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Springtime in the Sierras (DVD Review)

2 Jul, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Film Chest
$11.98 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Roy Rogers, Jane Frazee, Andy Devine.

Some spiffer-upper at the lab controls, working with a decent 16mm print, has come up with a credible rendering of Republic Pictures’ Trucolor — which means that what we’re seeing here is supposed to look like a blend of turquoise and various burnt shades of reds and brown (or close). But on all levels, “The Oeuvre of R. Rogers” can be risky business for the uninitiated; many years ago, I was showing my 4-year-old son 1950’s North the Great Divide (bad guys strong-arming control of salmon canneries before Roy starts taking names), and with about five minutes to go, he turned to me and said, “Daddy, when is it going to get good?”

This said, whenever 1947’s Springtime cast can momentarily bring itself to cool it on the constant singing for a citizenry that includes gravel-voiced Andy Devine (per usual, playing a character who has to be wondering what having sex would be like), the fights aren’t bad. As my old NYU film prof and consummate Western expert William K. Everson used to note, the Rogers pictures after World War II got progressively brutal, and Roy does a really good job on the key baddie’s face in one scene.

Jane Frazee (and later, Penny Edwards) used to fill Dale Evans’ movie boots from time to time, and here it’s Jane whose character is saddled with this kind of story’s almost obligatory weakling younger brother. The kid has a crush on a female rancher whose foreman a) has a mustache; and b) is played by the ever-slimy Fred Graham — a fairly transparent tip-off that these two are the local cruds masterminding the hires who’ve been shooting deer out of season and storing them in a huge special-order freezer you’d think might have garnered instant suspicion in their burg. This leads to what I’m pretty sure is one of the screen’s relatively few slug-outs amid hanging venison, which is more of a showstopper than even the most aggressively weird musical number here: the Rogers-Frazee Pedro from Ecuador, which did not exactly knock Tex Williams’ "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)" off the 1947 Billboard charts. In an added pop culture footnote, fans of television’s "The Honeymooners" may recall the episode where Art Carney’s Ed Norton gets all hot about the chance to see an old Frazee pic on TV when he and Ralphie-boy buy and then attempt to tune in a new set. I don’t think it was this one, though.

Roy and Dale used to sub a lot for Dinah Shore on her Sunday night NBC Chevy Show, and the April 2, 1961, Easter presentation — included here as an unexpected supplement — is much more fun than I expected. In a fairly clean black-and-white kinescope of what originally aired in color (very little color exists from this period), the two play host to country royalty Eddy Arnold; George Maharis and Martin Milner in their “Route 66” prime; Cliff Arquette again exploiting his once popular rube-king “Charley Weaver” persona; plus folk trio The Limelighters. The hour opens with Roy and Dale in their Easter garb (dig Roy’s city hat) performing a rendition of "The Glory of Love" that doesn’t seem to have been overly influenced by The Five Keys’ Doo-wop version. Because of their "Route 66" Corvette connection, Milner and frequent vocalist Maharis (whose own number here is a show tune) get to deliver one of the Chevy commercials. They offer further huzzahs to the relatively short-lived and famously iffy Corvair — but then, Ralph Nader likely wasn’t a Roy Rogers fan, anyway.

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