Romance of the West (1946) Poster

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Low-budget color B-western holds a strange fascination
BrianDanaCamp4 December 2010
I first read about the Cinecolor westerns made with Eddie Dean for poverty row studio PRC in William K. Everson's "A Pictorial History of the Western Film" (Citadel Press, 1969) and I've been curious to see them ever since. (Cinecolor was a cheap two-color process used for budget reasons from the early 1930s to the early 1950s.) When Encore's Western Channel ran one of these films in January 2005, I taped it and have now finally watched it. ROMANCE OF THE WEST (1946) was preceded by a credit for digital restoration by "hypercube IIc, New York City." I can only imagine what the surviving print they had to work with must have looked like, because the finished product is notably soft throughout, although the Cinecolor hues are generally pretty accurate.

It's a crudely produced movie with stilted dialogue and perfunctory acting, but it remains weirdly compelling. It was shot on location at the Corriganville movie ranch in California, with an eerie period authenticity provided by the starkness of the town set and the surrounding locations. Given the softness of the image on the print and the odd colors, it plays out like an artifact from another time, as a film would look if there had been movie cameras in the 1870s and an early form of color film available. Or if a "lost" silent western was newly discovered and turned out to have been in color and to have a soundtrack! It helps that the cast offered no one from Central Casting, but is instead peopled with actors who looked like they could have stepped out of old western tintypes. The actor who plays Chico, a cowboy villain, looks like he would have been perfectly at home in THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903). There is a full tribe of Indians in the cast and most are played by real Indians (including notable Indian actors Chief Thundercloud and Jay Silverheels), adding to the authentic touches. (B-western producers could both save money and achieve a more realistic look by hiring ex-cowboys who brought their own costumes and equipment and real Indians who brought their own regalia and didn't need any special makeup.)

While the plotting generally hews to standard B-western formula, there are enough twists to keep it interesting, including an unusual rescue finale that I won't give away. The storyline is the old one about greedy white townsmen trying to provoke the Indians into breaking their treaty so that the cavalry can be called in to move them off their land, thereby enabling access to the land--and its secret riches. Singing cowboy Eddie Dean plays Indian agent Eddie Dean, who promises the Indians he'll protect their right to live on the land. The sentiments are generally pro-Indian, although there is some startling condescension at times. At one point, an orphaned Indian boy is about to be taken by Chief Thundercloud to be raised by squaws in his village when Dean intervenes and asks if he can give the boy to the mission priest, Father Sullivan, at a place called "the Compound," where, Dean tells the chief, "he'll be raised right." The implication, of course, being that he won't be raised properly by Indians. To add insult to injury, Dean's bearded old sidekick, Ezra, promptly renames the boy, "Little Brown Jug."

There's quite a bit of riding and chasing action and a big shootout in town at the end. At 58 minutes, it only lags during the song interludes and that's only if Mr. Dean's gentle singing style doesn't appeal to you. (It appealed to me.) Is this an unsung western classic? No, of course not. But it's a remarkably vivid journey into the western past achieved by way of some happy accidents and the shrewd choice to shoot in color.
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Community theater on the silver screen!
donjmiller9 January 2005
I found my jaw dropping soon after this movie started, and only finished it so I could say I'd seen the whole thing and could therefore be entitled to comment on it.

It has all the problems of a lackluster school or community production (no offense to those whose productions have luster). The plentiful dialogue is awkward, running the gamut from stilted to preposterous, generally delivered with the sort of relentless exaggeration common on the stage, but which is wearisome on screen. The characters are barely one-dimensional; it seems as if the movie were modeled on an early silent (the resemblance is very strong), by someone who said, "Give me one of each!" The grizzled, gibberish-talking alcoholic sidekick, the lovable, singing, two-gun hero and his saccharine gal, the cheerful priest, the shady politician, a number of noble Native Americans in their colorful full regalia, chafing under the oppression of the capitalists, some heartrendingly cherubic children - until the roster was full. The songs are massively produced; odd even for a singing Western. Much of the time we're on an obvious sound stage, the edits are often odd (people disappear from the screen a bit before their lines are done), and the costumes - it's all sub-par, even for 1946. On the other hand, it is in color.
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"Them Indians is more American than you are!"
classicsoncall27 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Well there are some good ideas coming out of this Eddie Dean Western but the execution is pretty pathetic. As the picture's hero, Eddie admires and protects the local Indian tribe living in Antelope Valley, but when a young Indian boy is left an orphan after the murder of his parents, Eddie desires to place him with mission padre Father Sullivan (Forrest Taylor) so he could be 'raised right'! The implication that being raised by the tribe wouldn't have been appropriate came across as rather embarrassing, and today would certainly be deemed racist.

Perhaps the most baffling thing about the story has to do with the principal characters interacting with each other. It's rather stagy for the most part, but what's really strange is the way they consistently smile at each other while delivering their lines. It could be about the most serious topic imaginable, and they're just grinning away happy as you please. I found it unusually distracting.

But the worst part of the story for me, and I'm sure for most viewers, was why in the world would you have one of the picture's main villains shoot down a little kid? You have to keep in mind that these films were put together on a shoestring budget and were meant to appeal to a pre-teen audience back in the Forties. What was a youngster supposed to think when they saw someone their own age gunned down in a Western? That had to be somewhat troubling, don't you agree? And to think, college students today are demanding safe places on campus against harmful speech!

Now here's some interesting trivia I've picked up along the way watching these old time oaters. The young Indian boy in the picture was given the name Little Brown Jug by Eddie and his sidekick Ezra (Emmett Lynn). He was portrayed by a youngster named Don Reynolds who grew up in a rodeo family and learned to ride at the age of three. He had cousins nicknamed Whitey and Blackie, and so Don became Brownie.

The Little Brown Jug handle came about for real when Don and his Dad visited a friend in Texas, and a Glenn Miller song titled 'Little Brown Jug' was playing, and the name stuck. If you wind up catching a handful of Durango Kid flicks made after this one, Don is actually credited in the pictures as Little Brown Jug. Apparently he grew up maintaining a fondness for cowboys and horses, and believe it or not, is credited as a horse trainer on all three 'Lord of the Rings' movies!
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Beautiful Singing, Awful Acting
smurky8 June 2010
I completely agree with previous reviewer Don Miller. I just saw this film on the Encore Western Channel, and was laughing at how shoddy and hokey it was. I was curious to see Eddie Dean, because I 've always heard the name but never actually saw him. Well, my curiosity has been satisfied. He's not much to look at, extremely skinny like Barney Fife, and his acting is extremely amateurish. But, he's got two things going for him: 1) he has a beautiful singing voice, and 2) a beautiful horse. And now for the story....he plays an Indian agent who finds an orphaned Indian boy, appearing to be no more than 5 years old. He dresses him in Cowboy clothes, cuts his hair with a bowl, and plans on adopting him. All the characters fall in love with the boy, as do we. Eddie gets him a tiny pony to ride, and he dazzles us with his riding rodeo tricks. He seems to have no problem losing his parents and adapting to the white man's ways. And then, it all comes to a screeching halt when the outlaw shoots this lovable child in the back. I couldn't believe, that in a hokey, light-hearted musical, they would show the murder of a tiny child in this horrible way. So if Encore shows this again and you decide to give it a try, remember you've been warned.
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