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SOUTH OF THE BORDER (director: George Sherman; screenwriters: Betty Burbridge/Gerald Geraghty; cinematographer: William Nobles; editor: Lester Orlebeck; cast: Gene Autry (Gene Autry), Smiley Burnette (Frog Millhouse), June Storey (Lois Martin), Lupita Tovar (Dolores Mendoza), Mary Lee (Patsy), Duncan Renaldo (Andreo Mendoza), Alan Edwards (Saunders), Frank Reicher (Don Diego Mendoza); Runtime: 71; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Berke; Republic; 1939)
“The hit song of South of the Border inspired the plot.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Oddball Western with Gene Autry as a patriotic American agent helping out the Mexican government nab unspecified foreign agents fermenting a revolution among ranchers. The Western tale of an improbable Mexican revolution linked it up with the current crisis in Europe, and came out for America’s involvement in that war effort before America did get involved. It’s flatly directed by George Sherman (“Mexicali Rose”) and weakly written by Betty Burbridge and Gerald Geraghty. The hit song of South of the Border inspired the plot.

At the time Gene Autry was popular as America’s favorite singing cowboy. By 1937 he was voted America’s Favorite Cowboy and by 1940 was one of the four biggest stars in motion pictures. This routine Western turned out to be a big box office hit.

Autry and his comic relief sidekick Smiley Burnette are federal agents sent to Mexico to investigate suspicious political activities, as the baddies have their eyes on Mexico’s oil fields. The agents help a landowner Don Diego (Frank Reicher) on the island of Palermo move out his cattle in the midst of the possible revolution. Gene uncovers that spies are operating a secret radio station in an abandoned oil well. He trails the operator to the spy ring and saves the day by smashing plans for a possible submarine base.

Duncan Reynaldo, known primarily as portraying the Cisco Kid, plays the foolish Mexican rancher who dreams of being El Presidente when the revolution comes and aids the enemy agent (Alan Edwards). Duncan’s the brother of Dolores Mendoza (Lupita Tovar), the senorita Gene has his eyes on, and his uncle is the good guy rancher Gene is helping. Mary Lee plays a runaway orphan teenage girl with a crush on Gene. June Storey plays the beautiful American Lois Martin, who is the third agent on the case. When Gene returns after capturing the baddies to see Dolores, he discovers she has become a nun out of shame for her brother’s traitorous actions. That most sobering scene was unintentionally funny, and is almost worth seeing this corny propaganda film for how lame it was as a melodrama.

The film seems to be filled with a song at almost every turn, even during the climactic chase scene Gene breaks into song. If you like musical Westerns, this one takes the cake.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”