Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Lone Ranger: The Masked Rider (1938?)

The following short is the first animated adventure of the masked rider of the plains, the Lone Ranger. It is unusal that a cartoon produced in the 1930's should be silent, or semi-silent by having a score but no dialogue, which suggests that this was produced for the 16mm home movie market. That might also explain a few shortcuts taken with reversed and reused animation. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable two minutes of Wild West gunplay.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Galaxy Express 999: The Essential Episodes

Watching 113 episodes of any television series is a daunting task for any casual viewer. In such a case, the expansive length of Galaxy Express 999 can be its own worst enemy. This is especially true considering how it can drag a bit in the middle, when Maetel and Tetsuro get their rail passes stolen for the 30th time. Nevertheless, watching at least part of the series is a valuable experience for any fan of anime or steam trains that fly through outer space.

As a service, then, I have collected those episodes of Galaxy Express 999 I consider to best articulate the heart of the show. This is a subjective list, as any such list must be, and one could undoubtedly arrive at an entirely different series by selecting a different set. There are even a number of episodes that I quite liked personally that I had to leave out. This set focuses on the overarching narrative of young Tetsuro's struggle to obtain - and decide if he really wants - a cyborg body, as well as the unfolding mystery of Maetel's identity.

Therefore, to mirror the length of a regular television season, albeit a long one, here are my picks for the 35 most important episodes of Galaxy Express 999. I took the licenced Crunchyroll version as our standard, and have provided links to each episode. Enjoy!

