Saturday, January 23, 2010

It's Cowboys vs. Robots and Mole People!

Radio Ranch
(aka "Men With Steel Faces") (1940)

Starring: Gene Autry, Betsy King Ross, Frankie Darro, Dorothy Christy, Wheeler Oakman, and Frank Glendon
Directors: Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Western singer Gene Autry (Autry) and his teenaged friends (Ross and Darro) find themselves caught up in the middle of the machinations of a scretive, highly advanced underground civilization led by Queen Tika (Christy), a group of crooked scientists led by Prof. Beetson (Glendon) trying to ruin Autry's career so they can mine the land of Radio Ranch for the rare mineral Radium, and Tika's rebellious high priest, Argo (Oakman).

"Radio Ranch' is the sort of bizarre mix of pulp-magazine science fiction, singing cowboys, clever kids, and naked villiany that only children (or those with the hearts of children) can enjoy. A condensed version of a 12-part serial titled "Gene Autry and the Phantom Empire", this is a entertaining bit of nonsense that totally collapses if you think about the plot elements in the slightest. (Why can't the people of underground Murania breath surface air, but Autry & Friends have no problem breathing in Murania is but one of many questions that occured to me while watching.)

Despite many gaping logic holes (and three too many Gene Autry musical performances) this film remained an entertaining until the very end where the story went completely off the rails. I understand why the creators would want to wrap the story up in a neat little package, but I was dismayed they felt the need to go as far as they did. It's a fun romp and a crazy mix of genres that must be seen to be believed. Just know, that there's a part to the ending that will seem excessive.

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