October 2, 2014

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Gene Autry fought the war off-screen
Written by Bill Baird   
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 9:02 PM

My latest Gene Autry movie to watch on Encore westerns channel at noon on Sunday was Stardust on the Sage (1942).

Unlike John Wayne (1907-1979) who only fought World War-II on film, my two real life movie star heroes were James Stewart (1908-1997) and Gene Autry (1907-1998) who actually joined the U.S. Army Air Corp. and flew planes during the war even though they were over the draft age as was Wayne.

Autry would make two more films in 1942 before he left for war, Call of the Canyon and Bells of Capistrano.
His first film after the war was Sioux City Sue (1946). Stardust on the Sage wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t too bad. Smiley Burnette was Gene’s best comic sidekick in these prewar films. Since he didn’t have to go to war Smiley went on to other roles. After the war Smiley wasn’t the sidekick and those who came after wasn’t as good.

Unlike most “B” low budget westerns with good guys, bad guys, horses and cows, as I’ve said before, Autry’s films were part of the Old West, mixed with the West during the era the films were made that included the modern modes of transportation at the time.

Since Gene started out singing on radio, there were usually radios and radio stations in his films.

These films always had good singing by Gene, and in this film Edith Fellows (1923-2011) sang a few songs.

A different theme or plot was always a feature of Autry’s films. The usual shoot each other between the good and bad guys was present, but not as the usual plot was with lesser low budget “B” westerns.

Stardust on the Sage features Emmett Vogan (1893-1969) as the villain boss posing as a good guy. He operated a hydraulic gold mine and tricked the ranchers into buying stock in the mine.

Vogan had several henchmen, including Roy Barcroft (1902-1969), who we all loved to hate from his many bad guy roles in “B” Westerns during the 1930-40’s.

From 1931 until his death, Barcroft was in 375 roles in films and TV, but he is best remembered as the bad guy.

He also was a good guy in Disneyland (1958 to 1966) and The Adventures of Spin and Marty (1955) TV series.
William Henry (1914-1982) was a weak good guy in this film. Fellows was his sister as was Louise Currie (1913).
Currie, who ran the local radio station, was in a lot of “B” movies during this era. I best remember her from the 12 chapter serial, Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941), which was the best serial ever made. Serials were shown on Saturdays to lure the kids back the following week to see how the hero survived the death situation which ended the previous chapter. As I said before I never saw a Gene Autry movie I didn’t enjoy. This film has been one of them.

Bill Baird is a Whitewater Township resident who writes a weekly column about old movies and Hollywood trivia.