A Pair of Eddie Dean Oaters from the 40s...
Mark Savary | Seattle, WA | 04/06/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Eddie Dean was Producers Releasing Corporation's answer to Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, and became the ramshackle studio's very own singing cowboy. Having worked with Autry and on radio, Dean filled the role of the PRC singing cowboy with he-man gusto. Unfortunately, the low budgets of the PRC films meant that Dean would be relegated to obscurity, while Autry and Rogers were catapulted to fame. Dean's songs are the highlight of the films he made, along with the antics of Dean's comic companion, Soapy Jones (Roscoe Ates).Although a blatant attempt to cash in on the Autry and Rogers craze, these films do part company with those of Dean's more famous counterparts in at least one respect. Dean's films, while less stylish, seem to have a harder edge that the work of Autry and Rogers lacks. While all three aimed thier talents more towards kiddies in the audience than the grown-ups, Dean's bad guys are pretty bad, and perhaps the low budget efforts of PRC lent a seedier air to the mostly unphotogenic black hats.The DVD case contains two discs, with one film on each. I was struck by the fact that although the movies clock in at about an hour apiece, Video Kart could not figure out how to put both on one disc. There is an insert, but this has to float loose in the case. Regardless, I did like the set, and it did look as if Video Kart tried their level best to put in what extras they could to enhance the package. There are bios and a few other odds and ends for each film, and for the price I certainly felt I got my money's worth.The first feature, "Colorado Serenade" was shot in Cinecolor, as were several of Dean's early outings. Unfortunately, the Cinecolor process does not seem to have stood the test of time, as the color in the film stock has seriously degraded, and this particular film is horribly oversaturated to the point of muddiness. The story isn't too bad, and there are some fine fisticuffs, although PRC's products were never accused of being very Oscar-worthy. One fight sequence in a bunkhouse reminded me a bit of the great scenery-chewing in some of Republic's action serials.As for the cast, there are some pretty good performances. Stunt man David Sharpe has a good turn as an undercover lawman, and does some impressive pistol tricks I had never seen before. Forrest Taylor is suitable as the kindhearted Judge (although his acting style is slightly reminiscent of acting in the hammy, silent film era). I also like the flashy bad guy Duke Dillon, played with bad guy charm by Dennis Moore.Supporting actress Abigail Adams is also on hand as Lola, hostess of the Silver Dollar Saloon. The posters and trailer for the film tout that "Lola Drives the West Wild! You'll never forget her!" and "Lola's in town... and the Old West Ain't the same!" Despite the great billing and Adams' obvious appeal, Lola really doesn't do much to set the West on fire except look pretty.Robert McKenzie plays one of Duke's henchmen, the crooked town manager Colonel Blake. McKenzie is one of those character actors who you know but don't know or can't quite place, or someone who reminds you of some other actor. He was a staple in Westerns, usually as a gold-watch-chained banker. He's fun in this one as the weasley town manager who runs crooked deals for Duke. On the down side, Mary Kenyon is a poor man's Barbara Stanwyck look-alike, and Dean's "Wonder Horse", White Cloud, is a shocking facsimile of Trigger (right down to the similar bit and bridle!). It did appear that the film may not have been entirely complete, given that there are some dissolves between scenes and one or two "fade to black" bits that obviously do not fit the editing techniques of the time the film was made. Whether this was done to excise degraded parts of the film stock, or to fit the movie to a specific running time for television broadcast is uncertain. In either case, the work was not done ham fistedly, but it also kind of jumps out at you despite the care taken in the editing booth.Frankly, I liked the black and white companion feature in this set much more. "Black Hills" does not suffer from the technical or degradation effects of the Cinecolor process, and plays more like a good old fashioned Western. In this one, Dean helps out some friends who are in a bad spot when the bank wants to foreclose on their ranch. There's a murder, a lost gold mine, a land grab, and Soapy's sad card tricks for Dean to deal with, and he stills finds time to sing a few songs along the way. "Black Hills" and "Let's Go Sparkin'" are both memorable numbers.Overall, these are some very nice sets for the price, and showcase the forgotten singing cowboy, Eddie Dean. Video Kart should be commended for saving these films (and Dean) from obscurity."