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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Gene and Westerns Wind Down


On Top Of Old Smoky (1953) Plays a Familiar Tune

Gene Autry about done in with features, traveling and television by now preferred modes for peddling merchandise that was his personality and song. We see paunch developing --- if earned millions won't permit a good steak and bottle, what's the point? Note increasing role of Smiley Burnette in these later Genes ... was the sidekick so often singing a welcome thing? May-be it was contractual condition of Burnette participating, or perhaps Autry liked time off that Smiley at center stage allowed. Some will say that GA on TV was actually faster and more satisfying than his movie stuff. I've not done enough comparing to say. The features had been produced by Autry since soon after the war and released by Columbia. He'd do them handsome enough to rise above fray of other B westerners --- points of pride, I guess --- but the Autrys aren't necessarily better than westerns on fade at Republic, where Rex Allen was pulling last round-ups. On Top Of Old Smoky was wrapped for a song, literally ($50,201.52 according to Boyd Magers' excellent Autry book), and figuratively (the title tune another hit that sold platters and sheets). Villainy is obscure here; just street bullies for Gene to conk out. Too bad I was born too late to see these things theatrically. On Top Of Old Smoky has played on Retro HD, a big enhancement to an already well-preserved title.

8 Comments:

Blogger Mike Cline said...

I don't dislike the Autry westerns, but I'd rather watch a HOPPY or ROCKY LANE anytime.

10:40 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I actually like these films but what I never enjoyed about them was Smiley Burnette's performance. Sidekicks are very important in film and I actually have seen many that are so good that they are virtually co-stars. Yet, Smiley Burnette was always an annoying presence in every one of the films in he appeared, as a sort of excuse to go away as long as he is present, fast forward or cut moset of those scenes.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

My own guess is the tipping point came when you couldn't tell a B western from a TV western. The theatricals got a bit cheaper, the television shows got a bit slicker, and in any case you had a lot of the same people before and behind the camera. Looking at the early Hopalongs and Republics, you see more locations and production, even if they're still definitely Bs.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Burnette had been wished on Charles Starrett's series at Columbia, and got co-star billing on the posters if not on the films. When Starrett!s final contract lapsed in early 1952, Burnette was still on the payroll and made the first of a new series starring Jock Mahoney. Only the one film was made before Columbia pulled the plug on program westerns and shelved the Mahoney-Burnette feature. Burnette was then reassigned to Gene Autry.

I mention all this because the poster you're showing of ON TOP OF OLD SMOKY bills Burnette WAY down from his usual prominence, making me wonder if Burnette had offended Harry Cohn or another decision maker at Columbia.

7:37 AM  
Blogger MikeD said...

Add the RKO Tim Holts to the list of B westerns with good production and locations (when they're not at RKO's Encino western town). Richard Martin's 'Chico' and his skirt chasing do sometimes go over the top.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

If paunches were bad in Westerns, Rio Bravo wouldn't be the greatest movie ever made.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Kinda like Smiley, at least in the pre-war films. And I do prefer the early Autry entries from the thirties when the formula was a little fresh, even exotic. Watching them back to back, it's a kick seeing Gene try so hard to nail things: his riding gets better, he starts to do more stunts, and his acting loosens up a little.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

As a kid I saw THE PHANTOM EMPIRE on TV. Loved it. That is about all the Autry I got.

8:02 AM  

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