Rex and Slim ride together for the first time
He said he tried to be different but to be brutally frank, he wasn’t. “I didn’t want anybody to say, ‘Well, he’s copying Roy Rogers’ or ‘He’s copying Gene Autry or ‘He’s copying Hoppy’. So I purposely looked for a horse that was different, that no cowboy had used — I turned my guns around backwards, and didn’t know for two years that Bill Elliott did it, too. I just didn’t want to be accused of copying anybody else, so I tried to go in as opposite a direction in everything that I could.”
As for Slim, what a great Western actor he was. I have written about him elsewhere (see index) but now, just to say he was an ex-rodeo clown (a dangerous and skilled profession) who had a real comic talent, though he could also play straight Westerns roles supremely well. Apart from appearing at one time or another in episodes of pretty well every Western TV show you care to name, he also did 55 feature oaters, from 1946 on (this was his fourth) and was highly memorable in all of them. He threw himself with gusto into the role of Rex Allen’s sidekick and gave some much-needed fun and zip to the series.
Ten of the dozen Rex/Slim series were directed by William Witney, including this one (Harry Keller helmed a couple) and Witney we know was a real vet. He’d worked on serials at Mascot through the early 30s and when in 1935 Mascot along with other small studios merged into Republic he came into his own. He and his colleague John English churned out fast-paced actionful oaters, especially good on chases and fights (and there are plenty of both in Colorado Sundown). Witney wrote two entertaining memoirs, In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase and Trigger Remembered.
Despite studio boss Herb Yates’s famed penny-pinching there some attractive San Bernadino National Forest locations (though much padded out with stock footage from previous movies). Of course it’s just a typical low-budget one-hour black & white oater but it is done with energy and pzazz.
The plot owes more than a little to Gene Autry’s 1949 Columbia picture Riders of the Whistling Pines. It’s a logging story (Hollywood liked those) in which two unscrupulous and crooked lumber company owners, very well played by June Vincent and Fred Graham as the Hurley siblings, want to fell all the timber around to make money, faking an excuse that the trees are infected, even though the deforestation will cause flooding and natural disaster. Like Whistling Pines, the movie is quite eco for its time. Slim has inherited a ranch which the wicked Hurleys covet (it’s well stocked with timber) but he is surprised to learn that the Hurleys, and also the glam Jackie Reynolds (glam Mary Ellen Kay, third billed after Rex and Koko), the deceased owner’s great-niece, are also co-heirs.
Slim and Jackie are more than ready to get along and share but of course the evil Hurleys will have none of it. They want it all and will stop at naught (naught, I say) to get it. Rex has come along with Slim to Colorado from Texas to make sure he’s not defrauded or cheated out of his inheritance. Luckily.
Jackie is accompanied by a large ‘Negro’ maid, Mattie, for more comic relief. It was OK in those days. Mattie is played by Louise Beavers, who was condemned to many such roles and she would in fact be Clover the housekeeper in Rex’s TV series Frontier Doctor. Mattie also has a companion, Manhattan, a scruffy white mutt, and the horrible Hurley will shoot him. Luckily he will recover. Phew.
Of course Rex rides his chestnut Koko. Koko was second-billed in the cast list, as had become the norm with the nags of other cowboy stars, and is called “The Miracle Horse of the Movies”, although he doesn’t do anything special or miraculous in this movie, just carts Rex about (at some speed). “Champion the Wonder Horse” and “The Smartest Horse in the Movies” (Trigger, of course): Rex had to have his own. Koko has his own page on IMDb (fair enough) and we are told:
There are, naturally, several songs. Even Slim joins in one. The lead singers, Rex and Mary Ellen, are backed by The Republic Rhythm Riders, in their cinematic debut. Pine Valley Stage is chirpy and Under Colorado Stars romantic. There’s a stirring version of Down by the Riverside as the boys labor to pile sandbags to shore up the levee. Rex had a nice voice.
Harry Harvey is the local doc, Russ Conway is a forest ranger poisoned by the wicked dame, and even Rex Lease gets a bit part (he was down to bit parts by this time) as Rancher finding dog (uncredited).
There’s much skullduggery but of course Rex and Slim save the day. Slim has promised his late lamented ma that he will never fight, and he carries a picture of her which comes to life and talks to him (it is of course Slim in drag) but luckily, before the final bust-up she absolves him of the promise so that Slim may participate fully in the fisticuffs.
There’s also a bit of business with a goat butting backsides (chiefly those of Mattie and Slim).
The whole thing is harmless fun, and by no means the worst of the singing-cowboy dramas.
It was followed by The Last Musketeer, with a similar cast, the following month, which, you will doubtless be THRILLED to learn, we haver also reviewed.
You don't get so many comments about these 'B' (or series) westerns, apart from Yours Truly, Jeff. I grew up on these and still find them entertaining in their special way.
I rate the two best singers in musical westerns as Eddie Dean and Rex Allen. Rex had a pleasing personality in these films and Koko was an exceptionally good-looking horse.
The films I rate highest in the Allen series are the five he made with Buddy Ebsen as his sidekick from "UNDER MEXICALI STARS" (1950) to "UTAH WAGON TRAIN" (1951), although Slim made a good fist of his role from the film under review onwards. Because most of them were directed by Bill Witney they were all among the best of their type.
So, this reader is personally enjoying your current reviews a whole lot.
Yes, only a very select few have the good taste to appreciate these artworks.
Me and thee, for example.
This is one I need to see, I loved June Vincent in BLACK ANGEL (1946). I don't comment often but want you to know how much I enjoy your write-ups (and Jerry's comments, too!). They expose me to some interesting new-to-me titles to check out. Thanks much.
Glad to have you, Laura.
You have a good blog!