“I’ll take the job provided I can do it my way.”
Roy Rogers starred in B-westerns for Republic Pictures from 1938 until 1951. As one might guess, his first film (Under Western Stars) featured plenty of songs, but thereafter the musical content of Rogers’ films was greatly reduced, as the studio focused more of its musical-western attention on its Gene Autry productions. In 1943, however, Autry went into the service, and the mantle of “chief Republic musical western star” fell to Roy. For the remainder of his B-western career, he would annually be voted the most popular western film star by motion picture exhibitors, thus assuming the title “King of the Cowboys.”
Many of Roy’s westerns from the mid-1940s were musical extravaganzas with only a modest action content to them. It was said that this came about because the studio’s boss, Herbert Yates, saw the stage musical “Oklahoma” on Broadway and decided that Roy’s westerns would henceforth have their musical spectacle content increased. This persisted until the late 1940s, when increased budget pressure caused the studio to scale back production values, thus eliminating lavish musical numbers. Thereafter the Rogers westerns would feature only a few less-elaborately-staged songs, and more action. Otherwise, the use of Republic’s own color process, Trucolor, on a few of the films was the company’s only nod towards productions in any way different from its other B-western efforts of the time.
It was in this climate that Bells of Coronado was produced in 1950. Starring with Roy were his real-life wife Dale Evans and his then-current screen sidekick, Pat Brady, who had taken over from the likes of Gabby Hayes, Andy Devine, and Smiley Burnette. Roy plays an insurance company agent who poses as a cowhand in need of work in order to investigate the death of the owner of a uranium mine. He stumbles onto a plot to sell the uranium to a foreign power, finding himself in a race against time when some uranium is hijacked and headed for a plane waiting to take it out of the country.
The film is a typical example of the Rogers films of the time. It’s a polished production that takes advantage of Republic’s great expertise in B-westerns. William Witney, who brought an extensive background in serials and B-westerns to the film, directs. He manages to invest plenty of action and excitement in what is otherwise a pretty predictable tale. The film’s climax is particularly well staged. The cast’s principals provide pretty much what one expects from them, and they are well-supported by Leo Cleary and Clifton Young as the chief bad guys. Roy’s songs, with backup from the Riders of the Purple Sage, are pleasant enough but unmemorable.
Lions Gate’s DVD presentation is passable. It provides a full-frame transfer in color that looks pretty striking for Trucolor, but, in an apparent effort to increase sharpness, the transfer suffers from edge effects that are intermittently noticeable (although not extreme). This was a common problem with Artisan’s classic titles that remains an issue under Lions Gate’s watch. Shimmer is also evident, particularly with some of Roy’s patterned outfits. The mono soundtrack is in good shape, with clear dialogue and no age-related hiss. There are no subtitles and no supplements on the disc.
Despite the disc’s deficiencies, this is actually one of the better presentations of a Roy Rogers film on DVD. Roy has not fared nearly as well as his two principal rivals of the time — Hopalong Cassidy and Gene Autry. Both of these screen cowboys have seen their films restored and made available on DVD in pleasing packages. Image offers a continuing series of Autry releases, with the early Cassidy films available from Image, and later ones from Platinum.