The year 1942 was Gene's last year as the number one cowboy in American, a rank he had held for almost a decade. When he went away to war, Roy Rogers became the King of the Cowboys. Though Gene was able to regain some of his popularity, especially on early television, he was never again number one. "Call of the Canyon" was one of his last movies before he left the screen to serve as a flier with the Air Transport command during World War II. Also by 1942 music was beginning to play a larger role in his films. The grand finale of "Call of the Canyon" is more like a Hollywood musical extravaganza than the end of a western where the cowboy rides off into the sunset. Unlike fellow singing cowboy Roy Rogers, Gene put as much effort into his recordings as his movies and sold millions. So music was always a key element in his life. His sidekick and lifelong pal, Smiley Burnette, was also into music and wrote over 400 songs, such as "Lazy Day" and "Ridin' Down The Canyon." Even with the music, there is still plenty of action. It seems a representative of the chief cattle buyer is shortchanging the cattlemen, headed by Gene, to pay off his gambling debts. The chief cattle buyer, Grantley B. Johnson (Thurston Hall) goes incognito as a cattleman to find out why the ranchers are so disgruntled with his prices. This leads to lots of action in trying to drive the cattle to market for a fair price. When the representative Thomas McCoy (Edmund MacDonald) uses explosives to stop the drive, one of the cattlemen is killed. The film has a subplot about a local band trying to make it big on the radio. The lead singer is known as Kit Carson (Ruth Terry) and becomes unhappy when Gene gets more of the spotlight than she does. Gene Autry westerns usually took place in the modern west, so airplanes and other motor vehicles are usually seen. In "Call of the Canyon," radio is used to catch the bad guys.
Smiley is around for laughs. This time he has a young sidekick who had appeared with him in earlier films, Tadpole Millhouse (Joe Strauch Jr.). Tadpole looks, acts, and talks like Frog, who is not really his father because Frog is supposed to be single, but more like a father figure to the little tad. When the little tad is injured in the explosion Frog sits up with him at the hospital. So the viewer knows that the two are as close as father and son.
The legendary Sons of the Pioneers are around to help with the music. They were at the top of their form in 1942 and add much to the musical numbers in the film. One of their founding members, Leonard Slye, was no longer with them for now he was Roy Rogers, a friendly rival to Gene and his gang.
If you're a Gene Autry fan, get ready for action and music. You're sure to enjoy "Call of the Canyon."