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Image Entertainment presents
Valley of Fire (1951)

"If you don't want law and order, no one's going to shove it down your throats."
- Tod Rawlings (Harry Lauter)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: March 09, 2005

Stars: Gene Autry, Champion, Pat Buttram, Gail Davis
Other Stars: Russell Hayden, Christine Larson, Harry Lauter, Terry Frost, Barbara Stanley, Teddy Infuhr, Marjorie Liszt
Director: John English

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:03m:27s
Release Date: February 22, 2005
UPC: 014381231625
Genre: western


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C- C+BB+ B+

DVD Review

There's nothing like a gold rush and a sudden boom town to create an atmosphere of complete lawlessness. Eventually, however, civilizing influences creep in, though those who stand to profit from the general disorder will do what they can to stop it. Such is the background of this 1951 western starring Gene Autry, set in the days of the California gold rush.

In 1850 boom town Quartz Creek, gambling house operator Tod Rawlings (Harry Lauter) is determined to keep things wild and woolly, and does what he can to prevent a mayor from being elected. But thanks to Gene, the election goes ahead and Autry himself is elected mayor. In the interests of cleaning up the town, his sidekick Breezie (Pat Buttram) is appointed sheriff. Gene hits on the one foolproof method of civilizing a wild town: importing a crew of women as brides. But Rawlings won't give up that easily, and concocts a plan to kidnap the young women.

Aside from the unsavory implications of Rawlings' plan, this is an entertaining enough little period jaunt. There's plenty of action, including several fistfights and a fair amount of gunplay, though of course no blood. Fans of Gene's singing might be a mite disappointed since there are only two songs (the humorous if crude Here's to the Ladies and the standard On Top of Old Smoky). The supporting cast is pretty good; Lauter makes for a fun if over-the-top villain who just stops short of twirling his moustache. But on the whole, it works since his character, determined to keep anarchy and corruption going, is plausibly evil for evil's sake. Christine Larson makes an impression as Bee Laverne, the dance hall hostess who loves the romantic lead, the treacherous Steve Guilford (Russell Hayden).

This was the seventh of fourteen features Gene made with Gail Davis, though they don't interact all that much in this film, due to the demands of the storyline. Buttram is more entertaining than usual, displaying plenty of comic relief while still being competent in the role of the sheriff. There's also a particularly humorous finale that works quite well for a satisfying experience.

The weak point is really Autry, who looks rather ill in several scenes. Some indications of just how short a shoestring this was shot on are found in his screwups; on several occasions he refers to Buttram as Panhandle, the character he plays in several other entries in the series. But either no one noticed or there was no money in the budget for a second take; neither one reflects terribly well on the production. The not-always-reliable IMDB indicates a running time of 70 minutes for this feature; if that's right, there's nearly a reel missing here.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame image looks impressive for the most part, with a restoration having cleaned up nearly all the nicks and speckles one would expect from a 50-year-old zero-budget western. The greyscale looks fine, and little artifacting or other problems was noticeable, although a few sequences seemed a little dupey. There's not a lot of fine detail, but it'sanother attractive enough entry in the series.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 sound is similarly well cleaned-up, with little hiss or noise to affect one's enjoyment. Range is reasonably good, and if digital noise reduction was applied it was done carefully and doesn't seem to have audibly impaired the original. Beyond the natural limitations of period mono, there are no significant problems.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 2 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio show
  2. Still, poster and lobby card galleries
  3. Presskit
Extras Review: The standard cornucopia of extras found on other volumes in the Gene Autry Collection appears here. The Melody Ranch Theater segments from 1987 with Autry and Buttram (9m:37s) are here, though Pat does all the heavy lifting since Gene doesn't seem to remember this movie at all (possibly another indication he was seriously ill during the filming). There are two trailers, the US and Swiss versions (though the Swiss one is just the US trailer with subtitles slapped on), Gail Davis and Pat Buttram bios and filmographies, an action clip from Davis' Annie Oakley television series, a still gallery with about 80 shots, as well as another gallery with a poster and a full set of lobby cards. A Variety review of the film from November 1951 and the presskit round out the package.

As is the case with other DVDs in this ever-growing set, there's a full program from Autry's Melody Ranch radio show, but this is a particularly special episode. It's the 12th anniversary show, and Gene sings many of his hits from over the intervening years between 1939 and January 5, 1952, such as South of the Border, Sioux City Sue, Deep in the Heart of Texas and others, plus many other greats, from the period including Don't Fence Me In, Buttons and Bows, Ghost Riders in the Sky and Cold, Cold Heart. It's a hugely enjoyable retrospective of Gene's singing career and practically worth the (cheap) price of the disc all by itself. By far the best of these programs that has been included on this series of DVDs.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

An adequate period piece with some decent action, nicely restored. There's the usual assemblage of extras, but the radio show on this DVD is a must-have for Autry fans.

 


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