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This is clearly one of the most entertaining "B" westerns I've ever
seen. Unfortunately, the edition I viewed on DVD, Part of the "Happy
Trails Theater" series from "Good Times Video" is apparently a version
that was sold to television in the 50s and cut to fill one hour of
airtime. Note that I said cut, not edited. Chunks of story line are
missing. Continuity is non-existent. Plot problems are suddenly
resolved without explanation. Even the final production number ("Don't
Fence Me In") is cut-off before the song is completed. If the listed
runtime is correct (71 mins), this edition is missing 17 minutes of
With so many recent restorations of "B" westerns back to their original short lengths, I think that the "Roy Rogers" estate or "Republic Pictures" should make an effort to restore this film for DVD. It was probably Roy's best work.
This film is definitely a classic of the Saturday Matinee Singing Cowboy Western. With the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers, the irrepressible George "Gabby" Hayes, the beautiful young and spunky Dale Evans and Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers you can't go wrong. Dale plays an undercover reporter out to do a story on a lost fortune and a dead bank robber. She travels to a Dude Ranch run by Roy and Gabby and the Sons of the Pioneers. Roy takes her for a ride in one hilarious scene with a Stagecoach. Gabby plays dead, coffin and all, . in one of the funniest scenes he's ever done. Elementary age kids just love this one so the family will really enjoy the ride.
In the George Eells biography of Cole Porter it comes out that Porter
while writing the music, did in fact purchase the lyric 'from an
antediluvian character' while out west. Probably not unlike Gabby Hayes
and the character he plays in the film Don't Fence Me In. The song
isn't like any of the sophisticated numbers we normally associate with
Roy Rogers introduced the film in Warner Brothers Hollywood Canteen where no doubt Jack Warner paid Herbert J. Yates at Republic some real big bucks for his cameo. So it may have evened out that Yates got the rights to Don't Fence Me In for a title song for one of Roy's films at his home studio.
It turned out that this was one of Roy Rogers best westerns with Republic and in it he plays the proprietor of a dude ranch where he keeps the secret of Gabby Hayes, a harmless old codger who spins a lot of tall tales in the Gabby Hayes fashion. But Gabby is really a notorious outlaw from the old west, one Wildcat Kelly who has been presumed dead for almost 40 years. There's a grave for him in the local cemetery.
But the fact that news of his death was greatly exaggerated and that brings Lois Lane type reporter Dale Evans out west for the story. Dale gets that and more including Roy.
Again Roy and Dale really have spark as a screen team, not as sophisticated as Bill Powell and Myrna Loy, but definitely their dialog is pretty good. And the situations are hilarious like Dale hitching a ride in the stagecoach boot with Roy throwing in some Limburger cheese for company and her tossing him in the swimming pool in response.
But besides Roy and Dale's chemistry, Don't Fence Me In has one of the best musical scores of any Rogers film. Besides the title song, Jack Warner apparently threw in My Little Buckaroo which Dick Foran introduced in one of his westerns at Warner Brothers. Roy also sings Along The Navajo Trail which he sang in a previous film of the same title. All three of these songs were big hits by the way for Bing Crosby.
The mystery of Wildcat Kelly is quite an interesting one. I highly recommend Don't Fence Me In as one of the Rogers/Evans best screen team efforts.
In looking over Helen Talbot's list of film appearances on the IMB, I noticed that she supposedly appearance in Don't Fence Me In, as a dancer. There is an opening dance number in the beginning of the film where Dale masquerades as a dancer trying to get an "uncover" story on a politician who professes to be a "Law and Order" man with family values, but is really a dirty old man who likes pinching show girls. Dale is dressed up in a cute little outfit that shows off her legs. She was really a good looking gal and it is ironic that she would even play a part considering her late years as a "Christian" role model mother. But that's another issue. Helen, although she was an actual glamor model and had been a Goldwyn Girl briefly before coming to Republic, does not appear on camera. I have run that sequence through my video machine at slow speed and cannot find any evidence that she was indeed in that film. The same thing in SONG OF NEVADA, another Rogers musical, where she was supposedly cast as an airline stewardess. I stand ready for correction, gentlemen.
Move over Betty Grable and Joan Blondell because Dale Evans really gets
to show her musical and acting chops in this oater. It's a Dale you
don't ordinarily see once she settled into Roy's loyal sidekick. Here
she shows the kind of spark that would have gotten her a succession of
'30's B-musicals ten years earlier. I sure don't blame Roy for grabbing
her for a life-time. But please, Roy, don't lock her again in the
jouncing boot of a stagecoach with only Limburger cheese to grab onto.
It's not a good way to court a girl.
All in all, the 70-minutes amounts to a really good matinée entry. The plot's more convoluted than usual, with Dale as a reporter investigating who's really buried in Wildcat Kelly's grave where Roy owns a dude ranch. Notably, her role requires an aggressive side we don't ordinarily see. Then too, the plot offers up several twists unlike the usual oater. And mustn't overlook the great Gabby Hayes in a more complex role than usual, but showing his usual ornery brand of entertaining humor. Then too, catch those two refugees from urban gangster flicksMarc Lawrence and Douglas Fowley. Good thing they didn't have to 'mount up'.
There may be less action or good scenery than usual, but the pluses more than compensate. Anyhow, add the Sons of the Pioneers and an outstanding array of western tunes to the mix, and how can even non-front row kids lose.
An "8" on the Matinée Scale.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While growing up, Roy Rogers was my hero, and I even got to see him
live at a rodeo at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. For many years,
this film was the one I most remembered of the many that showed up on
television in the 1950s, usually on Saturday afternoons. So I was
delighted when Encore showed the film, apparently in its entirety not
too long ago; few of the Roy Rogers films survived the butchery to fit
them in 60 minute slots on television.