Episode 1: Departure Ballad
Young Tetsuro's impoverished family is inching towards Megalopolis when his mother is slain by the cyborg Count Mecha. Rescued by the mysterious Maetel, she accompanies him on his mission to take the Galaxy Express 999 to the planet of Andromeda, where immortal cyborg bodies are given away for free.
Episode 2: The Red Winds of Mars
The first stop for the Galaxy Express 999 is Mars, where Tetsuro encounters a group of cyborgs for whom immortal life has become a curse.
Episode 3: Titan's Sleeping Warrior
On a moon of Jupiter, Tetsuro must rescue Maetel using the cosmo warrior gun handed down to him by the mother of deceased space warrior Tochiro Oyama, companion to Leiji Matsumoto's Captain Harlock.
Episode 4: The Great Bandit Antares
Without having even left the solar system, the 999 comes under attack by the space pirate Antares. Though not an important episode in itself, it is mentioned repeatedly through later episodes on this list.
Episode 5: Shadow of the Planet of Indecision
The mystery of Maetel deepens as they visit Pluto, the mass grave for those who have transitioned to the life of a cyborg, and its faceless keeper Shadow, who fears she may never be able to reclaim the beauty she had in life.
Episode 7: The Graveyard at the Bottom of Gravity - Part One
Episode 8: The Graveyard at the Bottom of Gravity - Part Two
The Galaxy Express 999 is sidelined into a Sargasso-like gravity well where they become captive to an embittered cyborg woman with a horrifying secret.
Episode 11: Formless Planet Nuruba
Shapeshifting children try to replace Tetsuro and Maetel aboard the Galaxy Express 999 in their desire to escape their formless planet in what they think are vastly superior human bodies.
Episode 14: Laala from the Double Planet
Tetsuro is taken captive on a binary planet system and his consciousness placed into a machine body without his consent, which brings down a shocking and terrible judgment from Maetel.
Episode 22: Pirate Ship Queen Emeraldas
In the first full crossover between Galaxy Express 999 and another work by Leiji Matsumoto, Maetel is reunited with the space pirate Queen Emeraldas, with whom she shares a secret past.
Episode 25: A Steel Angel
Tetsuro and Maetel are caught up in the conflict as revolutionaries try to save a dying, over-industrialized world from itself.
Episode 31: The Angry Planet
A friend of Count Mecha sends assassins to wreak vengeance on Tetsuro and Maetel as they reach a planet where the quick-tempered residents settle everything with a fistfight.
Episode 39: The Mist of the Fog Capital
It's a race against time to save the frail inhabitants of a warped planet from taking off on the 999 with the passes they stole from Maetel and Tetsuro.
Episode 42: Femail's Memories
A woman from the Conductor's past haunts him as they near the planet named Visage of Memories.
Episode 43: Kira of Storm Hill
A melancholic family on an eternally windy planet mirror Tetsuro's own ambition to leave Earth, and Maetel hints at a larger purpose for his journey.
Episode 49: The Planet Future
In a more comedic episode, Tetsuro learns the lessons of kindness and trust when a freak typhoon blows away his and Maetel's passes.
Episode 51: Artemis of the Transparent Sea - Part One
Episode 52: Artemis of the Transparent Sea - Part Two
A blob-like planet traps the 999 on its sinking surface, mobilizing the Space Defence Force to destroy it. When a machine woman crashes along with them, they discover that this shapeless entity is a living being and the woman's mother.
Episode 63: The Pitch Dark Sisters
Maetel is captured while sending a mysterious transmission about her mission, forcing Tetsuro to rescue her and foil a plot to bring unnatural light to a planet of total darkness.
Episode 66: The Planet of Funeral in the Mist
Tetsuro contemplates eternal life as they visit a planet whose immortal inhabitants have come to love the novelty of funerals so much that they kill for them.
Episode 69: The Rebellion of C62
Maetel deliberately exacerbates a hostage crisis aboard the 999 to test Tetsuro for an unknown purpose.
Episode 79: The Pirate of Time Castle - Part One
Episode 80: The Pirate of Time Castle - Part Two
Episode 81: The Pirate of Time Castle - Part Three
The most extensive Matsumoto crossover of the series, as the space pirate Captain Harlock attacks the Galaxy Express 999 with his time traveling castle, during which the heroes unite with the sister of the woman from "The Graveyard at the Bottom of Gravity" and Tetsuro is returned to the moment that Count Mecha murdered his mother.
Episode 85: The Planet of Illusive Love
A growing Tetsuro examines his feelings for Maetel as they reach a planet renowned for lovers.
Episode 88: Planet, Crossroads of Destiny
Arriving at a stop from which they will be able to view the destruction of a planet, Tetsuro is confronted with the question of what he will do once he is able to outlive the Earth.
Episode 90: The Snow Woman of Andromeda - Part One
Episode 91: The Snow Woman of Andromeda - Part Two
Love and ramen become the focal point of this story about the costs of embracing a machine body.
Episode 105: The Legend of the Young Warriors
Close to the end of his journey, Tetsuro is forced to consider where his loyalties lie when he visits a planet where the conflicts between cyborgs and humans have erupted into full warfare.
Episode 108: The Destruction of Macaroni au Gratin
When a pair of trapped cyborgs attempt to escape their weird cylindrical planet by shrinking Tetsuro and Maetel, the latter receives an eerie vision of an all-powerful woman she calls "mother"... Promethium.
Episode 109: Maetel's Journey - Part One
Episode 110: Maetel's Journey - Part Two
By going into warp speed, the 999 opens a rift in time causing it to crash with another 999 from another time, complete with another Maetel traveling with a different boy. Before they can puzzle out the mystery, they are intercepted by a phantom planet where the organic inhabitants hunt down cyborgs.
Episode 111: The Bat Planet
At the penultimate stop of the Galaxy Railways, Tetsuro must make the decision whether to continue on to his final destination.
Episode 112: The Vision of Youth, Farewell, 999 - Part One
Episode 113: The Vision of Youth, Farewell, 999 - Part Two
The grand finale to Galaxy Express 999! Tetsuro, Maetel and the 999 reach the end of their long journey, where Tetsuro must make his final decision, once and for all, and suffer the consequences.

For those looking to go further, I also recommend the Maetel Legend two-part OVA, currently available on DVD. This prequel bridges the gap between Galaxy Express 999 and Leiji Matsumoto's Queen Millenium, revealing the horrifying origins of Queen Promethium's machine empire, Maetel's relationship to Emeraldas and Maetel's quest aboard the 999. Unlike the epic, operatic Space Symphony Maetel, Maetel Legend does this with much of the same style and spirit of the Galaxy Express 999 series.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Riders of the Whistling Skull (1937)

Weird West stories were a slow start in Hollywood. Though Gene Autry dove in with both feet for 1935's The Phantom Empire, few followed in those feverish footsteps. Among those were the Three Mesquiteers with Riders of the Whistling Skull.

