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Image Entertainment presents
Melody Ranch (1940)

"Look at you now. You're soft. That's what comes from ridin' in high-toned automobiles, instead of ridin' the range."
- Pop Laramie (George "Gabby" Hayes)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: September 19, 2003

Stars: Gene Autry, Jimmy Durante, Ann Miller, Barton MacLane, Barbara Jo Allen, George "Gabby" Hayes, Mary Lee
Other Stars: Champion, Jerome Cowan, Joseph Sawyer, Horace MacMahon, Clarence Wilson, William Benedict
Director: Joseph Santley

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:24m:18s
Release Date: May 20, 2003
UPC: 014381399424
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BAA- B-

DVD Review

Gene Autry in the 1930s was churning out the Western musicals by the dozens every year for Republic. The quintessential B pictures, they were nonetheless hugely popular and Autry was one of the best-loved stars of the period. He also hosted a radio variety program entitled Melody Ranch. The two concepts are united here in Autry's first big budget picture, which was shot for the unheard-of budget of $500,000, which was pretty substantial in 1940.

Gene is performing on his radio program with sidekick Cornelius J. Courtney (Jimmy Durante) and the producer's girlfriend, Julie Shelton (Ann Miller). Pop Laramie (Gabby Hayes) and granddaughter Penny (Mary Lee) arrive to invite Gene to be Honorary Sheriff at the Frontier Days in Gene's hometown, Torpedo. At first reluctant, Gene is convinced to take his show on location by the producer, Tommy Summerville (Jerome Cowan). But the celebration is dampened by the brutal repression of the town by the gang led by Mark Wildhack (Barton MacLane). Roughed up by the Wildhacks and soft from his California radio stardom, Gene determines to toughen himself back up and run for sheriff of Torpedo. But the Wildhacks aren't about to take that sitting down.

This is certainly a timely theme, with the picture containing the most corrupt electoral shenanigans this side of Florida in 2000. The broader story expanse gives the themes a bit of a chance more to breathe, and the result doesn't just feel like a B with an extra 20 minutes tacked on. It certainly helps that the supporting cast is upgraded, with Durante taking the place of the passably serviceable Smiley Burnette (though to please the kids Gabby Hayes is still here doing his great Gabby schtick). More important is the replacement of a series of anonymous romantic interests by the luminous Ann Miller, who looks just terrific here. She also gets a dance sequence (tap, of course, for radio purposes). Autry is more generous in sharing the songs than usual, and actually sings only a couple himself, including the main title song.

Autry is in fine form, with an honest earnestness that not only plays off his usual roles but still giving it depth by taking some pretty severe abuse from the Wildhacks. The romance with Miller is handled well, with Autry being utterly clueless throughout most of the film; the climactic kiss is snipped out by demand of millions of 8-year-olds across America who angrily demanded that Gene only should be able to kiss his horse. The result is wholesomely entertaining without being silly, and on a more substantive basis making it clear that democracy involves danger and risk, a message that clearly contemplates the coming shadows of war.

The songs featured are the following:

Melody Ranch
Rodeo Rose
Torpedo Joe
We Never Dream the Same Dream Twice
My Gal Sal
Back to the City Again
(a funny taunting version of Autry's theme song, sung by the Wildhacks)
Call of the Canyon
What Are Cowboys Made Of
Vote for Autry

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full frame restored picture looks downright incredible. It's a little on the soft side, but detail is very nice. The restoration was very successful, since this is in gorgeous shape, with wide greys and good black levels. There's not much in the way of artifacting or aliasing. A textbook example of restoring an old film.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 English mono sounds practically flawless; it is exceedingly clean, without noticeable noise or hiss. For a 1940 movie, this is just incredible sounding. The dialogue is quite clear and the music generally sounds decent. Don't be looking for any bass, here, but there wouldn't be any in the source material either, so no points deducted there.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 9 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio show version
  2. Still, poster and lobby card galleries
  3. Production documents
  4. British press kit materials
Extras Review: A wide array of extras are presented here, beginning with the 1987 host segments from the Melody Ranch Theater showing of the film. Autry reminisces with Pat Buttram about Durante, Champion, and the cut of the kiss scene. A radio show adaptation of the film from December 29, 1940, starring Autry, Miller, Hayes, and Lee, provides a fun little condensation that really makes it evident how much the story benefits from the leisurely pacing.

But there's more, such as bios and filmographies for Durante, Miller, and Hayes, production notes, galleries (set to Gene Autry songs), pages from the British press kit, and color footage from 1940 as Champion boards an airplane for the New York premiere and becomes the first horse to fly from coast to coast! Short of a commentary from Ann Miller, it's hard to imagine much more being added to this disc.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

One of Autry's best (included on the National Registry), with a beautiful restoration and transfer, and some significant extras. Beautifully done.


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