Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The Roy Rogers Show


This series was in Saturday morning reruns when I started watching it in the early Sixties, but I was a faithful viewer. It turned me into a Roy Rogers fan before I'd ever even seen any of Roy's movies. However, even though I've seen probably all of Roy's feature films since then, I hadn't watched any of the TV series episodes in fifty years or more.

Recently I've watched a number of them on one of those public domain Western TV compilations, and I'm happy to report that they hold up pretty well. Like the later Roy Rogers movies, they're actually hardboiled crime yarns set in the mythical Republic Pictures West that mixes modern-day elements like cars and trucks, electric lights, and telephones with plenty of Old West trappings. One of the reviewers on IMDB came up with a clever explanation for this: Mineral City, the town located near Roy's Double R Bar Ranch, is really an Old West tourist attraction, and that's why everybody rides horses and carries six-guns. I don't really buy it, because those six-guns are loaded with live ammo, as is demonstrated by the shoot-outs in every episode, but it's a nice try. I'm perfectly willing to accept the setting for what it is, though, a fantasy that I'll gladly buy into.

The plots are simpler in the TV episodes and there are no musical numbers like there are in the movies, but that's fine. Roy, who's basically playing himself as a rodeo entertainer, usually gets mixed up in some villain's scheme to take over a neighboring ranch because there's oil on it, or because outlaws buried a fortune in loot on it, or something like that. His relationship with Dale Evans, who runs the diner in town, is purely platonic. His "comical sidekick" Pat Brady works for Dale at the diner but actually spends most of his time getting in trouble.

Roy was well-liked by the stuntmen during his movie days because he was an excellent rider and didn't mind doing some of his stunts himself. That carries over into the TV show as well. The frequent scenes where Roy is chasing the bad guys on his famous horse Trigger are top-notch, and he handles himself well in the brutal fistfights, too, usually two per episode. For a kids' show, this series doesn't skimp on the violence. (We were bloodthirsty tykes back in the Fifties and Sixties.)

Another enjoyable aspect of watching this series now is being on the lookout for famous faces among the supporting cast. Denver Pyle showed up as a moonshiner in one episode I watched, and in another a prizefighter was played by a young actor billed as "Chas. Buchinski". Sixth-billed, at that. But unmistakably Charles Bronson. Another episode, this one about rustlers who use trucks to steal cattle, I actually remembered from watching it all those years ago because it had some pretty clever twists in it. The closing credits revealed that it was written by Dwight V. Babcock, an old pulp author who moved over into TV scripting as the pulp markets began to dry up. Some of Roy's movies were written by pulpster John K. Butler, so this continues an honorable tradition.

The only thing that doesn't hold up very well is the comedy. "Comical sidekick" Pat Brady just isn't funny most of the time, although I'm sure I had a different opinion when I was eight years old.

All in all I found THE ROY ROGERS SHOW to be a very pleasant surprise and well worth watching if you're a fan of his films. You can find some of the episodes on those compilation DVDs, as I did, or there are a bunch of them on YouTube, as well.


12 comments:

August West said...

Just like Roy has "Trigger" and Dale had "Buttermilk," didn't Pat Brady have a name for the jeep that he wheeled around in the show?

Tom Johnson said...

My memory is failing me, but wasn't it something with "Bell" in it? Nellie Bell, or something like that?

James Reasoner said...

Nellybelle is correct. The jeep is as much a character as the horses or Roy's dog Bullet.

Rick said...

Roy was my hero back then. Gene and Hoppy were alright but Roy Rogers was definitely the King of the Cowboys to me and my friends.

Walker Martin said...

As a kid in the late 1940's, I liked Roy, Hoppy and Gene also but my favorites were the stand alone B-westerns of the 1930's. The towns and cowboys had a gritty look to them and everything was not so squeaky clean.

In the postwar years we could not afford a TV but we rented one and everytime you put a quarter in the meter, you got an hour's worth of TV. My favorite show in the Philly area was FRONTIER PLAYHOUSE and every day at 5:00 or 6:00 pm, I begged, borrowed or stole 25 cents to see the old cowboy movies.

I had a gun and holster and blazed away at the TV. Of course now, any mother that sees her kid with a gun will head for the nearest shrink. It sure was a simpler and more innocent time back then.

Jerry House said...

Nellybelle could out-act Pat Brady every time, IMHO.

Cap'n Bob said...

I watched them in the fifties and loved 'em. I had a RR Rodeo Ranch playset by Marx, and RR Fix-It Chuck Wagon from Ideal, and various RR toys. He was the King of the Cowboys as well as the King of the Merchandisers. I saw an old show a number of years back and one scene struck me as particularly bizarre. Perennial bad guy Myron Healy had been foiled from committing some dire act. He sat in Dale's cafe drowning his sorrows in coffee drunk from fine little cups. On the windows hung frilly curtains; on the tables checkered cloths. No saloons for that show.

Neil Waring said...

I still watch them and still like them. But I agree that Pat's role does not seem too funny now. Not sure Dale Evans role holds up to well either, but guess I don't care.

Michael Pacheco said...

I watched Roy Rogers as well during the late fifties and sixties. There were no musical numbers in the show but it always ended with Roy and Dale singing "Happy Trails".

Albie The Good said...

And SO "non-PC" at times!

I saw one episode-- on RFD-TV-- where the bad guys were coming down on Roy cuz they heard him talking about a treasure in his books somewhere. At the end Roy reveals the treasure was The Bible itself and he proceeds to educate the baddies on the treasures of scripture knowledge...

Try and put THAT on TV in the DEADWOOD era! :D

Walker Martin said...

Albie mentions Roy teaching scripture from the bible. How about Gene Autry's COWBOY'S CODE. He listed 10 commandments such as the cowboy is clean in appearance and never lies. He also is kind to animals and the elderly. Etc, etc.

Back then we swallowed this stuff, now we read in disbelief.

Cap'n Bob said...

Maybe that's why we never shot up our schools, Walker.