, or how it came to be where Randy found it.) The storm raging outside and sinister servants, strange noises and odd incidents indoors all add to the atmosphere. Agatha Christie it is not, nor is it film noir that makes you look behind the door after watching it, but it's a fairly intriguing and suspenseful episode and makes for pleasant entertainment.
A good solid episode of a Western, and family-friendly at that. Old Henry Squires (Andy Clyde) and his young grandson (Ricky Kelman) are passing through Dodge City on a mission to purchase some expensive cattle and take them back to Texas to improve their herd. A particularly vicious outlaw leader, Lou Silva (John Kellogg) has his eye on the valuable livestock, but as part of a bigger robbery plot that involves murder and some cold-blooded double-crossing of his own henchmen...but his victims may not be as defenseless as they appear. Clyde is particularly good as the kindly old man whose good-natured manner may hide more wit and nerve than even Marshal Dillon gives him credit for, and so is Kelman as his very cute and equally plucky grandson. The Gunsmoke regulars have fairly little to do, but of course get in on the action at the well-wrapped-up conclusion.
Although it's meant to be a sequel to 'Three Smart Girls,' this film starts out with a clean slate, so to speak - we have the same family but there's no references to anything that happened in the earlier film, and to make way for the older sisters' romantic woes, their charming original love interests are completely out of the picture. The plot is entertaining, but seems just a trifle improbable in places - it may be only my personal opinion, but the sisters seemed to match better with the men Deanna originally tries to set them up with before the mix-ups begin! The scene during the wedding preparations bothered me a little bit too - why does no one have the nerve to call it off if they know they're not going to be happy? The brightest spot in the film is Robert Cummings, all of whose scenes just sparkle. He has great chemistry with Deanna, and some wonderfully hilarious scenes with the family butler. Charles Winninger as the father is also uniformly enjoyable throughout. Helen Parrish is a little bit subdued as the middle sister, but she has one very touching scene in which she tearfully advises her younger sister on not hiding her feelings for someone lest she lose him. It's a nice way to spend an hour or so and of course the musical numbers are great, but in my opinion the original 'Three Smart Girls' remains far superior.
'Sunset Serenade' is a film of simple and snappy plot, one of Roy's most entertaining films from this period because what there is of it is done so well. Crafty rancher-villain Onslow Stevens, aided by Joan Woodbury, is up to the old land-grab trick, hoping to swindle an infant out of his recently inherited ranch by convincing his innocent guardian Sylvia Clark (Helen Parrish) that it is worthless. Enter a bunch of resourceful (and hungry) wandering cowboys, portrayed by, naturally, Roy Rogers, George 'Gabby' Hayes and the Sons of the Pioneers. They decide to throw in with Sylvia and spend the rest of the film matching wits with the villains in order to hang onto the ranch. The real treat is the full half-dozen songs they perform along the way as only they could - a highlight is the lyrical 'A Sandman Lullaby,' in a nighttime scene that provides, I suppose, the film's title. And then when the player piano gets banged during the free-for-all saloon brawl...well, you can guess what happens next. Only in a Roy Rogers movie! There's also a very funny subplot involving the Pioneers' efforts to keep greedy Gabby from hogging everybody's dinner, which leads to the best laugh of all in the film's final seconds. 'Sunset Serenade' would be an excellent movie to watch as an introduction to the singing cowboy genre; it shows how this type of film works in great style.
'Sons of the Pioneers' is not actually about the Sons of the Pioneers, more's the pity; the title is more in the nature of a hat-tip with a very loose connection to the plot: Roy is the son and grandson of famous lawmen after which his hometown was named. The Pioneers are on hand, of course, but if you blink in the wrong places you might have a hard time spotting them - it's Roy's movie all the way.
When lady rancher Louise Harper (Maris Wrixon) demands a new sheriff to replace George 'Gabby Hayes,' who hasn't been able to catch the night-riders burning down local ranchers' barns, Gabby gets the inspiration to bring Roy out from the East where he grew up to follow in his ancestors' footsteps. Roy decides to play on the townspeople's perception of him as a cowardly tenderfoot in order to lull the villains' suspicions while he investigates surreptitiously and "scientifically." He's helped and hindered by Gabby and his deputy Pat Brady, who provide loads of comic relief, notably Gabby's juggling bottles of nitroglycerin and a very funny scene in which they believe they've seen a ghost. Bradley Page is the villain who spends most of his time chewing out henchmen Hal Taliaferro, Tom London and Jack O'Shea for muffing repeated attempts to put Roy out of commission. Bob Nolan, the only Pioneer besides Brady to get some decent screen time, has few lines but is on hand in the understated part of Louise's faithful ranch foreman. Maris Wrixon, whose character doesn't really fit into the traditional love-interest pattern, makes a lovely and spirited heroine and you wish she actually had more scenes.
Maybe she did. Unfortunately this is one of the handful of Roy's movies whose original full-length print has gone missing. At least two songs were cut (you can easily spot where the number "Come And Get It" was excised from the opening scene) and probably some more footage - I once saw the original trailer which included a scene of Roy making a speech during the sheriff's election campaign. The remaining songs, of course, are naturally excellent. It's a fun film with an interesting premise and characters, some good action scenes and plenty of comedy.
Don't be fooled by the slightly silly-sounding title - 'Romance On the Range' is one of the very best of Roy Rogers' films from the early '40s. There's nothing terribly unusual about the plot, but all of its elements - tight scripting, great cast, good direction, beautiful cinematography and excellent music - come together in just the right way to make it a solid and entertaining B-Western.
The villains in this instance are fur thieves looting the traps on the ranch where Roy, Gabby Hayes and the Sons of the Pioneers work as foreman, camp cook and cowhands, respectively. Roy & Co. take a personal interest when another cowhand (noted stuntman Henry Wills in an uncredited bit part) is murdered after stumbling onto the gang at work. Meanwhile, the ranch's absentee owner (Linda Hayes, in the best of her three roles opposite Roy) also takes an interest in the case and decides to come West incognito to do some investigating of her own, posing as a friend of her excitable maid Sally Payne, who coincidentally has been corresponding with ranch hand Pat Brady through a Lonely Hearts club.
The good guys take the requisite amount of time to realize who the bad guys are, leaving plenty of room for fun, mishaps and music along the way. George 'Gabby' Hayes is at his very best as the cantankerous ranch cook, especially in one absolutely hysterical sequence where he tries to scare the girls away from the ranch by playing on their fear of wild animals. There's also an exceptional line-up of villains in this one - besides brains heavy Edward Pawley we have Glenn Strange, Roy Barcoft, who provides a humorous running gag with a taste for sleight-of-hand and tricky 'gadgets,' and an especially nasty Harry Woods. As the icing on the cake, Roy and the Sons are in fine voice, performing five outstanding musical numbers, of which the highlight is the irresistibly toe-tapping showstopper 'Sing As You Work.' Altogether, a must-see for fans of Roy's, B-Western enthusiasts or just anyone who likes a fun and well-crafted little film.
All of Roy Rogers' films were later edited down to about 55 minutes for TV, and many of the original full-length prints have never been recovered. Most of the shorter films still 'work' although much of the music and comedy (often the best parts) were excised, but "The Man From Music Mountain" suffered a mangling at the hands of the editors. It's missing not only songs but sections of plot, leaving holes and odd bits of dialogue referring to things that don't happen in the film. What's left are enough scraps of plot to hang together, some very entertaining comedy scenes, and some of the most gorgeous mountain scenery ever featured in a Roy Rogers picture.
The plot is slightly similar to the later "Roll On Texas Moon," featuring a sheep/cattle feud instigated by a villain (Paul Kelly) with ulterior motives. This time around Roy and sidekick Pat Brady go undercover to investigate, helped and sometimes hindered by sharp-tongued heroine Ruth Terry, her kid sister with a crush on Roy (Ann Gillis) and their grim and dry-witted housekeeper Renie Riano. As the subordinate villains Hal Taliaferro is dependable as usual, while Jay Novello is average in a slightly less entertaining part than the colorful character villains he played in some of Roy's other films. The Sons of the Pioneers are on hand to help round them up, but it would appear that most of their scenes were cut.
There is some music left and of course it's good; Roy sings a short but sweet serenade and the Sons of the Pioneers render a tantalizingly brief excerpt from "Song of the Bandit," one of Bob Nolan's best songs. Taken all together it's an enjoyable little western that could probably be a whole lot better in its original form.