Musical Monday: Rhythm on the Range (1936)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

rhythm on the rangeThis week’s musical:
Rhythm on the Range – Musical #670

Paramount Pictures

Norman Taurog

Bing Crosby, Frances Farmer, Bob Burns, Martha Raye, Samuel S. Hinds, Lucile Gleason, Warren Hymer, James Burke, George E. Stone, Leonid Kinskey
Musical performers: Sons of the Pioneers, Louis Prima

Wealthy Doris Halloway (Farmer) is prepared to marry a man she doesn’t love, because it seems like the thing to do. Her Aunt Penny (Gleason) owns a ranch out west and heartily disapproves. When Doris hears her Aunt Penny talk about western women and life, Doris decides she needs to go west. She sneaks onto a cattle car with one of Penny’s ranch hands, Jeff (Crosby) and lies about who she is. Jeff and Doris (or Louis as she tells him) travel across country together in a cattle car with his bull, Cuddles.

• Martha Raye’s first film. Norman Taurog saw Raye in a nightclub act and had her written into the film, according to her biographer.
• Martha Raye and Bob Burns previously performed together in vaudeville.
• Merle Oberon was originally considered to star in this film.
• Roy Rogers has a brief, uncredited appearance with the Sons of the Pioneers.
• Louis Prima appears as a trumpet player
• The rodeo scenes were filmed at Madison Square Garden.
• The ranch scenes were filmed in the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, California
• Norman Taurog directed the remake of this film, “Pardners” (1956) which starred Jerry Lewi, Dean Martin and Lori Nelson.

rhythm on the range

Frances Farmer and Bing Crosby

• Bob Burns
• The music of the Sons of the Pioneers

Notable Songs:
• “Empty Saddles” performed by Bing Crosby
• “Roundup Lullaby” performed by Bing Crosby
• “I’m an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)” performed by Bing Crosby, Martha Raye, Bob Burns, Louis Prima, the Sons of the Pioneers

rhythm on the range3

Bob Burns

My review:
There were many takes on the “It Happened One Night”-inspired stories of the rich girl falling in love as she travels across country with a strange man, who she falls in love with.

“Rhythm on the Range” musical western version of “It Happened One Night,” with songs thrown in and a bull along for the ride. It has the whole formula, including a group of crooks after the rich girl to get money from her dad who is looking for her.

It’s fun enough, but (without reading anything about this film before watching it), I really hoped it would be about a rich girl who went out west to live out on a ranch with her aunt and learned to enjoy the simple joys in life … while of course falling in love with a cowhand.

I enjoyed the first bit of the film more than the cross country bit began, though it was still lots of fun.

While Bing Crosby seems like a strange fit for the “singing cowboy” role, he warbles cowboy tunes with skill. “Empty Saddles” is one of the best songs in the film, which went on to be a hit for Crosby.

Francis Farmer and Martha Raye were both new to Hollywood at the time “Rhythm on the Range” was released.

Farmer started in films in 1936 and this was only her third film. Crosby requested for her to be cast in the film, and the success of this film made Farmer a star, according to Farmer’s biographer.

Martha Raye was unanimously praised by the critics when the film came out—called the female Joe E. Brown. I never considered the comparison until this film, but in some of her jokes and lines, it does feel like she mimics Brown. Raye was written into the film after director Norman Taurog saw her in a nightclub act and wanted her in the film, according to Raye’s biographer. This was her first film.

A major highlight for me was comedian Bob Burns, known for his characters from Arkansas and his homemade bazooka instrument. I didn’t know who Bob Burns was until a year ago, and I was thrilled to finally see him in a movie after only hearing him on the Lux Radio Theater. The film also reunited Burns and Raye, who previously performed together in vaudeville.

Another highlight is the appearance of Roy Rogers pre-fame. Here he performs with the Sons of the Pioneers. Blink and you may miss him. Louis Prima also plays the trumpet with the Sons of Pioneers in the film.

Overall, this is an entertaining musical, but I found myself wishing there were more scenes on the ranch. I also would’ve loved to see more of Lucile Gleason’s character.

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