Don’t Fence Me In (1945)

Directed by John English
Written by Dorrell & Stuart E. McGowan

Roy Rogers is almost a mythical figure within the Western genre. As a part of this marathon, he is mostly absent, with this, Don’t Fence Me In, as his only appearance. And yet, when I hear his name I can’t help but think of the genre, and his is a name I know off hand. He is not Gary Cooper, John Wayne, James Stewart or any other number of mega western stars, but when you hear his name you can’t help but think of the genre. As I am not a Western expert, I can’t say exactly what it is, or why he didn’t have more major films because as much as I build Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger up as mega-western stars, Don’t Fence Me In, the only one of their films on my marathon list, is also one of the more obscure films on my list, with just 171 votes on IMDb.

The plot of Don’t Fence Me In is simple, with it’s actors essentially playing themselves, or at the very least borrowing their names. Dale Evans plays a magazine reporter who’ll do just about anything to get a scoop. So when she hears about a old gunslinger called Wildcat Kelly, she heads west to the ranch of Roy Rogers, where she meets Gabby Hayes. As it turns out, Wildcat Kelly didn’t die, but rather retired and became Gabby Hayes. When word gets out after Dale publishes the story in her magazine, against Roy’s wishes, Roy and Dale must fight to protect Gabby, who is now under prosecution from the law for crimes that went unpunished.

This film plays mostly like a B-movie and feels very much like a quick production made in a series of production by the same cast and crew. Probably because that is exactly what this is. So I wonder what makes it stand out above the other films in the series? For me, it was a fun little romp through the “west”. I use “west” in quotation marks because in reality it takes place in present day (1945), but unlike some of the other non-westerns I’ve covered in this marathon already, Don’t Fence Me In presents a good argument for inclusion, mostly due to the plot focusing on a retired outlaw and his life after the frontier. Gabby Hayes, who we saw as the cantankerous stage driver in Tall in the Saddle is just funny enough, just old enough, and just “off” enough to pull off the comedic role of Wildcat Kelly.

The rest of the cast works very much like an ensemble, Rogers included. Apart from when he is singing and strumming his guitar, Rogers’ charisma doesn’t exactly seep off the screen like you might expect from someone of his stature. But as I said before, the film feels like a group doing one of many films together, which means they all work well together, and compliment each other perfectly. I was, however, a little disappointed to not get more from Rogers’ famed equine companion Trigger. Trigger hardly graces the screen here. In the end, it’s a brief 70 minute runtime, which is more than enough time to spend with this gang. Any longer and I may have started to lose my patience.

Of course that is not to say I didn’t enjoy the film, I did very much in fact. But it does have a certain low budget charm to it, which places it into the very good for what it is box. When standing the film up against some of the genre giants, it doesn’t hold a candle, but that is also not what Don’t Fence Me In is trying to be. It is a throwaway film, but one worth spending the short run time with, which makes it a film which is hard to recommend universally, but also one whose charm is easy to give into. It’s just zany enough to be fun, just good enough to be included here, and featuring Roy Rogers, a must for my education of the genre. Oh, also, the title song is worth the price of admission, even if it seems a little shoehorned into the film.

*** – Good

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