A large, modern gang of cattle rustlers works swiftly to move the cattle to a location where the stolen herd is fenced, butchered out, & loaded onto a fleet of refrigerator trucks straight from the field, delivered to the head of the gang at a meat-packing plant. The gang is not the least reluctant to murder whoever gets in their way.
Such is the premise for a modern-day western Public Cowboy No. 1 (1937). Sheriff Matt Doniphon (William Farnum) & his deputy Gene Autry are on the trail of these murderous rustlers. But before they get down to some serious detective work, Gene has just got to ride along singing "The West Ain't What It Used To Be," a comical lament for the vanishing wild west.
Gene's films tend to be a notch above the majority of B westerns, & this one has a story that's rather more serious than average. Where singing cowboys are concerned the stories tend to be lighthearted, but this one is comparatively tough.
The leading lady is the town's newspaper manager Helen Morgan (Ann Rutherford). Her editorials have been ragging on the sheriff as an incompetent, & when Matt gets wounded, he is almost willing to admit he'll just never be the man he once was. Gene sings the sad sweet country swing tune "Old Buckeroo" about just such an aging sheriff forgotten by the modern age, & Gene really shines from the screen when he's singing.
The newspaper editorials have really annoyed Gene, who admires the aging sheriff & believes he's got a lot of law enforcement years left in him. He marches down to the newspaper offices to share an angry piece of his mind, but when he sees how pretty the manager is, he goes all golly shucks, & sings another lovely western swing tune "I Picked Up the Trail to Your Heart."
Town leaders bring in Detective Eustace P. Quackenbush (James C. Morton) from the East to replace the old-fashioned sheriff. Quackenbush & his deputies have all the modern crime fighting gizmos & a speedy automobile, just what's needed to take down a gang that is using airplanes, shortwave, & other state-of-the-art gear to pull off their crimes.
But Matt's deputies aren't convinced a city slicker's clutch of gangbusters is what's needed. Deputy Frog Millhouse (Smiley Burnett) sings the spoofy tune "The Defective Detective from Brooklyn" & sets out with Gene to beat the modern crime fighters to solving the crime.
In the primary comic relief sequence, Frog & Stubby (Frankie Marvin) dress up like a cow to mingle with the herd & await the rustlers. But before they can get rustled, they end up fleeing across the prairie with a lusty bull in fast pursuit. Soon they are stuck up a tree still in their cow outfit. But from their high perch they can see where the rustlers are camped.
When Quackenbush's police car gets stuck in a creek & his tear gas bombs accidentally go off putting his modern deputies out of commission, it's clear that what's actually needed are some real cowboys to bring in the bad guys. Gene has gathered all the fast-riding cowboys thereabouts & they descend on the rustlers in a big climax, concluding a very satisfying romance of the lingering west.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl