Since moving to Colorado 18 years ago, I have developed a huge appreciation for western music. I’m not talkin’ country music…western! There is a difference. You know, cowboy songs. One of my favorite western songs is “Don’t Fence Me In.” It’s just a song I associate with the beauty of the Rocky Mountain State. The plot of today’s movie doesn’t really have anything to do with the lyrics of the song, but it does borrow the title. It’s another classic with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans…1945’s “Don’t Fence Me In.”
The story begins in the big city with Toni Ames (Dale Evans), an investigative reporter who will go to any lengths to get her story. In the opening scene she poses as a dancing girl at a slimy politician’s private party to get the dirt. The scene is actually somewhat shocking. I mean, here’s squeaky clean Dale Evans showing a lot of leg, dancing around in a very high cut skirt. The shocking part is when you start thinking, “wow, Dale Evans was kinda hot!”
Once Toni turns in her story, her publisher (Robert Livingston) offers her a much-needed vacation out west. But, while she’s out there, he insists that she do a story on the legend of the outlaw Wildcat Kelly. It seems there is a rumor that the notorious outlaw is not the man resting in his grave.
Toni heads out west and ends up at the ranch where Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers entertain the guests. Also on hand is lovable but crotchety Gabby Hayes. At first, Toni doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. All she’s found out about Wildcat Kelly is that he had the unique ability to split an apple in half with a bullwhip midair. When she spots Gabby do the same feat, she assumes he is actually Kelly. And you know what…she’s right! But, that’s no reason to go nosing around Gabby’s stuff looking for evidence. This prompts Roy to try to talk her out of doing her story.
Of course, Toni doesn’t listen and the story runs. Now, old enemies start popping up and taking shots at Gabby. Roy and the gang even stage a fake funeral for Gabby hoping to draw out a would be assassin. Roy and the gang track the guy down to the Westward Ho club and take jobs entertaining there in order to catch the bad guys.
There’s nothing flashy about “Don’t Fence Me In,” but there isn’t supposed to be. You’ve got Roy, Dale, Gabby…and, of course, Trigger. Trigger actually gets 2nd billing on the film, poor Dale Evans gets 4th! All the leads are incredibly likable and it’s easy to see why kids flocked to these movies. Roy Rogers is the perfect clean-cut cowboy hero. This film has the added fun of seeing him take on some almost gangster type city slickers. Dale Evans is also great…as convincing as a spunky city reporter as she is as the queen of the cowgirls. But really, the highlight of the film for me is Gabby Hayes. He’s the classic cantankerous but lovable sidekick.
Like many Roy Rogers films, the story is short and sweet. It’s moves along quickly and clocks in at just over an hour in length. The story has its fun moments (Gabby’s fake funeral is a highlight), but the film could’ve done with a little bit more ropin’ and ridin’. Still, the musical numbers are simple but fun. Fans of “The Big Lebowski” will prick up their ears when they hear the Sons of the Pioneers singing the version of “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds” they know from the opening of the cult classic.
Bottom line is, you’ve got to be some sort of epic tenderfoot not to get some enjoyment out of a Roy and Dale film. I still feel sorry that Dale was always listed lower in the credits than the horse, though.