The Three Mesquiteers were an ensemble Western cast that performed in 51 films for Republic Pictures between 1936 and 1943. The original trio included Robert Livingstone as Stony Brooke, Sid Saylor as Lullaby Joslin and Ray "Crash" Corrigan as Tuscon Smith. By the time of Riders of the Whistling Skull, Max Terhune replaced Saylor as Lullaby Joslin, ushering in a revolving door of stars that included John Wayne. Among the list of guest stars was Roy Rogers.

In Riders of the Whistling Skull, the Three Mesquiteers get caught up in an expedition trailing the lost Professor Marsh, who was searching for the equally lost city of Lukachukai. The dominant feature marking the entrance to the city is the titular rock formation. Guarding the secret is a tribe of natives and a murderous conspirator haunting the expedition.

Though an intriguing premise, Riders of the Whistling Skull fails to deliver on it. The Whistling Skull is an impressive piece of cinema art but ends up merely distracting from the apparent absence of the whole city. What could have been an opportunity for at least some gorgeous matte work results in nothing. Nor is there a single singing cowboy to save it.

Riders of the Whistling Skull is in the public domain and presently available online via the Internet Archive.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Bang! Heroes

Some time ago we took a look at the Wild West-themed strategy game Bang! Howdy. This game introduced us to a colourful cast of characters including steam-powered gunmen, dirigibles and artillery cannons mixed in with the human gunslingers and native shamen.

Whirled decided to keep the franchise going with the next installment: Bang! Heroes. In a departure from the previous game, Bang! Heroes is a side-scrolling platformer where you can adopt the identity of a female shooter or male Native American named "Trickster Raven". The rogues gallery of steam-powered outlaws also return to plague you across the dusty frontier, all under the control of the nefarious Prussian immigrant Helmut Von Helmet.

The Bang! franchise is quickly becoming one of our favorite Wild West Scientific Romances, for the sheer inventiveness of the setting and characters as well as the variety of gaming experiences. It is certainly worth your time to check it out at Bang! Heroes

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Kent Monkman: The Triumph of Mischief

"[Native Americans may be preserved] by some great protecting policy of government... in a magnificent park... A nation's park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature's beauty!" George Catlin, landscape painter, 1832.

Kent Monkman is a gay Canadian artist of Cree ancestry. His life-partner is Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, a sequined and eagle-feathered artist-anthropologist whose life's work is to undertake an exhaustive taxonomy of the European male. Miss Chief's hope is to preserve the dying culture of the European male for the edification of future generations, and possibly even to set aside some kind of "reserve" upon which European men may continue unadulterated by contact with the First Peoples of the Americas. Together, artist and alter-ego have created a body of work which most current retro-Victorian artists and craftspeople could only wish to: a technically accomplished use of historical methods and mediums that opens the narratives of colonial art to an entertaining and risque dialogue with the colonized.

Tintype portrait of the artist as Miss Chief Eagle Testickle,
Emergence of a Legend part 2 of 5 (2006).

The appeal of Monkman's work for the appreciator of historical art is twofold. On the one hand, he is an extremely accomplished artist of historical calibre. Though the quality of true historical oil painting is all-but lost, Monkman's vast and sublime mountain landscapes rendered in acrylic fire the imagination in the same way that their antiquated counterparts do. These are framed - quite literally - in the elegant manner of historical art, with gilt and velvet drapes aplenty. His only divergence is in vivid figural work that seems to draw more from the influence of comic books.

Likewise, Monkman effectively resurrects the arts of tintype photography and silent film, when his attentions turn from 19th century romantic painters to 20th century salvage anthropologists. In his short film Robin's Hood, the Sons of the Pioneers even come into play with a triumvirate of haunting songs. In another film, the twin-screen Shooting Geronimo, the style of slapstick silent film and Hollywood serials are reborn with perfection. In short, Monkman's work is no mere parody of aged mediums and genres, but legitimate new artistic entries in their own right.

On the other hand, they are no mere replications. Near perfect in their imitation of form, the characters who occupy vast European-style landscapes are culled from history, mythology and drag shows. Miss Chief leads bacchanals that lure good cowboys and Mounties out of their masculinist Euro-American and Euro-Canadian regiments and into a... discourse... with the First Nations and GLBTQ communities. As if in echo of Franz Fanon, he doesn't bother with ponderous reclamation mythologies about the nobility of Natives or of historically exalted "two-spirited" persons. As in his painting Charged Particles in Motion, Monkman's trickster-type alter-ego literally crashes through historical painting.

Scene in the Northwest, Paul Kane (1845).

Yosemite Winter Scene, Albert Bierstadt (1872).

Charged Particles in Motion, Kent Monkman (2007).

Furthermore, being First Nations and gay himself adds crucial authenticity to his work. Despite the best intentions of Euro-Canadians and Euro-Americans (or of Europeans themselves), opening up the artistic dialogue with their own tradition can only go so far. It still comes from a position of their own historical privilege and runs the risk of further romanticizing of the subject. Instead of romanticizing the masculinist and aristocratic, it may only romanticize the genuinely class oppressed. Monkman reverses the fortunes of Europe and denies that he is a subject to be romanticized. Or if anyone is going to be doing the romanticizing, it will be him.

Not that his work doesn't get bogged down at times. In both The Taxonomy of the European Male and Group of Seven Inches films (the latter a play on seminal Canadian artists "The Group of Seven"), Monkman takes a fairly obvious course: the First Nations salvage anthropologist visits Europe to chronicle the dying European male in his aboriginal habitat, outfitting him in his more authentic traditional costume of a mediaeval peasant. It runs the fine line between statement and gag, unsure of which would be the worse of the two. The true saving grace is that the salvage anthropologist in question is Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, bedecked in lipstick, high heels and shimmering Hudson's Bay Company loincloth.

Miss Chief's entry into the scene marks an ascent to trickster hilarity. She is an embodiment of camp as well as a serious salvage anthropologist of the European male. That campiness, down to pink feather-headdresses and Louis Vuitton dogsleds, is what keeps Monkman's work from becoming heavy-handed. The theatre for his films is a tipi strung together from crystal beads, the screen a lace-embroidered buffalo hide. His greatest retort to the deadly serious artists of the past is not so much the message as it is the flamboyant, wilderness Pride Parade that their work has become the backdrop for.

Cree Master 1, Kent Monkman (2002).

All works in this review are, of course, copyright Kent Monkman. However, to see more and in detail (being aware that it is mature subject matter), do visit his website.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show

By his twenties, William F. Cody had already mined for gold, run for the Pony Express and fought with the Union in the Civil War. It was a stint hunting bison for the workers of the Kansas Pacific Railway that earned him his immortal moniker - Buffalo Bill - which became synonymous with the Wild West show that he toured. Along with the likes of Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, and Canadian Metis rebel Gabriel Dumont, Cody staged this melodramatic recreation of Western life all over North America and in Europe, including a Jubilee performance for Queen Victoria.

Besides acting out the story of the Wild West as it was being written, and then acting it up in his Wild West show, Cody was a near shameless self-promoter. Evidently understanding the power of the media, he wrote autobiography after autobiography, and allowed other authors to write up to 1,700 dime novel stories of his exploits, real and imagined. The archetypal one is the briefly biographical Adventures of Buffalo Bill from Boyhood to Manhood, published in 1882 as the first issue of Beadle's Boy's Library of Sport, Story and Adventure and written by prodigious Cody chronicler Col. Prentiss Ingraham.

Click on the cover to read this story, as presented online by the marvellous site Dime Novels and Penny Dreadfuls.

A newfangled part of the media that Buffalo Bill turned to his use was the kinetoscope. Next, we have a collection of footage of the Wild West Show as shot by Thomas Edison's filmographers. The Library of Congress has preserved four such films here, though I have also compiled them below:

Buffalo Bill Cody, in one of his posthumously published autobiographies, gives a wonderful hymn to this age that passed from history to eternity:
I am about to take the back-trail through the Old West—the West that I knew and loved. All my life it has been a pleasure to show its beauties, its marvels and its possibilities to those who, under my guidance, saw it for the first time.

Now, going back over the ground, looking at it through the eyes of memory, it will be a still greater pleasure to take with me the many readers of this book. And if, in following me through some of the exciting scenes of the old days, meeting some of the brave men who made its stirring history, and listening to my camp-fire tales of the buffalo, the Indian, the stage-coach and the pony-express, their interest in this vast land of my youth, should be awakened, I should feel richly repaid...

The buffalo has gone. Gone also is the stagecoach whose progress his pilgrimages often used to interrupt. Gone is the pony express, whose marvelous efficiency could compete with the wind, but not with the harnessed lightning flashed over the telegraph wires. Gone are the very bone-gatherers who laboriously collected the bleaching relics of the great herds that once dotted the prairies.

But the West of the old times, with its strong characters, its stern battles and its tremendous stretches of loneliness, can never be blotted from my mind. Nor can it, I hope, be blotted from the memory of the American people, to whom it has now become a priceless possession.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The Phantom Empire (1935)

Insanity abounds in The Phantom Empire, one of the classic movie serials from the Golden Age of the Silver Screen, as tin-plated terrors take on singing cowboys on the open range and under the earth. Rumour has it that the inspiration for this manic blending of genres came about while Western movie scriptwriter Wallace McDonald was under Nitrous Oxide in the dentist's chair, and it shows. The result is the cinema's first great Science Fiction Western.

The number of genre, and medium, crossovers is enough to make a metacritic's head spin. By 1935, Gene Autry's star was in the ascendant. Talented on the microphone and with the guitar, the young Texan was discovered in 1928 and given a record deal with Columbia the following year. Through this and his consistent appearances on Old Time Radio, Autry was soon known across the country as "The Singing Cowboy". In 1934, Autry and his partner, Smiley Burnette, were tapped by Mascot Pictures Corp. to star in their Western serials. The first was Ol Santa Fe, followed in 1935 by The Phantom Empire.

In the latter, Autry plays himself - on the suggestion that producer Nat Levine didn't think much of Autry's acting ability - as big attraction of Radio Ranch, a fictional locale perpetuating the myth of radio. While the radio performances of the Singing Cowboy were all done in the confines of a Chicago studio, The Phantom Empire played up the idea that they were broadcast live from the Old West, complete with honest-to-goodness rodeo trick riding and costumed melodrama providing the quintessential Wild West stuff. Ample time is given to Autry's musical interludes, and the radio program forms the backdrop of the plot.

Into this prairie Eden flies the serpent of duplicitous radium prospectors. Bedecked in suits and fedoras as they disembark their airplane, we enter into the realm of a gangster flick. Together, the gang led by Professor Beetson plot to make Autry miss a show, which would cause his contract to be immediately forfeited and see Radio Ranch fall into receivership. Without these pesky cowpokes in the way, they would be free to mine the wealth of the radioactive element radium lying deep beneath the farm without interference.

They aren't the only ones who want Autry out of the way, and this is where The Phantom Empire literally descends into madness. Handily residing 25,000 feet beneath Radio Ranch is the radium-rich lost empire of Murania. As the Ice Age began to crawl across the surface of the earth 100,000 years ago, the people of Mu carved out a new civilization for themselves at the planet's core. The result is a fantastically advanced, Scientifictional city that would shame anything found on Mongo or at a World's Fair.

In order to preserve the security of their technotopia from invasion by the violent, bloodthirsty savages of 1935 America, the Queen of Murania decides that Radio Ranch must be destroyed. Without the ranch, there would be less of a chance of the entrance to the caverns being discovered. And so, from here gleaming chrone throneroom, the Queen's command echoes forth: capture Gene Autry!

Mind you, this is all established in the first of the serial's 12 episodes. Parts two and three digress into a murder mystery where Autry has been framed up by Beetson for the murder of the co-owner of Radio Ranch. Meanwhile, dissention and revolution ferment in Murania. Ducking the law after narrowing surviving a brakeless car tumbling down a ravine, Autry is finally captured in part five and taken down to Murania. For the rest we're caught between riding posses, airplane crashes and perhaps the best device ever for dealing with cliffhanger endings. Thanks to Murania's advanced radium technology they can even revive the dead, which works out nicely for Autry and his companions several times!

Of particular interest to film buffs is the location shooting for The Phantom Empire. It is little wonder that the Scientific City of Murania should look so dapper: this serial was the first in a long line of films to use the famous Griffith Observatory as a locale. With construction beginning in 1933 and opening on May 14, 1935, The Phantom Empire filmed and premiered months before the observatory was actually completed. Nearby Bronson Canyon - most famous as Adam West's Batcave - was also used for the entrance to Murania. It is a happy coincidence, then, that Griffith Park is the home of the Autry National Center of the American West.

Thanks to the magic of public domain and the Internet Archive, the entirety of The Phantom Empire is available online.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Roy Rogers: King of the Cowboys

A big country requires big people to settle it... Big people with big stories... and the frontier of North America is just that kind of a place. It is a vast stretch of land of almost incomprehensible breadth, from the pine forests of Canada in the north to the rainforests of Mexico in the south, from the Mississippi River in the east to the rivers of the California Gold Rush in the west. Spanning three countries and the bulk of a whole continent, there is enough space there for every dream and every tall tale.

Like the tall tales it gives rise to, the Wild West is a diverse land that skirts the boundary between fiction and reality. The endless reaches of Great Plains and Painted Deserts, the big skies of Montana, the towering mesa and Rocky Mountains, and the depths of the Grand Canyon all seem like something out of a fantasy... As they did to the first Native Americans who crossed over from Asia in the twilight days of the Ice Age and the first European settlers who crossed over by riverboat, stagecoach and rail.

Against this background played out some of the most dramatic conflicts of history, from the Northwest Mounted Police's March West to the Trail of Tears, Custer's Last Stand to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. And like that final confrontation between the Earp lawmen and the Clanton outlaws, those events and figures of history slowly and surely enter the realm of myth to the point where we may even forget that the likes of Davy Crockett, Sitting Bull, Calamity Jane, Sam Steele, Geronimo and Wild Bill Hickok actually lived. Or that the likes of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill and Slue-Foot Sue didn't.

The West is a land of strange contradiction. Always seen as a land of opportunity and untamed exploration, the settlers came by Conestoga wagon only to be followed by the steel of the railway. And the more tamed the West became, the more the legends grew. Where would John Henry be without the tracks to test his strength against, or the steam hammer to contest? Some of the biggest legends have come out of the most settled period, whether Lone Ranger and Zorro on the radio or Roy Rogers on the silver screen.

Roy Rogers, Trigger and Dale Evans

Roy Rogers, like his predecessor and chief competitor Gene Autry, blurred the lines between myth and historical reality. One may speak pejoratively of how Fess Parker played essentially the same character in every movie he made under the Disney banner, a point he himself came to realize. Rogers, on the other hand, literally did play himself. Regardless of the setting, time, occupation, or any other consideration, Roy Rogers was the character. Trigger was the horse. Gabby was the sidekick. Dale Evans, at least, got to play different people.

How much was the character and how much was the man will probably always be an overthought mystery. It probably didn't bother Leonard Slye much. Slye was born in Cincinatti in 1911 and lived both in the city and on the farm for a good part of his youth. After both he and his father tired of working in an urban shoe factory, the family moved out to California in 1930. In 1934 Slye joined up with Canadian singer Bob Nolan to form the Western group The Sons of the Pioneers, and in 1935 was introduced to film as a member of the troupe. As a back-up cowboy to Gene Autry, Slye performed both under his name and as "Dick Weston". When Autry went AWOL from the studio in 1938, Slye was thrust into the spotlight of the film Under the Western Stars in his new identity as Roy Rogers.

As Roy Rogers, his popularity skyrocketed. Having control over the licencing of his likeness and silken voice, it is anecdotally suggested that no other name of the time was as well-known - or marketable - save for Walt Disney. Rogers also proves an interesting, and dare one say "postmodern", character in piecing together the romantic construction of the Wild West and its intersections with identity and Hollywood. Thankfully, with so many of his multitude of films being in the public domain, the Internet Archive allows Rogers to be continually, perpetually accessible.

Gabby Hayes and Roy Rogers.

In Billy the Kid Returns (1938), Roy Rogers is a deputy sheriff masquerading as a Robin Hood-like Billy the Kid in order to rout the cattle barons who are terrorizing homesteading farmers. Rogers becomes, essentially, the agent of the Wild West's domestication; at one point, a newspaper headline flashes "end of the open range predicted".

Two other common themes come out through Billy the Kid Returns. The one is when Roy Rogers portrays a historical character, like he does in Young Buffalo Bill (1940) and Young Bill Hickok (1940) as well(though neither film really has anything to do with them). In the case of Billy, Rogers directly replaces the historical figure with his own persona as a plot point. The other is that of Rogers in disguise, his use of deception in order to secure a higher good and the sublimation of his true self beneath an assumed identity. In Billy the Kid Returns, he is Leonard Slye being Roy Rogers the man being Roy Rogers the character being a US Deputy being Billy the Kid.

