Melody Ranch


1h 24m 1940

Brief Synopsis

With a longer-than-usual running time on original release and boooked and sold to the exhibitors as a "Gene Autry Special", which Republic would do once a year from 1939-1943 in order to get higher rates than on the regular series entries from the theatre owners. Hey, Jimmy Durante and Ann Miler cost more than Smiley Burnette and June Storey.This "special",(which alternates between tongue-in-cheek and for-real and hard to distinguish which is which since there was very little for-real in most of the fantasy-land settings Autry's Republic films were laid in), finds Gene returinmg to his hometown of Torpedo as guest of honor at the Frontier Days Celebraion, Once there, he encounters his childhood enemies, the Wildhack brothers (Barton MacLane, Joe Sawyer and Horace MacMahon in pecking order), now the local gangsters ( and playing it with relish.) The Wildhacks own a saloon next door to the school, and when their shooting and brawling endangers the safety of the children, Gene protests and threatens to expose them during his next radio broadcast. The Wildhacks stop the broadcast and beat Gene up. Gene, humiliated because Hollywood life has softened him to the extent that he can't hold his own against three assailants, decides to remain in Torpedo and get into shape again. He is encouraged by his friend Cornelius J. "Corney" Courtney (Jimmy Durante), and also by Pop Laramie (George Hayes), owner and operator of the local version of the "Toonerville Trolley." Since Gene refuses to return to Hollywood, his radio show now originates from Torpedo. Julie Sheldon (Ann Miller), a debutante with theatrical aspirations, sees Gene in his natural setting, and begins to take an interest in the cowboy she formerly scorned. Gene avenges himself against the Wildhacks by rounding them up, whipping them single-handed and forcing them to sing on his broadcast. Enraged, the brothers are determined to "get" Gene. He, in turn, runs for sheriff so he will be in position to clean up the Wildhack political machine and use can be made of the "Vote For Autry" song. During the battles that ensue, one of Gene's friends is killed. Gene finally obtains evidence which labels the Wildhacks as killers.

Film Details

Release Date
Nov 15, 1940
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Republic Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Republic Pictures Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 24m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Synopsis

Popular radio singing cowboy Gene Autry is honored by his home town of Torpedo with an offer to act as the honorary sheriff at the Frontier Day celebration. Gene is reluctant to accept the honor from his old friend, Pop Laramie, but his sponsor, Tommy Summerville, convinces him that the publicity will boost his audience. Gene and Tommy travel to Torpedo with announcer Cornelius J. Courtney, as well as Julie Shelton, Gene's radio co-star and frequent adversary away from the microphone. Back home, Gene arrives to find that the Wildhacks, three brothers who were his boyhood nemeseis, are now running the town. The inevitable confrontation between the boyhood enemies occurs when Bud Wildhack foolishly practices shooting in his brother Mark's saloon and shoots a bullet through the wall that separates it from the school house. When Gene, who is in the middle of the ceremony making him honorary sheriff, sees what happened, he confronts the Wildhacks and, in his capacity of honorary sheriff, arrests Bud. His attempt to send Bud to prison for the offense is foiled by corrupt judge "Skinny" Henderson, who does whatever the Wilhacks tell him. This so angers Gene that he decides to record his radio broadcast from Torpedo and include a sketch that features characters based on the Wildhacks. When Bud and his brother Jasper see what is going on, they grab the microphone and start to sing a song, then humiliate Gene by besting him in a fight. Before the program ends, however, Gene tells the audience to tune in again next week to see what happens when a softened radio cowboy learns how to take care of himself again. Under the guidance of Pop, Gene begins training and toughening himself at Pop's Melody Ranch, where Gene grew up. When the broadcast comes around the next week Gene has gotten the better of the Wilhacks and ties Bud and Jasper up while they sing a tune that Gene has written for them. The show is a success and the people of Torpedo are so impressed, that Pop asks Gene to run for the real job of sheriff and displace the corrupt current holder of the job. Gene then tells Tommy and Julie that he wants to stay in Torpedo. Tommy returns home, but Julie, whose antagonism for Gene has really been disguising her attraction for him, stays in Torpedo. On the eve of the election, Jasper and Bud ambush Gene, but kill his friend Slim instead. Realizing that if Gene wins the election they all will hang for Slim's murder, Mark decides to prevent the citizens from voting. In response, Gene rounds up the ranchers on horseback, while Pop's streetcar gathers up the rest of the townspeople and they arrive at the Wildhack's barricade. Although Mark has ordered his brothers only to shoot over people's heads, Bud wounds a man and a shootout among all of the men on both sides breaks out. Gene's side finally wins and, after admitting to Julie that he loves her, too, the two plan a life together in Torpedo.

