Home Video Hovel- Springtime in the Sierras, by Jack Fleischer
Starring Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, Republic Picture’s Springtime in the Sierras is now available on DVD, (in Trucolor!). Now, if you are into the whole brevity thing there’s a black and white 54 minute edited version easily available online, but this release clocks in at the 75 minute theatrical length and claims to be, “Restored from the original, rare 16mm archive print and digitally remastered.” Regardless of length or color, this unusual combo of murder-mystery and cowboy crooning truly is an awkward gem.
Very much a product of 1947, this film exists in a universe all its own. It starts with the mercy killing of a doe in front of her faun by a man with a pet squirrel named Snoopy. It then shuffles off into a series of shotgun killings, picnic lunches, and snappy songs being used as murder suspect bait. If that wasn’t enough, this is also a film about environmental responsibility, young love, and “The King of the Cowboys,” Roy Rogers.
While the subject matter may seem as scattered as birdshot, it amazingly fits together. This is a movie world where old friends can greet each other by wrestling their way through downtown in a two-minute fight scene, and a man tilting his head and saying “Aww” identifies a love interest. It is in no way a realistic story, but it’s entertaining and it retains an innocent charm.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Roy Rogers was a “singing cowboy,” a romantic embodiment of America’s largely illusory nostalgia for the west that lasted from the ‘40s through to the ‘60s. His character is that of an infinitely sweet gentleman, who’s still able to fight, ride, and shoot like a master. This movie is every bit that ideal. When someone dies, no one cries. Instead they just sing in respectful harmony, then hop on their horses and chase down the baddies with their six shooters.
The cast includes a number of Roy Roger’s regulars including Andy Devine, (“Friar Tuck” in Disney’s Robin Hood), as “Cookie Bullfincher.” He’s the comic relief, and his antics are on par with a Warner Brother’s cartoon. Not here is Roger’s iconic wife, Dale Evans. Instead Jane Frazee (Abbot and Costello’s Buck Privates) is the love interest. No matter if they’re dealing with a fight, a chase, or a song, every actor in this film reflects Rogers’ own smilingly professional semi-stoic style.
Only a few films later, Devine, Frazee and Rogers would reunite in Under California Stars, a movie that was also helmed by this film’s director, William Witney. Witney is often credited with creating the modern choreographed fight scene, something he supposedly patterned after the musical numbers of Busby Berkeley. For what it’s worth, Quentin Tarantino also lists him as one of his favorite directors. The action scenes here are something to see, especially during the climactic chase scene that puts Roy and Trigger together.
In addition to the action in this movie, there’s singing. If the songs in the film aren’t enough this DVD includes as a special feature an episode of “The Chevy Show” starring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Although billed as, “in living color,” it’s shown here in black and white and it includes some truly spectacular ads for the Chevy Corvair involving desert driving and the cast of Route 66. More to the point it’s filled with music, including numbers and bits from Eddie Arnold, the folk group The Limeliters, and assorted choirs and bands.
Springtime in the Sierras is a curious and quaint piece of cinematic history that isn’t perhaps the most notable work of its creators. Yet, if you’re a fan of the singing cowboy genre, or even if you have historical, nostalgic, or ironic intentions, you’ll still find this flick mighty entertaining.