The Gene Autry Show: The Complete Television Series (Timeless Media Group, NR)

dvd gene-autryWatching The Gene Autry Show feels like visiting an old friend, even if you’ve never seen this particular program before.

 

 

To watch an episode of The Gene Autry Show is to pop into a time machine and go back to a kinder, gentler time when right was right, wrong was wrong, and everyone knew the difference. It was also a world in which expository dialogue was the norm and whatever problem was raised early in the show was inevitably solved by the end. Of course, TV writers are still using the same techniques that made The Gene Autry Show a success, and the need to finish what you start before the final commercial break remains a Chekhov’s Law (if you hang a gun on the mantelpiece in the first act…) for a certain type of television program, which is one reason why watching The Gene Autry Show feels like visiting an old friend, even if you’ve never seen this particular program before.

Ironically, Autry may be best known today for owning the Anaheim Angels (from 1961 to 1997), but before he got into the baseball business, he was a quintuple-threat in the show business world, as evidenced by his five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: for live performance, radio, recording, movies, and TV. He created a consistent persona across all media, which appealed to the American mythology of the Western frontier, and which he summarized in The Cowboy Code. Some of the precepts in this Code are predictable—“The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage” and “He must always tell the truth”—while others are the surprisingly forward-looking—“He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.”

Timeless Media Group’s DVD release of The Gene Autry Show: The Complete Television Series includes all 91 half-hour episodes (originally aired 1950 through 1956 on CBS) in restorations that mostly look and sound great. The exceptions are the episodes aired in color, which have that faded, old-movie look. The show itself is basically a condensed version of the B-Westerns Autry made when Hollywood was king, and the fact that he kept the winning formula going in a new medium just proves that he was a good businessman as well as a star. Seriously, you can’t even imagine Gene Autry moaning and groaning that TV is destroying his precious movie industry; instead, he just hops on old Champion (that’s his horse, for those not already in the know), so to speak, and gets on with succeeding in the new marketplace.

Even if you think you’re not a fan of Westerns, there’s plenty on these discs to interest anyone interested in American popular culture and the development of television. Besides being a marvel of economic storytelling, and helping to establish storytelling conventions that are still with us today, The Gene Autry show worked in a number of guest stars, from Alan Hale, Jr. (The Skipper on Gilligan’s Island) to Gayle Davis (who had her own series, Annie Oakley, and was also an extramarital love interest of Autry’s) and Lee Van Cleef.

There’s about 48 hours of programming just from the TV show on these disks, and a number of extras are included, as well. Bonus content includes episodes of Autry’s radio show Melody Ranch, episodes from several series he produced (The Range Rider, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and The Adventures of Champion), film trailers, TV commercials, and photo galleries. | Sarah Boslaugh

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