Monday, September 22, 2008

On the Old Spanish Trail (1947)

“On the Old Spanish Trail” (1947) is one of those B-westerns that takes its title and premise from a song. The action is fast-paced, probably because it is not slowed down by much of plot. But it has Roy Rogers, who came to be known as King of the Cowboys, and his horse Trigger, who was actually billed as “The Smartest Horse in the Movies.”

Trigger clearly had an excellent agent.

They are assisted by bumbling, raspy-voiced Andy Devine, by pert pouting blonde Jane Frazee as the girl who needs saving from the bad guys, by Tito Guizar as a lovable rogue called The Gypsy, and by a passel of The Sons of the Pioneers.

This tale of the Old West is actually set in present day (1947), and so we have a riot of converging images of horses and sedans, six-shooters and modern music. The Sons of the Pioneers are in debt and Roy must catch a bad guy for the reward and pay the bill. There are songs at every turn, and a female lead so gussied up in country western attire she looks like she belongs on a box of snack cakes. One cannot help but wonder why Roy is wearing his guns around town when this is not actually the old west. The pair of six-shooters makes him appear more overdressed than a lady wearing a fur coat at a barbecue.

Roy Rogers had a long career, appeared in dozens of films, mostly as himself, or rather as this character of Roy Rogers that he had created. Nobody is born King of the Cowboys, it’s not that kind of monarchy, so Roy had to transform himself into this hero of B-westerns. Gene Autry and Tex Ritter did much the same thing, starring as the real-life people they molded themselves into. Interesting that Ann Sothern played a string of “Maisie” films but never got around to calling herself Maisie. This is a phenomenon of the B-western. Reality was probably never more so successfully blended with make-believe, even for a film industry whose hallmark was the blurring of reality. It was done so simply and so well.

With the main patrons of these films being children, perhaps achieving this make-believe was easy. And profitable, especially when the Baby Boomer kids came along on a giant wave of television, marketing, and their parents’ disposable income.

The ca-shink sound of Roy’s spurs on a wood floor makes the whole movie for me. Maybe it was augmented by the sound guy, but I like to think that, at least, was genuine.


Daniel said...

Considering how many awesome--and cheesey cowboy movies were made, it's a little sad that we see so few new ones being produced these days. At least we have the oldies to bridge today's information technology culture back to that colorful era.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Daniel, welcome to the blog. I'm not sure why there are so few westerns made today, except that things run in cycles. Like you, I'm glad we still have the oldies we can watch.

Caftan Woman said...

My favourite scene is when Tito Guizar, behind bars, starts to sing Una Furtiva Lagrima and is joined by Andy Devine!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I agree! Thanks for that memory, Caftan Woman. These B-Westerns can be just unabashedly fun.

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