Poachers are harassing toll road owner Jen Larrabee. They want her land because it holds valuable minerals. Autry and the Cass County Boys, mistaken for Texas Rangers, help out. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Gene often named his movies after popular songs (usually to promote his recording of the tune). Seldom did the song title have much to do with the plot of the story. "On Top of Old Smoky" is a traditional American folk song most likely from the Appalachians that was given a new life in 1951 by the famous folk group The Weavers, selling over a million records that year. The catchy call and response rendition received an added oomph by the tongue-in-cheek interpretation of a young Pete Seeger. Over a year later, Gene's version came out. At the beginning of the film, Gene rides the trail alone singing a plaintive version of the unrequited love ballad. And it's not bad. He even adds a final cowboy verse making the song apropos to the prairie where a person is unlikely to find a "mountain all covered with snow."
There are other pleasant songs sung by Gene with help from the Cass County Boys (you've probably heard the voice of one member of the trio without realizing it - Jerry Scoggins sang "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," the theme to long-running (and still re-running)"The Beverly Hillbillies") and Smiley, the best being "I Hang My Head and Cry," co-written by Gene. Smiley does some great harmony with Gene on this one. "If It Wasn't For The Rain" is also a fine ditty.
For a change, Gene plays a phony rather than a real Texas Ranger as a result of a misunderstanding. Seems Gene is with group of singers known as the Rangers (Cass County Boys). Those who see the fake badge think it's real. This leads Gene and Smiley into all kinds of chases, fisticuffs, and shenanigans trying to get evidence against a band of crooks attempting to force Jen Larrabee (Gail Davis) to sell her toll road and station to them because of valuable minerals found on her land. An added oddity in this one is Gene taking Smiley's girlfriend away from him. Usually, Smiley's women were more like female frogs, but this go-around she's the lovely Gail Davis from Arkansas (TV's Annie Oakley). Shelia Ryan has a small role as a small-time thief and showgirl, but she makes every minute before the camera count. The redoubtable Kenne Duncan is around to supply meanness and mayhem.
Though this viewer favors the early Gene Autry Republic westerns, "On Top Of Old Smoky" is a winner and the music is infatuating, especially if you're already a Gene Autry fan.
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