Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"Boots and Saddles" with Gene Autry

(This was previously posted on 10/3/03. I have made a few changes.)

Boots and Saddles (1937) – Gene Autry plays the manager of a ranch owned by a British nobleman. When his Lordship passes away the land is bequeathed to his only son, Edward (played by Ronald Sinclair, later to give up acting to become a film editor), who is only about 12 or 13 yrs old. Arriving in America the young lord is ready to sell his father’s ranch, until Gene convinces him that it would be better to preserve his father’s estate by selling horses to the Army, thereby paying off any debts.

Not one of Autry’s best films, but he certainly did lesser fare in his long career in the saddle. As a kid I usually preferred non-singing cowboys, but Autry (like Roy Rogers) always seemed to be on the air, so I grew fond of him. Personally, Autry always struck me as a singer who learned how to ride a horse, but never seemed a ‘real’ cowboy and he never really convinced me that he was even comfortable out on the range. Still I find that I enjoy his films when I get a chance to view them. With their action and humor it’s easy to see how kids, and even adults, would warm to the star and his films.

Of course things never go smoothly in these things and Autry finds himself in competition with an unscrupulous horse trader who wants the Army contract for himself. As usual, Gene finds time to sing a few songs and even to get involved with some tricks involving his horse Champion. Of note here is Bill Elliot (listed as “Gordon Elliot” in the credits) in a small role. Elliot went on to play first “Wild Bill Saunders”, then “Wild Bill Hickok” and eventually “Wild Bill Elliot” in several western series during the 1940s into the mid-1950s. Elliot is perhaps best known for his role of “Red Ryder” (in which he co-starred with a young Robert/Bobby Blake as Little Beaver, his Indian companion) a series of movies based on the comic-strip character (created by Fred Harman). Elliot’s career began in silent movies (often as an uncredited extra) and ended in the late-1950s when he played a Los Angeles sheriff’s department detective in a series of films.

Gene’s sidekick in this film (as in dozens of others) is Lester “Smiley” Burnette, who teamed up first with Gene and later Charles Starrett in the ‘Durango Kid’ series. Burnette also wrote and performed country western/cowboy songs, meeting Autry while the entertainer was touring and becoming part of his backup group.

The Autry films are pretty predictable and you know that they will end with Gene getting the girl or just riding Champion and singing. They are harmless fun for a quiet afternoon, which is of course, what they were meant to be.
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