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Mammoth Pictures star Tom Ford decides to go on vacation, but the studio's press agent Wilson needs to get ahold of him so he can make a scheduled appearance at the Texas Centennial in Dallas. The problem is solved when Wilson convinces Ford's stuntman, Gene Autry (Autry also doubles as Ford here), to go to the event impersonating Ford. The ruse works, but things go wrong when Autry decides to go on the radio singing, which Ford can not do. This ticks off Ford, who comes back to the studio to get Autry fired, but some gangsters are at the Centennial hoping to collect some of Ford's gambling debts from Autry. This film is good, but nothing more than a promo film for both the Centennial and Autry & the singing groups at Republic, as well as the studio itself. There are some pretty good action scenes at the beginning with Autry as the stuntman. Autry as Ford, however, doesn't convince anyone since his thespian abilities were never great (especially this early in his career). Fun to watch. Rating, based on B westerns, 7.
The likable Gene Autry plays a dual role and has some good
opportunities to use his variety of talents in this enjoyable
B-Western. The story is light but entertaining, and it has some good
musical numbers plus some comic relief from Smiley Burnette. The Texas
Centennial setting also gives it some additional historical interest.
Autry plays both a bad-tempered movie star cowboy and his talented, good-natured stunt double, so the setup offers some good lighter moments in its look at the movie industry. The story starts with the stunt double filling in for the star at a public appearance, with numerous complications arising from there. Autry gets many opportunities to sing, and there are also some good action sequences.
Most of it works pretty well, because it generally allows Autry to use his strengths. Burnette also gets some good moments, and while the story is mostly used to showcase Autry and the other musical entertainment, it works too as a way of pulling things together.
This was almost a guilty pleasure to like. Gene Autry plays.. Gene Autry, a stunt double for the famous cowboy Tom Ford in his movies. When Ford skips town to go fishing, his agent is in a pickle as Ford is scheduled to work the Texas National Exposition1 The agent gets a brilliant idea to send Autry instead, since they are EXACTLY alike. Well almost.. You see when Autry arrives in Dallas for the fair, he is caught singing and is put on the fair's radio for all to hear! This radio station is broadcast everywhere! Everyone hears it! The Hollywood studio where Ford works is amazed and wants to book singing cowboy pictures! Problem is.. Other people hear it too.. Like underworld types Ford owes money to and, well, Ford himself! Again, I have no idea why I found this as enjoyable as it was. Probably the main thing was the originality's of the darn thing. I mean, we find out how cowboy films are made! I wonder if Gene Autry, who is playing a stunt man, had a stunt man for his stunt scenes? (He risked life and death though, playing certain "danger" scenes in front of a laughably fake screen). I also loved the fact that they shot ½ the movie at the actual fair itself. I guess they had a wild west show there. LOVE the song he sings at the show when he sings about shooting his injured horse, Champion. I mean, THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!
A lot of fun as long as you're not expecting a traditional formula Western. There're more imaginative set-ups in this Republic oater than in most A-pictures. Catch the Light Crust Boys as they roll down the road, or the talking horse a couple decades before Mr. Ed, or a mustachioed Gene acting mean and nasty. No, there's no real plot, but the pace is brisk from one lively set-up to the next. And whose great idea was it to film at the new Texas state fair, a backdrop like no other. Those live panoramas are a taste of big screen pageantry before the big screen. All in all, it's a great little peek at popular history and Art Deco. Then too, catch the clever little spoof of movie-making and tyrannical studio heads. I love the movie love scene that immediately becomes a hate scene once the cameras stop rolling. I guess my one complaint is with the movie as a driver's manual-- Driving down the wrong side of a two-lane highway is not, I repeat Not, a good way to deliver lunch. Anyway, the diverse story elements are neatly combined into a highly entertaining 71 minutes, programmer or no programmer. Thanks Western Channel and Autry Enterprises for the full restoration.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Let's get the plot out of the way first. Gene plays a double role as a
bad tempered cowboy star, Tom Ford (who has large gambling debts and a
blonde fiancée) and his stunt double. Gene winds up impersonating Ford
at the Texas Centennial of 1936, as a cowboy and a singer, even though
Ford can't sing. We expect some identity mixups and we get them. The
fiancée and the gamblers appear to cause trouble and a final chase
scene, but the film mostly centers around the Centennial.
It's an unusual Western because it was filmed during the Centennial celebration at Fair Park, where we see many shots showing the abundance of deco buildings and statues. They're all still there, as it is now called the Texas State Fairgrounds. What a setting for a picture! We see a cast of thousands! The parades, the stadium crowds, and the outdoor staged 'panoramas' that were a common part of expositions and World Fairs from before to after the turn of the century, even up to the late forties. We see the Western cavalcade, the Texas Six Flags, and Gene's singing farewell to his 'wounded' horse Champion.
