Yodelin’ Kid from Pine Ridge

We haven’t done any westerns yet here at Forgotten Films.  It’s about time we change that.  There are literally hundreds of B-movie westerns that are largely forgotten today.  These movies brought kids in to the movie theaters in droves to see their favorite cowboy stars each week.  One of the most popular was singing cowboy Gene Autry.  So let’s take a look at one of his films, 1937’s “Yodelin’ Kid from Pine Ridge.”

It seems that there’s a feud going on between the cattle ranchers and the turpentiners in Pine Ridge.  The turnpentiners need the trees, but the trees get in the way of making suitable grazing space for the cattle.  It doesn’t help things that the cattle ranchers, including Gene Autry’s father (played by Charles Middleton), think the turpentiners are rustling their cattle.  The ranchers decide to kill two birds with one stone…burn down the forest and if some of the turpentiners get killed in the process, well that’s their problem.  Of course, Gene Autry won’t stand for that.  He tips off the turpentiners and even wrestles riffles out of the hands of his fellow cattlemen during the ensuing gunfight.  This results in Gene being banished from the ranch.  Meanwhile, it turns out that cattleman Len Parker is actually the one behind the rustling.

Being kicked off the ranch turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to Gene.  He spends the next several years becoming a rodeo star, eventually going to work in a traveling wild west show run by Colonel Milhouse (Smiley Burnette).  When the show makes it’s way to Pine Ridge, Autry Sr. still wants nothing to do with his turpentiner loving offspring.  Meanwhile, Parker is still stealing cattle…but this time, Gene is on the case.

Like many B-westerns, “Yodelin Kid from Pine Ridge” has a short running time…just about an hour long.  Still, a lot is crammed into that time.  Gene manages to get shot at, kidnapped, and framed for murder all within a mere 60 minutes.  Plus, there is plenty of time devoted to the wild west show’s performers and musicians.  Since moving to “the west” over 17 years ago, I’ve often been intrigued by the history of the Buffalo Bill style wild west show.  This film gives us an interesting glimpse of these sort of shows which we sadly don’t get to experience any more.

But really, the main point of this film is to give Gene Autry the chance to show off his considerable talents.  It’s easy to see why the kids loved him so much.  He ropes and rides with amazing skill.  Even today, it’s quite exciting to watch.  Of course, Gene’s character is the ultimate goody-two-shoes, which probably seems a bit silly for audiences today.  But that’s the way singing cowboy stars were.  Why he doesn’t even get his fancy white shirt dirty.  But as far as I’m concerned, I’m fine with having a “good guy” who’s actually a good guy.

It’d be a mistake for me not to mention Smiley Burnette, providing much of the comic relief as wild west show manager Colonel Frog Milhouse.  Burnette usually played the floppy hat wearing, portly sidekick…often alongside Autry.  But his role here is a bit of a departure as the fancy suit and top hat wearing ringmaster of the show.  Still, he’s a fun contrast to Autry’s heroics.

There’s nothing deep about a western like “Yodelin’ Kid from Pine Ridge.”  This isn’t “Unforgiven” by a long shot.  It’s just plain fun…and I love movies that are fun.  So there!

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