Film Details

Release Date
Nov 15, 1940
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Republic Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Republic Pictures Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 24m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Articles

Gene Autry's Melody Ranch


Gene Autry, the master of the B-western stepped into the A picture class with Melody Ranch (1940), his biggest budget film, now available on DVD by Image Entertainment.

Made at the height of Autry's fame when he was the fourth-biggest box-office attraction in the country, Melody Ranch brought in big-name co-stars and a top-of-the-line production crew to create a 'special' to encourage exhibitors to book the full line of Republic Pictures. The result is something of a hybrid, a typical Autry western at times, at others a musical comedy with a sophisticated flair.

Gene Autry plays "Gene Autry," a singing cowboy on a Los Angeles radio show also called Melody Ranch. His major headaches are his sponsorship by a cold remedy called "Nose Posse" and a leading lady (Ann Miller) who is the producer's girlfriend. Made honorary sheriff of his hometown Torpedo, Wyoming as a ratings stunt, Autry finds the town run by a crooked boss. Hopes for a typical Autry righting-of-wrongs get dashed as the bad guys not only beat up Gene on his own radio show but also sing a parody of his signature tune "Back In The Saddle Again"! Can the singing cowboy shake off his big-city softness and clean up Torpedo?

On the regular Autry movie side are Autry and his horse Champion along with George "Gabby" Hayes and Autry's teenage singing discovery Mary Lee. The musical comedy side is headed by leading lady Ann Miller (Easter Parade, On The Town). Naturally, she gets a chance to show her famous tap-dancing skills, but Miller is also excellent as the film's primary love interest. Miller was mostly consigned to second-banana parts in many movies and Melody Ranch makes that seem a waste, as she is both funny and sexy. Why did she not get more romantic lead roles?

Replacing Autry's usual sidekick 'Smiley' Burnette is Melody Ranch's most offbeat casting, New York comedian Jimmy Durante (The Man Who Came To Dinner, It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World). This was a bit controversial at the time with Autry fans and Burnette quickly returned. Durante does a fine job in a Western setting and is well paired with a love interest provided by a ditzy schoolmarm played by Barbara Allen, known on radio and in Columbia film shorts as "Vera Vague."

Fans of good Western action may be a little put off by Melody Ranch as the comedy and romance are more dominant here than in other Autry films. There is an annoying tendency to cut away to Durante's comedy in the middle of action scenes. Nevertheless, the photography by Joseph August (Gunga Din, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame) is gorgeous and location scenes feature beautiful Western landscapes.

The image on this DVD could hardly be improved. In addition there are a fleet of extras including Autry and Pat Buttram's discussion of the movie from the 1987 Nashville Network airing of Melody Ranch, a half-hour radio play version, actor biographies, trivia and movie facts, production and publicity stills, production notes, poster art and lobby cards, original press kit material and home movie footage of a cross-continent flight taken by Autry's horse Champion at the conclusion of shooting.

Added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry of important American movies in 2002, Melody Ranch not only preserves the Western legend of the singing cowboy but also a point when country and western music and stars were in the mainstream of American entertainment.

