Tuesday 18 October 2011

Under Western Stars/Rainbow Over Texas

Trigger Happy!

Under Western Stars 1938 USA
Directed by Joseph Kane

Rainbow Over Texas 1946 USA
Directed by Frank McDonald

Special screening as part of the Treasures of the
National Archive section of the London Film Festival.

You know, it’s a sad state of affairs but when you work full-time you end up not going to Film Festivals very often at all because... well, you got a day job.

Over the last couple of decades, since I was a carefree student on a degree course when the London Film Festival was a more “doable” proposition, my attendance to the festival has dropped off a fair bit and since I’m now mostly rationed to attending said festival on Saturdays and Sundays only, it means there was only one piece of programming I could go to this year that I really wanted to see and that was a double bill of Roy Rogers movies. Since absolutely nobody I know other than my dad (who prefers Gene Autry) is tolerant of early American Westerns, I ended up having to go by myself but it was definitely an event worth taking the solitary trek across London by rail and tube for.

The first one up in the double feature was a screening of a newly restored print of Roy Rogers first starring role (as opposed to bit parts and appearances under another name). I didn’t realise this before I’d turned up at the National Film Theatre, who were good enough to screen this for their punters in Screen 1, but luckily they’d also flown out restoration expert Robert Gitt of the UCLA Film and Television Archive in California to talk to us. The UCLA had built the restoration for us (with some heavy financial help – film preservation isn’t free folks – dig deep!) and, when I say built... I mean built!

Turns out that this new print of Under Western Stars was the first full length version to be seen in many decades, since the original version was chopped down to under an hour for TV broadcasts to ensure the timeslots weren’t jeopardised. A fair few sources were used to reassemble this print and some of those sources were severely compromised and the quality of the film does tend to jump between a few very noticeable states throughout the duration of the film. That being sad though, credit where credit is due and the restoration job was absolutely brilliant. There was nothing in any way unwatchable in the technical make-up of this movie, even in the few and far between “visually softer” passages.

And I have to say that I had a really good time with this one... especially since the only real reason I wanted to go to a Roy Rogers double bill in the first place is because I like Gabby Hayes... when I realised Smiley Burnett was on sidekick duties in this first movie instead of Gabby I let out a groan. As is happens though, I was much more taken with this movie than the second part of the program.

The story about water rights was strange enough to be interesting and Roy Rogers did resort to a little subterfuge at times... although it’s a quality I wouldn’t normally equate with such an upstanding pillar of the cowboy community. There was even an English fox hunt complete with obligatory fox hunty uniforms which looked well out of place in this kind of movie... much to my satisfaction.

A great little oater but the main attraction for me, and I drooled as soon as I saw the name in the credits, was the inclusion of Carol Hughes. This would have been exactly one year before she took over the role of Dale Arden, replacing the gorgeous Jean Rogers for the third of the Flash Gordon serials, Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe. Although I have always preferred Jean as Dale, I’ve always thought of Carol Hughes as the more sophisticated take on the character. That being said, however, in this movie she was acting more like Jean Rogers for most of the time... although to be fair, I don’t think she feinted or twisted her ankle once.

This was the longest version of the movie possible, but I did notice that in the trailer there were a few seconds which were quite noticeable as I thought it a bit of a mistake being that Roy was in his saddle and he shoots his gun while his four legged friend Trigger gave a bit if a start at the gunplay... but I was waiting for it to come up in the movie and I never noticed it. Doesn’t mean to say it wasn’t there, but my guess is that it was a hastily prepared trailer from rushes and the director just didn’t want that “horse flinching” in the film. This practice of eliminating sequences which were in the trailer continues to this day of course.

My dad always told me that Roy Rogers never got his hat knocked off in a fight. A popular myth from what I understand, as he certainly got it knocked off in one fight sequence here... although he hastily retrieved it and returned it to its regular perch. However, I did notice Roger’s hat take a tumble a second time in the long shot of a fight... it was somehow mystically back on his head when the shot cut to a close up though... so maybe he does have mystical hat wearing powers after all?

In between the movies, the BFI showed a Meet The Stars short from 1941. Entitled Meet Roy Rogers and directed/produced by Harriet Parsons, daughter of the famous Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons, the short dealt with a few minutes of footage of Rogers working on new stunts followed by a lengthy sequence showing Roy Rogers opening his cowboy apparel store (which, perhaps not surprisingly, didn’t do so well). Various famous colleagues dropped into the store to wish him luck, such as George “Gabby” Hayes and Gene Autry, and it also included lotsa singing and a running gag involving good luck horseshoes. This was a real joy to see.

The second of the two films, Rainbow Over Texas, was in more familiar territory for me in that both Dale Evans and “the ultimate sidekick” Gabby Hayes were both on hand and, although I didn’t quite enjoy this one as much as the first movie (hey, I prefer Carol Hughes, okay?), it was still pretty good fun with some comical hijinks as Roy and Dale attempt to deceive Gabby as to Dale’s mistaken identity and then Gabby and Dale try to deceive Roy as to Dale’s true identity... aw... maybe it’s better if you just watch it rather than I explain it. Consarnit!

What was also fun about this second one was yet more “talent spotting” as I noticed two of the cast of It’s A Wonderful Life were in it... I don’t actually know their names in real life I’m afraid but basically, the goofy little Bailey Buildings and Loans clerk who counts the money in and out had a small role and a slightly more villanous role was given to the guy who played Nick from behind the counter in the bar (“Get me, I’m giving out wings!”) so that was fun. And of course, Gabby Hayes bizarre manner of just stumbling around, in and out of trouble like he’s got a purpose is always the icing on the cake for these kinds of movies. Not a great film but... still one I’m gonna pick up if I see it on DVD somewhere.

So this one’s a very thorough recommendation and it’s with thanks to the BFI for taking a risk on showing these kinds of films in todays cowboy unfriendly environment and a special thank you to Robert Gitt, “the man from UCLA” for making the whole thing between films so entertaining and enlightening. It was a really special show and it’s whet my appetite again to get some more Roy Rogers films in on DVD sometime soon... or at least some more Gabby Hayes movies. Before I do that, though, I have to work my way through some of “Buster” Crabbe’s Billy The Kid movies... who is this “Fuzzy”?

The UCLA website can be found here... http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/
The BFI website can be found here... http://www.bfi.org.uk/


  1. Ha! I sat back and ate some popcorn and read as if watching these flicks with you and your running commentary. There is a commandment for western heroes: thou shalt not suffer someone to knock off your hat. So while the early ones lose theirs by accident and magically get it back again, later cowboy heroes lose their shit if they lose their hats. Imagine knocking off Woody Strode's hat. Or Clint Eastwood's. I bet ya quailed in your boots just then.

    Thanks for going to the showing and sharing!

  2. Ha! Thanks for stopping by Bucko.

    Yeah... I'd never thought about that but you're right... it became an "issue" as we got into... what? Late fifties/early sixties?

    Really good to hear from you again and thanks, as always, for the kind words.