It's definitely a musical Western, because the story elements fly by, especially in the 54 minute edited version found in most remainder bins (such as Platinum's 'The Great American Western Volume 5' DVD, which is the version I have.) The performance of 'The Lady Known as Lulu' by the black 'Jones Boys' is missing from the 54 minute versions. The official, restored 71 minute version has 10 songs, but only two are halfway decent (both ballads, 'Mad About You' and Jimmie Davis's 'Nobody's Darlin' But You').
Other highlights: Kay Hughes is the female lead. Gene apparently likes wholesome looking girls, since she was also in 'Ride, Ranger, Ride' (1936). She plays Gwen in the first Dick Tracy serial (1937), and the spunky Molly Selkirk in 'Radio Patrol' (1937). Contrary to what most people say, here's a film where Gene actually does kiss the girl at the end of the movie, but with the vocal track still going, he's singing while he does it!
Another lowlight: Gene is clearly not a stunt man. In the scenes where he's supposedly stunting for Ford, he can be seen several times carefully, warily, and worriedly looking for his safety hand holds. And of course, he's all too obviously doubled for in the fight sequence in the hotel with the evil gambler Collins (Rex King).
William Newell seems to get as much screen time as Gene; his other big role is as Mala's helper Hank in 'Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island' (1936), but after that he went on to a distinguished career as an uncredited bystander in hundreds of movies and TV shows.
We get our standard sidekicks Smiley Burnette and Max Terhune (this time doing his ventriloquist act), the Beverly Hillbilles as Gene's backup group, fresh from 'The Phantom Empire' (1935), and the Sons of the Pioneers with the twinkling smile of Roy Rogers (Leonard Slye), a rhythm guitarist in the back row.
Full of historical interest, it's an enjoyable diversion despite the weak music, but as a film it's just a four.
The Big Show is about the most enjoyable to watch of all his movies for several reasons: One, Mr. Autry plays a double role. Two, there is a lot of clever stunt work, including the famous under the coach and handover hand to the horses stunt. Three, The Big Show has a very different plot from the usual Autry Western. Four, The Big Show contains some very listen-able songs. Five, it is really fun to see Roy Rogers when he was still with the Sons of the Pioneers as Leanard Slye. Six, it is also fun to see behind the scenes of movie making, with some back views of the Republic lot. Seven, since this is an earlier Autry entry, Smiley Burnett is Mr. Autry's side kick rather than Pat Butram. Eight, it is exciting to see the Texas Centennial Celebration as a background. All in all, this is one is really fun.
"When cowboy star Tom Ford (Gene Autry) disappears, studio publicity
man Wilson gets his double, Gene Autry, to impersonate him. Gene,
posing as Ford and singing over the radio, is a sensation. Ford hears a
broadcast, is peeved, and threatens to sue the studio. Meanwhile, a
group of blackmailers demand $25,000 from the studio to keep quiet
about the hoax," according to the DVD sleeve description. Autry
attempting a dual role, the sometimes derivative (but pleasant)
soundtrack, and a timely Texas Centennial location only give "The Big
Show" a little bigness. It's nice to see the blinking, exasperated
William Newell (as Lee Wilson) play a relatively large role, and odd to
see Roy Rogers' profile (screen right, as one of the Sons of the
Pioneers) in an Autry picture.
**** The Big Show (11/16/36) Mack V. Wright ~ Gene Autry, William Newell, Smiley Burnette, Kay Hughes
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Up till now I thought the only film in which Roy Rogers appeared with
Gene Autry was "The Old Corral". Not that it was much of an appearance,
as he shows up briefly in three of Gene's singing numbers as a
guitarist with the Sons of the Pioneers. Even though he's uncredited,
it's still cool to see him show up here.
But this is Gene's picture all the way, and he appears not once, but twice, as a stunt double for the nominal star of Mammoth Pictures, Tom Ford. The fake Ford isn't around much for the picture as he goes off on a fishing trip, but his hassle with a trio of gangsters who he owes ten grand to is made part of the story line. Gene also finds himself in a couple of romantic entanglements, one on behalf of Ford and one of his own doing. It's not really as complicated as all that, as you can follow the action along pretty easily as things get under way.