For more information about Melody Ranch, visit Image Entertainment. To order Melody Ranch, go to TCM Shopping.

by Brian Cady
Gene Autry's Melody Ranch

Gene Autry's Melody Ranch

Gene Autry, the master of the B-western stepped into the A picture class with Melody Ranch (1940), his biggest budget film, now available on DVD by Image Entertainment. Made at the height of Autry's fame when he was the fourth-biggest box-office attraction in the country, Melody Ranch brought in big-name co-stars and a top-of-the-line production crew to create a 'special' to encourage exhibitors to book the full line of Republic Pictures. The result is something of a hybrid, a typical Autry western at times, at others a musical comedy with a sophisticated flair. Gene Autry plays "Gene Autry," a singing cowboy on a Los Angeles radio show also called Melody Ranch. His major headaches are his sponsorship by a cold remedy called "Nose Posse" and a leading lady (Ann Miller) who is the producer's girlfriend. Made honorary sheriff of his hometown Torpedo, Wyoming as a ratings stunt, Autry finds the town run by a crooked boss. Hopes for a typical Autry righting-of-wrongs get dashed as the bad guys not only beat up Gene on his own radio show but also sing a parody of his signature tune "Back In The Saddle Again"! Can the singing cowboy shake off his big-city softness and clean up Torpedo? On the regular Autry movie side are Autry and his horse Champion along with George "Gabby" Hayes and Autry's teenage singing discovery Mary Lee. The musical comedy side is headed by leading lady Ann Miller (Easter Parade, On The Town). Naturally, she gets a chance to show her famous tap-dancing skills, but Miller is also excellent as the film's primary love interest. Miller was mostly consigned to second-banana parts in many movies and Melody Ranch makes that seem a waste, as she is both funny and sexy. Why did she not get more romantic lead roles? Replacing Autry's usual sidekick 'Smiley' Burnette is Melody Ranch's most offbeat casting, New York comedian Jimmy Durante (The Man Who Came To Dinner, It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World). This was a bit controversial at the time with Autry fans and Burnette quickly returned. Durante does a fine job in a Western setting and is well paired with a love interest provided by a ditzy schoolmarm played by Barbara Allen, known on radio and in Columbia film shorts as "Vera Vague." Fans of good Western action may be a little put off by Melody Ranch as the comedy and romance are more dominant here than in other Autry films. There is an annoying tendency to cut away to Durante's comedy in the middle of action scenes. Nevertheless, the photography by Joseph August (Gunga Din, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame) is gorgeous and location scenes feature beautiful Western landscapes. The image on this DVD could hardly be improved. In addition there are a fleet of extras including Autry and Pat Buttram's discussion of the movie from the 1987 Nashville Network airing of Melody Ranch, a half-hour radio play version, actor biographies, trivia and movie facts, production and publicity stills, production notes, poster art and lobby cards, original press kit material and home movie footage of a cross-continent flight taken by Autry's horse Champion at the conclusion of shooting. Added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry of important American movies in 2002, Melody Ranch not only preserves the Western legend of the singing cowboy but also a point when country and western music and stars were in the mainstream of American entertainment. For more information about Melody Ranch, visit Image Entertainment. To order Melody Ranch, go to TCM Shopping. by Brian Cady

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Actress Barbara Allen, who frequently performed in films and on radio as Vera Vague, is listed in the onscreen credits as Barbara Allen (Vera Vague). According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, Republic planned to use this picture to boost Gene Autry into the first-run houses. Costing $500,000 to produce, it was Republic's most expensive Autry film to date. Modern sources note that a kissing scene between Autry and Ann Miller had to be shortened because of protests from Gene's fans. In the viewed print, Autry and Miller are shown about to kiss, then parting from kisses, but are not actually shown during the kiss. Modern sources include Ruth Gifford, Maxine Ardell, Jack Ingram, Lloyd Ingraham, Edmund Cobb, Billy Betcher, Art Mix, George Chesebro, Tiny Jones, Herman Hack, Jack Kirk, Merrill McCormack, Wally West, Frankie Marvin, Carl Cotner, Tex Cooper, Chick Hannon, Tom Smith, Jim Corey, Buck Bucko, Jane Keckley, Frank Hagney, Jack Montgomery, Joe Yrigoyen and Bob Wills' Texas Playboys in the cast. A modern source also notes that John Wayne has occasionally been credited with stunt work, but his participation in the film is doubtful.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1940

Released in United States 1940