powered by AFI
Talent scout Sue Warner, who works for Paragon Pictures in Hollywood, is frantically searching for a Western singer to serve as the voice of Ding Dong Donkey, the studio's new cartoon character. Producer Jefferson Lang pressures Sue to look throughout the West, and she is accompanied by songwriter Nelson "Nellie" Bly. When Sue and Nellie arrive at Whispering Rock, Arizona, the locals line up to audition. Only cattle rancher Gene Autry is uninterested in the proceedings and instead concentrates on his cattle round-up, which he hopes will solve his financial difficulties. Gene does accompany his young ranch hand Jody to town, however, to encourage him during his audition. When Sue and Nellie hear Gene singing outside, they mistake Jody for the owner of the perfect voice they just heard, until Jody's off-key warbling proves them wrong. Dispirited, Sue and Nellie are leaving the next morning when they hear Gene singing as he rounds up his cattle. In her haste to find Gene, Sue stampedes the herd and Nellie is injured. Sue and Nellie then go to Gene's house, and after Gene spends a fruitless day trying to recover his herd, he returns home. Gene refuses Sue's offer of a job in the movies, but when she learns that he will now lose his ranch due to lack of funds, she persuades him to accept. Sue allows Gene to believe that he and his horse Champion will be starring in an authentic Western picture, but as time passes in Hollywood, Gene grows suspicious when he is asked to do nothing but record songs. Finally, Gene has only one more song to record, but he refuses to do it until he and Champion are filmed acting in a scene. To placate Gene, Lang's secretary, Miss Price, suggests staging a sequence in which Lang will serve as the director and Gene will act with Sue. The stage is set for the next day, but when shooting begins, the horses hitched to Sue's buckboard run wild and Gene rescues her for real. Lang gets the action on film, then records Gene singing his last song. Later, Paragon hosts a preview of the picture, and Sue is aghast to learn that Miss Price has invited Gene's friends, even though Gene is still unaware that he is the voice of Ding Dong Donkey. The cartoon is a success, but a mortified Gene storms out of the theater. Ashamed of how she has treated Gene, with whom she has fallen in love, Sue quits her job and follows him to his ranch. In order to test Sue, Gene makes her work as the cook, but Sue thrives on the hard work and makes her peace with Gene. Back at Paragon Pictures, Miss Price arranges for studio head G. W. Rhodes to view the footage of Gene rescuing Sue, and Rhodes demands that Gene be hired. Lang lies, stating that he already has Gene under personal contract, and asks Rhodes to finance a series of independent films, to be produced by Lang and starring Gene. When Lang and Nellie travel to the ranch, however, Sue refuses to help persuade Gene to re-enter show business. Gene comes in as they are talking and mistakenly assumes that Sue is working with Lang and that she has again been trying to trick him. Gene dismisses Sue without letting her explain and refuses Lang's offer of employment. Lang then goes to town, where Big Gulliver, a disgruntled former employee of Gene's, gets drunk with him and proposes to ruin Gene financially. Gulliver will then be able to buy Gene's ranch for a pittance, and Gene will be forced to work for Lang. The drunken Lang agrees to Gulliver's plan, which involves dynamiting the dam near Gene's grazing lands, but then forgets what he has done. As Lang struggles with a hangover the next day, he barely remembers his conversation with Gulliver, but Sue pieces together the information and warns Gene. Gulliver and his men blow up the dam, but through his quick action, Gene rescues most of his cattle, as well as Sue, who has come to help him. Later, the sheriff incarcerates Gulliver, while Gene saves Lang from arrest by stating that he was not really involved. With their quarrels forgotten, Gene agrees to star in Lang's musical westerns, and soon Lang presents the first picture, entitled Sioux City Sue , on which Sue acts as the associate producer.