Gene Autry stars as a good-natured cowboy stunt double working on a movie ranch in The Big Show (1936). He doubles for Tom Ford, a full-of-himself prima donna whom even the famed movie horse Champion doesn't like (despite that Tom is also played by Champ's best pal Gene).
A B western about the making of B westerns is a delightful affectation. The fact that it was filmed in great part at the 1936 Texas Centennial Celebration in Dallas adds an unexpected historical dimension. The sequences depicting the Cavalcade of Texas filmed on the world's largest outdoor stage is a rare opportunity to see some fairly stunning entertainment as performed live at the Centennial.
The script is amusing & nicely acted (in B western terms). It is punctuated with several lovely western swing tunes, sung alternatingly by Gene & by the Sons of the Pioneers, including a young guitarist not yet a star in his own right & not yet renamed Roy Rogers. The Beverly Hill Billies, The Jones Boys, & Light Crust Doughboys are also seen among the musicians & back-up singers.
It's simply undeniable that Gene Autry is a pleasing screen presence. The Big Show is a kiddy film, sure, but a truly likeable one. Comedy relief & a bit of frog-voice singing from Lester Alvin "Smiley" Burnette as Frog Millhouse adds to the grin-worthy excellence.
Max Terhune makes a cameo appearance with his ventriloquist dummy, Elmer Sneezeweed. This was only Max & Elmer's second film (the first was Ride, Ranger, Ride that same year), & they were not yet being given much to do on screen.
Tom Ford goes on a camping vacation & can't be reached. His manager Wilson (William Newell) neglected to tell Ford he was booked for events at the Texas Centennial, & the manager's own job is on the line to get Ford to the event in a timely fashion. He hornswoggles Gene into taking Tom's place, which leads to numerous complicatifying problems:
Problem 1: On the way to the Centennial, Gene in the guise of Tom helps round up some prize cattle that had gotten loose on the road. These belong to the beautiful cowgirl Marion (Kay Hughes), on her way to the Centennial. A budding romance is getting off on the wrong foot since she thinks he's Tom Ford.
Problem 2: When Tom's fiance (Sally Payne) shows up at the Centennial, Gene's chances at a romance with Marion are truly mucked up.
Problem 3: Tony Rico (Harry Worth) is a gangster whom Tom Ford owes money. He & his goons set off for the Texas Centennial to strong-arm Tom into paying up, but will find it considerably harder to strong-arm Tom's double.
Problem 4: Tom Ford can't sing, but when a radio host overhears one of Gene's wonderful songs, he can't believe the studio hasn't been using Tom in a "singing cowboy" role, & immediately highlights his skills on a major radio program. Now people will be thinking Tom can sing!
A few other problems intersect, & come to a head when the gangsters blackmail the manager who is more & more convinced that if the truth is found out, he'll lose his job.
Gene sings a sorrowful tune to Champion as the great horse "plays dead." While the Centennial entertainment continues, the gangsters disguise themselves as cowboys to get away in one of the key entertainment props, a stagecoach. Riding stunts abound as the Gene tries to capture the gangsters & reclaim the manager's money bag. The stagecoach chase through the modern (or Art Deco era) streets of Dallas is tremendous fun.
Gene being an honest man through & through has never been comfortable passing himself off as another man. He needs especially to tell Marion who he really is. When he discovers she's already headed back toward home believing him engaged, he hopes to correct her impression by revealing his identity on the radio program.
Honesty turns out to be the best policy & even the public thinks it was all a super fun publicity stunt. The bad guys end up just wanting to listen to Gene sing another song, Miriam returns to claim Gene's love as her own, the manager gets his money back & his job is safe.
The only person harmed would seem to be Tom Ford, who'd hoped to get Gene fired, but is instead reduced to working as a stunt double while Gene Autry becomes the studio's leading singing cowboy star.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl