Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, and Kay Hughes in The Big Show (1936)


(director: Mack V. Wright; screenwriters: Dorrell McGowan and Stuart E. McGowan; cinematographers: Edgar Lyons/William Nobles; editor: Robert Jahns; music: Arthur Kay; cast: Gene Autry (Gene Autry/Tom Ford), Smiley Burnette (Frog), Kay Hughes (Marion), Sally Payne (Toodles), William Newell (Lee Wilson), Max Terhune (Max, ventriloquist), Charles Judels (Swartz, studio head), Harry Worth (Tony Rico), Christine Maple (Miss VanEvery, Ford’s fiancée), Jerry Larkin (Henchman Blackie), Sons of the Pioneers; Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nat Levine; Republic; 1936)

“This one is strictly for the Hee-Haw crowd.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mack Wright (“The Singing Cowboy”/”Riders of the Whistling Skull”) directs this modestly budgeted but lavishly produced musical Western that stars legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry in a dual role–as a stuntman double named Gene Autry and a talentless movie star named Tom Ford. It’s filmed on location at the 1936 Texas Centennial in Dallas, the first of a series Autry did on various special locations. It’s written by Dorrell McGowan and Stuart E. McGowan. The featured song by Gene is “I’m Mad About You.”

When Tom Ford goes on a fishing vacation to an undisclosed spot to get away from paying gamblers a big debt, his stuntman double Gene Autry is asked, by Ford’s publicity manager Lee Wilson (William Newell), to substitute as Ford for his guest appearance at the big Texas Centennial radio show. While traveling to Dallas from Hollywood Gene meets Marion (Kay Hughes) on the cute when their trailers collide and he rounds up the escaping cattle. She’s heading to the centennial to show her prize steer, and is impressed that a drugstore cowboy can perform like a real cowboy. In Dallas, Gene, as Ford, successfully sings over the radio, and Ford’s studio boss, Swartz (Charles Judels), is convinced the newest rage in films will be singing cowboys and launches a series of musical westerns starring Ford, not realizing that the real Ford cannot sing a note.

When Gene and Marion’s engagement is announced in the newspapers, this brings back Ford’s irate fiancée Miss VanEvery (Christine Maple) from her European vacation. Hearing Ford sing over the radio brings gambler Tony Rico (Harry Worth) and his henchman Blackie (Jerry Larkin) to the centennial to collect Ford’s $10,000 debt. When they discover Gene is posing as Ford, they blackmail Wilson for $25,000 to keep the secret or ruin Ford’s reputation by going public.

When Marion and Gene perform in the “Cavalcade of Texas” as part of the centennial, they meet Ford’s fiancée. In the confusion Marion splits, but Gene comes clean with the truth over the radio. To his surprise, the audience accepts him. This confession ruins the blackmail scheme, and the gamblers are later caught Western style with the blackmail money by the vigilant Gene. But the money that was paid by Swartz is lost in a lagoon by the ditsy Toodles (Sally Payne), an aspiring showbiz gal around for comic relief. Frog (Smiley Burnette), Autry’s partner, also provides some lame comic relief.

This one is strictly for the Hee-Haw crowd.