Starring: Roy Rogers
Mood: If you’re like ‘I want to watch a Western but nothing too gritty or violent or serious and also I want some seriously prime cowboy singing’.
There comes a time in every Western fan’s life that they encounter Roy Rogers.
It’s like a rite of passage, except instead of the rowdy hazing you’d expect from the Yellowstone bunkhouse, you’re politely asked to sing upbeat trail songs with a clean-cut band of dapper young white dudes.
Rogers, aka ‘The King of the Cowboys’, starred in over 100 films plus radio and TV versions of The Roy Rogers Show. He was everywhere in the Golden Age of Westerns, the late ‘30s to the early ‘50s. Heck, he even got a drink AND a chain of restaurants named after him!
- The Roy Rogers mocktail is basically a fancy Cherry Coke
- Roy Rogers is also a moderately priced fast food chain with 42 locations in the Northeastern United States – Rogers was born in Ohio
I bought a Roy Rogers five-movie collection from the local thrift store for $2.99. It contains King of the Cowboys, Song of Texas, Utah, My Pal Trigger, and Under the California Stars. They’re only an hour each, so I figured why waste precious space on the interwebs? I’ll just review them in bulk.
I don’t know enough about Rogers’ career to know if these five movies represent his best, his worst, or somewhere in between. But it shocked me how much fun I had watching this uniquely straightedge take on the Wild West.
Now, this ain’t my first rodeo with cheap Western DVD sets, nor with the ‘Great American Western’ series. They’re mostly terrible. You know this because a) the movies were available to be used on a cheap DVD set, and b) so many people have hocked their copies to thrift stores.
They also have this obnoxious little watermark that shows in the corner of every movie the entire time it plays, which makes you wonder, did they really get permission to use them in their shitty collections?
But I did some research, and by “did some research” I mean I read the first two rankings lists of his movies that come up on Google. My Pal Trigger ranks pretty highly, while the other four are apparently mid-level to bottom-ten.
Here are my top takeaways from these Roy Rogers Westerns:
- Lots of exciting stunts that you can tell were done by the actors, especially fist fights, horsemanship, and horse-related stunts (and some scary AF chuckwagon racing in Song of Texas)
- The female characters tend to be stronger and more opinionated than the usual fare, especially in Utah
- Trigger the horse is the BEST F*CKING SIDEKICK of all time – tied with Ott, of course (who is a horse, of course) from The Villain
- Roy Rogers has a bubble butt and I’m not mad at it
- Gabby Hayes, who appears in multiple Rogers movies, is a hi-la-ri-ous Western character actor of the kind you get from old Disney Westerns or Support Your Local Sheriff – I could listen to him call people “whipper-snapper” and “persnickety” all day
- No Indigenous stereotypes here… or Black, or Latinx… because the movies only feature white people
- There’s also no swearing, and nothing scary – Rogers excelled at family-friendly fare
- Awesome movies for horse lovers, especially My Pal Trigger, which is Trigger’s origin story and includes a choreographed dance number on horseback, and Utah, which opens with like five straight minutes of galloping horses
- Nobody ever gets dirty or bloody or messy, unless they’re a drunk or scoundrel
- Give me cowboys singing an entire ode to biscuits (King of the Cowboys) ANY DAY OF THE WEEK!
At times, Rogers feels a little wooden, like he’s reciting his lines perfectly but not really aiming for more than what’s required.
But you can just tell that this man had a massive amount of talent. He was a great singer, and obviously a great person. He met his wife Dale Evans on one of his movies, and they were together for the rest of their lives. He also saw Trigger as a friend and co-star – he had him stuffed after he passed, a fact I learned from Val Kilmer’s autobiography of all places.
- Fun Trigger Facts: Trigger, originally called Golden Cloud, was an unregistered mixed breed (possibly thoroughbred and quarter horse), had his own horsey stunt double, was considered the smartest horse in film, and although he was a stallion, he was never bred.
What I love about the Roy Rogers Westerns is that they were made in that awesome time when the Wild West was barely in the rearview. Actual Western saloons and brothels still existed, as did some of the people who frequented them. The 1880s were literally only as far back to the directors and actors of the ‘40s as the 1960s are to us now, which blows my mind.
The movies are made as though they’re real ‘modern’ stories, so you have cowboys and vehicles in the same scene, and Rogers plays himself – a famous singing cowboy.
This isn’t any kind of serious, factual Western storytelling – it’s a SUPER romanticized and whitewashed view of the West, but it’s okay for what it is. They weren’t trying to be realistic and gritty or historically accurate, they just wanted to put on a good show. The action is super well done and the adventures are mostly entertaining. I didn’t like Under the California Stars or Song of Texas as much, but King of the Cowboys was awesome.
Roy Rogers movies are the kind of thing you could put on for the young ‘uns to convert them into Western fans. Lots of galloping and shooting, pretty women, and happy songs. I thought I would absolutely hate the whole singing thing, but Rogers fully won me over.
You come away believing that there are genuinely good, honest people out there. And we could definitely use more good feels these days.