Apparently, the picture got some mileage as a publicity vehicle for the Texas Centennial of 1936 in Dallas. Quite a few singing groups make their way into the story, including the Light Crust Dough Boys (love that name!), the Jones Boys, the Beverly Hillbillies, and of course, the Sons of the Pioneers. Only the Pioneers get to do more than a single tune, and of course Gene himself has a host of musical numbers.
Gene's sidekick here is Smiley Burnette, but he's not the only one with a comedic role. Max Terhune's on board as well, along with his wooden buddy Elmer. Surprisingly, Terhune has the ventriloquist gimmick down pretty well, as his lips hardly ever move while speaking for Elmer, even while delivering a song of his own.
"The Big Show" is a fairly entertaining Western flick and a nice showcase for a numbers of B Western players from the mid Thirties. It's also the only film in which that running horse mount from behind is mentioned by name; Gene calls it a Crupper Mount. Smiley apparently was impressed enough to get one done by his third try at the end of the picture. By that time, Gene was closing out the picture in a smooch with Kay Hughes who played his romantic interest Marion Hill.
Gene Autry is the stunt double for a conceited western star and has to
impersonate him after the actor bails out of a big personal appearance
at the Texas Centennial, not knowing that the reason star went on
vacation was to avoid paying his gambling debts. Gene gets in way over
his head when he turns out to be a bigger hit than expected and
gangsters show up to collect their money.
A pleasant, fictionalized account of how Gene Autry became a star, The Big Show offers an irresistible glimpse at the duties that befall a Saturday matinée western star. Despite a loose plot, it's really a lot of fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek fun.
Autry sings some great songs and along with sidekick Smiley Burnette, joins three legendary western groups, The Sons Of The Pioneers (with Roy Rodgers), The Light Crust Doughboys (a personal favorite), and The Beverly Hill Billies. Max Terhune and his dummy even show up for a quickie appearance. Sadly, The Doughboys and the singing group The Jones Boys are deleted from most, if not all video prints.
Although not really much of a western, Autry fans should be satisfied.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an almost archival history film in addition to being a standard
"Singing Western" of the Gene Autry genre. It's got 1930's ,movie
making, stunt making, classic cars...even an early Greyhound type bus
thrown in, streetcars, art deco fair buildings, a radio studio and
clothing styles for both men and women of 1936 in addition to a lot of
other details,et cetera. et cetera, and so forth, ad infinitum .
Republic Studios probably didn't realize that "The Big Show" would be
an almost documentary film much later in its life via the VHS.
First off, we see movie making, mostly likely in one of the "Movie Ranches" which were located in the Simi Hills area northwest of Los Angeles, complete with cameras and other paraphernalia. (Note that the truck is labeled "Tom Ford And His Wonder Horse Champion" in the opening scenes.)
Amusing take off on the Hatfield-Mc Coy Feud in the comic song "The Martins And The Coys" gives Gene a chance to do some singing right at the first.
Then we get a glimpse of stunt making, complete with an early camera car. Then back to the "Mammoth Studios" in a caravan of what would be classic auto nowadays nowadays.
Next off comes some scenes with Autry and Burnette grooming "Champion"; most likely on an actual back lot at Republic Pictures. Wiliam Newell gets into the act as "Mammoth's" PR Man.
Charles Judels turns in a bit hammy performance as the overbearing boss of "Mammoth Studios."
About the only nit-pick this veteran nit-picker could find was in the "road scenes". From further research it was found these were filmed in the Saugus, California area and not on highways in Texas. Also if you check out "Dallas-225 Miles", this would place it somewhere around Abeline, and the countryside in the "Longhorn Chase" is nowhere like that shown in the movie.
Good scenes in the Texas Centennial Exposition. A lot of those buildings are still standing so the scenes could probably be duplicated today and no one would notice the difference. Harry Worth appears in one of his usual villain type roles.
Finally we get some scenes from "The Cavalcade of Texas", which was one of the first of the "Historical Pageants" typical of Fairs of the 1930's. Look closely and you may spot a young Roy Rogers, most likely who was known as Leonard Slye at the time. Also that "Old Faithful" song is a real tear-jerker.
Art Linkletter, of later "Truth Or Consequences" fame, claimed he got his start in show business with the "Cavalcade."
All in all, it's a bit unusual for a standard "B" Western in that it's got going for a lot of history crammed into 71 minutes. And this reviewer has only skimmed the surface !
And in the final scene the truck is labeled "Gene Autry And His Wonder Horse Champion"...and guess who's the stunt man now ? Frog got a good start on his stunt but the horse had other ideas and that familiar "Help !" is heard in the background. And for goodness sake...Gene kissed the girl....and not his horse in the final scene. A really fun movie in addition to all of the above.
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