Friday, 26 December 2014

Radio Ranch (1940)

Phantom Empire was a twelve part serial released in 1935.  It was the first starring role for Gene Autry.  Autry would go on to enjoy a 20-year career of playing himself on screens large and small alike.  I mean 'playing himself' quite literally: of his 99 acting credits on IMDB, I spotted only one where his role had a name other than his own.

Now it happens that Autry was also the original 'singing cowboy', a Hollywood phenomenon I have never previously understood, and which - after finally seeing Autry in action - I still don't.

This film is a cut-down version of the serial, and is sometimes also found under the title Men With Steel Faces.  Autry stars as a ranch owner who also runs a regular 'wild west radio show' with the help of his friends and a bunch of local kids who call themselves the 'Junior Thunder Riders'.  The show seems to be pretty popular, though it seems Autry is really bad at negotiating contracts.  As the film will tell us several times, if he ever fails to perform a live show, he will lose both his radio gig and the ranch.

Not that there is any risk of him missing a show, of course.  I mean, it's not like there is a secret subterranean civilisation nearby, whose Queen wants him dead, or anything.

Oh wait ...

Yes indeed, the secretive Munarians lurk below nearby 'Thunder Valley'.  Their Queen is deeply concerned by Autry's success and the fact it might bring other people to the area, so she wants him dead.  Because you know, a popular star vanishing overnight would attract no attention whatsoever.

Autry's life will also be complicated by unscrupulous treasure hunters who are looking for the Munarians.  But he does at least have his buddies and the kids to back him up.  I'm sure that will help when he's locked in the Death Room.  Or possibly the Room of Death.  The Queen seems fuzzy on the name.

This is a very light and silly bit of froth, galloping along as fast as the horses that naturally enough play a big role.  Much like Purple Death From Outer Space a few days ago, I enjoyed watching it (though frankly I could have done with less singing from Autry: he wasn't especially good at it, as far as I could tell).  Of course, also like Purple Death, I suspect that if you care about things like "acting", or "scripts that make sense", you won't appreciate it quite so much.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must dash - if I don't get back in time I'll lose the show and the ranch!

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