In Sheriff of Tombstone (1941) he's back to lying for the greater good. This time he plays Sheriff Brett Starr, late of Dodge City, who has moved to Tombstone and assumed the identity of gunslinger turned would-be-corrupt-sheriff Shotgun Cassidy. Therein he becomes embroiled in a plot by the mayor - who hired Shotgun - and the other town bigwigs to cheat the populace out of their silver mines.

It's the bad guy, Black Bart, who is using deception and dual identity in Nevada City ( 1941), where is attempting to drive a wedge between the stagecoach and railway lines. Roy, playing Jeff Connors, does get caught up in false accusations left and right as the agent of reconciliation between the companies. In the end he aids, once again, in the settlement of the West. This one also features a gorgeous steam train on which Roy has a thrilling, car-hopping fight.

Roy spends a good deal of time on the lam in Bad Man of Deadwood (1941) as well. He begins as the trick shooter for Gabby's snake oil sales outfit, but they find that the town of Deadwood is overrun with a mafia-like collusion of businessmen. It's up to quick drawing Roy to become the only real justice the town has seen.

The Arizona Kid (1939) takes place in a more specific place and time: Missouri, beginning in 1861. Roy and Gabby star as Confederate scouts hunting down the rogue raider McBride, who is wanted for having dishonoured the South with his ungentlemanly habits of looting and pillaging every farm along the way. Nowadays, seeing cleanshaven Roy Rogers in a Confederate uniform is jarring... One might as well see him in the black of the Gestapo. In Hollywood of the time, the ambiguous ending of the American Civil War was in full crawl. It may be said that it never really ended, what with the continued North-South political divide and Fox-Republican celebrities promoting secession from the United States. The Golden Age of Hollywood, however, was only one generation removed from the conflict. The children and grandchildren of Confederate soldiers would have been his fans. For Roy, what that means is that he could still be a "Good Confederate" and have an opportunity to sing spirituals with African-American slaves.

Roy and Gabby lose the Confederate grey in Southward Ho (1939), when the Civil War ends and the two return to Texas. Gabby becomes part-owner in a ranch with a Union commander that he humiliated during the war. This odd coupling turns more sinister when faux-blues show up to loot the countryside. Roy becomes the agent of American reconciliation after it becomes apparent that the men are acting without the knowledge and permission of the commander.

Roy and a pretty pale sidekick who is not Gabby hook up with the Arizona border patrol after serving with Roosevelt in Rough Riders' Roundup (1939). Other films available for viewing include South of Santa Fe (1942), Sunset Serenade (1942), Idaho (1943), Silver Spurs (1943), Utah (1945), Bells of Rosarita (1945), Bells of San Angelo (1947), and Under California Stars (1948).

Trigger himself gets an origin story in My Pal Trigger (1946). Roy Rogers is sent to prison after a false accusation that he killed Gabby's horse Golden Sovereign. Roy wanted to breed his horse with Sovereign, but Gabby refused. That year later, Roy returns with Trigger, the son of Sovereign, and seeks the chance to clear his name. This dramatic origin covers Trigger's real history: this palomino stallion always was a Hollywood stunt horse. He began life in 1932 as Golden Cloud, making his silver screen debut as Maid Marian's steed in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood. Roy was offered the chance to use any of five rented horses and chose Golden Cloud. Later that year he bought Cloud outright and renamed him Trigger. Trigger lived a ripe 33 years, after which he was taxadermied and mounted in the now-defunct Roy Rogers Museum. He is currently up for Christie's auction, along with the rest of the museum's possessions, in July.

Both man and horse are, in a sense, a Hollywood riddle. The Roy Rogers brand, the character, came to stand for the most upright, honest American values carried over from a rugged and bygone era. Yet the man was a celebrity made possible by glitz and glamour (as glitzy as his sequined outfits later in life). His films betray this: regularly Rogers is unjustly on the run from the law or using deception on behalf of justice, and just as regularly he is being the very agent of the frontier's domestication that he bemoans in song. On screen and in life he was a man of great integrity, but his films are a meta-philosophical layering of everything as upright, rugged and honest as a non-alcholic cocktail. It is almost as though he knew, beneath all that charm and silken-voiced verse that Roy Rogers and the Old West could not coexist. Just as Leonard Slye constructed Roy Rogers, Roy Rogers had to construct a New West to suit him. In that process, he became a legend of the Wild West, somewhere between the tall tales and the historical figures.

Roy and Trigger doing what they do best, along with
The Sons of the Pioneers, in Hollywood Canteen (1944)