As another of our reviewers pointed out, this is probably the best of Roy's films. After all, you can't go wrong with a Cole Porter lead song and a stellar performance by the best sidekick of them all -- Gabby Hayes. In fact, Hayes is the focus here -- as an old supposedly dead and buried outlaw. The ruse is foiled by Dale Evans, a magazine reporter. But then Gabby (Wildcat Kelly) is shot as an investigation begins into what happened to the reward money which the state paid out when he was supposedly shot dead.
It's all great fun, with the Sons Of The Pioneers along for the ride, with a short version of "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" thrown in for good measure. Roy does well here...as he usually did. And, for a change, I actually enjoyed Dale Evans' performance here; in fact, it wouldn't have worked without her role. And Gabby Hayes is at his best, with a particularly funny funeral scene! This may be Hayes' best film performance...and it's pure Gabby!
Big city photographer Dale Evans (as Toni Ames) is sent west to
investigate whether or not notorious outlaw "Wildcat Kelly" is really
buried in the grave bearing his name. In "Twin Wells", she meets salty
sidekick George "Gabby" Hayes polishing his tomb, then singing cowboy
pal Roy Rogers (as Roy Rogers). There is much pleasant singing by Mr.
Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers, with an emphasis on the swaying
title song. In an early appearance with her future husband, Ms. Evans
looks uncommonly sexy, showing every allowable inch of her legs. The
film is softly plotted, breezy, and tuneful.
***** Don't Fence Me In (10/20/45) John English ~ Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, George 'Gabby' Hayes, Robert Livingston
GoodTimes has a set of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans DVDs out there under the name of Happy Trails Theatre. Although Don't Fence Me In was shortened a bit for this DVD, I'd still like to recommend the Happy Trails DVDs to you. I was fortunate to pick up several brand new ones at a local flea market. Each one has some of the same information but each also has new information about Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and their crowd. If you are a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans fan like me you will totally enjoy all the extra footage showing Roy and Dale going to parades and visiting children in hospitals, the story of Roy proposing marriage to Dale, and more inside info also about the family. Each movie starts out with Roy and Dale seated on a small stage back around 1987 talking about the movie they are showing. They also have guest surviving guest stars visit, like Iron Eyes Cody and others. Sometimes there is Dusty Rogers (Roy Rogers Jr.) who does a great Gabby Hayes imitation. The song playing about Roy and Dale is sung by Dusty and I had no idea he had such a good voice. Then there is a Sidekicks Feature about Gabby Hays and other who worked with Roy and Dale and also a Museum Tour. I don't mind that the movie may be shorted a bit (don't know why though with DVD technology) since I am getting all the extra info and footage. As far as Don't Fence Me In, I think it was one of their best. It starts out with Dale pretending to be a showgirl dancer (really a reporter) on a table at a political meeting, with other girls going around the table kissing the men. Mild to what is shown today, but pretty racy for those days. Wonder how they got by the censors? But it gave Dale a chance to show off her singing and acting talents and she was excellent as a hard boiled newspaperwoman who starts to soften over time when she meets Roy (probably not too far from real life as a cautious Hollywood actress who gets a proposal from the famous Roy Rogers). She heads to the West to cover a story and meets the Sons of the Pioneers and Gabby Hayes. Gabby was great (as usual) and played his character to the T. The bad guy in this was Moroni Olsen who played Mr. Tewitt in another favorite movie of mine - The Long, Long Trailer. He also played Robert E. Lee in Santa Fe Trail plus plenty of other movies. He had a menacing way about him and fit the part well. Another bad guy was played by Marc Lawrence who always played the gangland type. Ray Teal had a small part as a State investigator and Western fans will remember him as Sheriff Roy Coffee on Bonanza. And of course our favorites Bob Livingston, Bob Nolan and others. Wonderful acting, singing and great fun! Don't miss this one!
Before I get to the review, I noticed that one review was for the
severely truncated version of "Don't Fence Me In". That's because
during the early days of television, many of Roy Rogers' films were
hacked to pieces to make them fit TV time slots. In some cases, it's
not that obvious--as they removed mostly the songs. In others, it
appears as if the film was edited by Freddy Kruger--just hacked to
pieces. Fortunately, the on demand version now on Netflix is the full
film and my review is based on this.
Roy's real-life wife, Dale Evans, appeared in something like about 1/4 of his movies. Usually, she's not bad at all and sings a song or two. However, in "Don't Fence Me In", her appearance is far from welcome--mostly because her part is terribly written. She plays a Lois Lane sort of pushy reporter--and she is just plain annoying. It's a shame, as it's an otherwise decent little B-movie.
Long ago, a famous robber, 'Wildcat Kelly' died and his exploits were legendary. However, in a weird twist, it turns out that Gabby Hayes WAS this notorious outlaw but faked his death so that he could live an honest life. Pushy Dale learns this and instead of respecting Gabby's right to remain anonymous, she publishes the story--even after Roy gets her to agree not to. This turns out worse than expected, as someone is now bent on killing Gabby and plugs him. He isn't killed by they pretend he is dead in order to flush out the guy who shot him--by staging a funeral! This is only about halfway through the film and where this takes the audience is just something you'll need to see for yourself. However, be forewarned, Dale is annoying and when there is a big fight sequence, she acts REALLY stupid and sets back women's rights about 6000 years! Uggh, she is awful but the rest of the film is jim-dandy. Overall, I'd give this one a 5--and without Dale, it would earn at least a 7!
By the way, Roy and the Sons of the Pioneers sing "Don't Fence Me In" in this film--which, considering the title, isn't at all surprising!
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