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Tuesday 2 June 2015

Burl reviews Ridin' on a Rainbow! (1941)

Yee-ha-ha, it’s Burl! Yes, I’ve got another oater for you, and, like Susanna Pass, it features a singin’ cowboy! Not Roy Rogers this time though, but Gene Autry, starring as himself, or rather as a guy named “Gene Autry,” in a picture called Ridin’ on a Rainbow!
Yes, Gene’s here, a-warblin’ his tunes, and his good pal Frog, played as ever by Smiley Burnette, is right thar by his side! Ha ha! Gene plays a rancher who persuades his ranching buddies to put all their money into the bank, which is then promptly robbed by two badmen and a clown! The clown escapes the bank by mixing in with the crowd, who somehow fail to notice an enormous harlequin in their midst! And of course Gene is left feeling badly for having helped lose all his friends their money!
The clown, played by prolific performer Byron Foulger from The Man They Could Not Hang, is part of a showboat ensemble which happens to be docked in town and conducting a parade! He’s not really a bad guy, just a little misguided, and his doting daughter, also a showboat performer, promises not to tell where he is! The badmen who cold-bloodedly shot down the old bank manager are the real bad guys!
Nevertheless, we have a clown on the run, which is a great scene because so rarely in these dime-book Westerns do we get to see a stagecoach pounding through the sagebrush with a Pierrot at the reins! He’s got the fuzzbuttons, the Elizabethan collar and everything! Ha ha! And this remarkable scene closely follows a mindbending showboat number with a holiday theme, such that, before the act is over, the stage is crowded with a clutch of Pilgrims, a cherub, a goblin, a demented Easter Bunny, and Santa! Ha ha!
Of course Gene and Smiley go undercover as entertainers as part of their campaign to catch the bandits! They seem a lot more interested in performing than in solving the crime, it must be said, but some time is also given to scenes of contrived drama wherein friction is created by having the other characters simply refuse to listen to what Gene is saying! He’s always right of course, and they should have listened to him and believed him!
Ridin’ on a Rainbow has a supporting cast of journeymen, of that there’s no doubt, with recognizable faces like Ferris Taylor from You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, Anthony Warde from Rear Window, and many others! I even liked the songs, except that holiday one and the title track, which really is a miserable ditty! Ha ha! But I enjoyed watching it, and found the relationship between Gene and Smiley to be the most compelling! Evidently it was spread across dozens of movies, and it would be interesting to watch them all and try putting their interactions into chart form, proving exactly what, I cannot say, but something noteworthy no doubt!
Anyway, Ridin’ on a Rainbow has some tapdancing, which I always love to see, and lots of great entertainment, and the showboat setting is novel for a Western, and the clown stuff is good for a chuckle! Give it a watch, why not! I give Ridin’ on a Rainbow two missing puffbuttons!

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