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King of the Cowboys

(aka "Starlight on the Trail")

 

Republic Pictures Corporation

Production Dates: January 6 to late January, 1943

Release Date: 1943 04 09

Running time: 67 minutes (7 reels or 6,069 ft.)

Key book (production) number: 1204

Location: Alabama Hills, etc

 

• Credits

• Cast

• Plot

• Songs

• Professional Stills

• Posters

• Newspaper Clippings

 

        This movie marks the beginning of the "King of the Cowboys" title that Roy Rogers carried for the rest of his life. An action film concerned with sabotage at the beginning of America's entrance into World War II, it is fast moving with plenty of humor and music. Roy is selected as an undercover agent for the governor because, surely, no one would ever suspect a cowboy! Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers, as Roy's buddies, are integral to the plot but have little dialogue. This movie is available on DVD.

 

 

Cast:

 

Left: Smiley Burnette as Frog Millhouse, Roy Rogers as himself

Right: Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers

 

Left: Dorothea Kent as Ruby Smith, Peggy Moran as Judy Mason

Right: Gerald Mohr as Maurice the Mental Marvel

 

Left: Lloyd Corrigan as William Kraly, the Governor's secretary

Right: James Bush as Dave Mason, Judy's brother

 

Left: Russell Hicks as Governor Shuville

Right: Norman Willis as Buxton

 

Left: unidentified, Yakima Canutt, Stuart Hamblen as Duke Wilson

Right: Irving Bacon as Alf Cluckus, jailor

 

Harry Burns as Joe, the café owner

 

Many other extras often seen in various studio pictures: Hank Bell, Bob Burns, Eddie Dean, Eddie Dew, Art Dillard, Bud Geary, Jack Kirk, Rex Lease, Ted Mapes, Frankie Marvin, Art Mix, Jack O'Shea, Edward Peil Sr, Forrest Taylor, Emmett Vogan, Dick Wessel, etc.

 

Songs:

Ride 'em Cowboy (Roy Rogers/Tim Spencer)
Biscuit Blues (Bob Nolan)
I'm an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande (Johnny Mercer)
A Gay Ranchero ([Las Altenitas] J J Espinoza / Francisco Luban / Abe Tuvim)
Roll Along Prairie Moon (Albert von Tilzer/A MacPherson/Ted Fio Rito)
They Cut Down the Old Pine Tree (Billy Hill)
Red River Valley (traditional)

Ride, Ranger, Ride (Tim Spencer)

End Credits

 

Plot:       

        Roy Rogers, Frog Millhouse and the Sons of the Pioneers ride into the story at the head of a rodeo parade singing, "Ride 'em, Cowboy". Just as Frog begins announcing the coming events, a representative of the governor of the state stops Roy and requests that he and Frog to go to him immediately. The two men are concerned because they had prevented an Arkansas sheriff from making an important arrest.

 

 

        Frog takes the opportunity to tell Governor Shuville what really happened.

 

 

       He and Roy had been ambling along on horseback when they heard a police radio warning all officers to be on the lookout for Duke Wilson and the car used by his men at a bank robbery at Leeds. [Bob Nolan is the voice of the announcer.] Roy and Frog traced the voice to a car hidden off the road and discovered two bound men inside who said the robbers had ditched the car and stolen their horses only five minutes earlier.

 

 

        Roy and Frog mounted Trigger and Ring-Eyed Nellie and left in hot pursuit. They slowly began to overtake three mounted men by taking a precipitous downhill track to cut off the miles.

 

 

        The outlaws still reached a saloon before them, a saloon that straddled the Arkansas - Texas state line and boasted a line painted down the centre of the floor. The outlaws strode into the saloon with the orders, "Three beers and the keys to that car outside." "You won't need them," they hear from Roy who enters with Frog. One of the men draws and Roy shoots the gun from his hand. Frog disarms the men as the local sheriff and his deputy enter the room. The sheriff tries to get the men for himself so Roy shoves them over to the Texas side. A rough and tumble erupts with the frustrated sheriff forced to stay on his side of the line. Roy and Frog take the men to jail in Texas and the Arkansas sheriff writes a formal complaint to Governor Shuville of Texas.

 

 

 

 

 

        The governor listens attentively to the story and then asks Frog to leave the room. The governor lets Roy know that he admired the way he worked in that situation and that he needed him for an assignment. Roy thanked him but said he was working for the rodeo. The governor assured him that it was for that reason he sent for him. No one would take Roy for anything but a cowboy. He gave Roy a little idea of what the work would involve: a ring of saboteurs have evaded the law and are doing a lot of damage. The governor gives Roy his private telephone number, asks him to learn it and destroy the paper. He suggested Roy sever his connection with the rodeo and he also told him that his predecessor was killed using that number. The only clue he was able to leave before he died was the phrase, "following Mary".

 

 

        While Frog waits for Roy, he chats with the governor's private secretary and gives him a ticket to the rodeo. The secretary is all agog to hear what Roy had learned from the governor but Roy is polite and evasive.

 

 

        Back at the rodeo headquarters, the Sons of the Pioneers are passing the time singing Bob Nolan's "Biscuit Blues".

 

 

        Pat escapes rough justice by the timely arrival of Roy and Frog. Roy tells them that he is quitting the rodeo for a spell of doing nothing. Frog insists on going with him because, according to him, two can starve as cheaply as one. The Pioneers are stunned because Roy is the star of the show.

 

 

 

        Behind a service station, a white convertible with the "Merry Makers Carnival & Tent Show" printed on the doors and three men inside is parked with the hood open. A serviceman is apparently looking at the motor. The private secretary to the governor walks in quickly and talks to the men. We quickly realize that this is the ring of saboteurs and that the key word is "triplets". The secretary, Kraly, warns the men (Maurice, Buxton and Dave Mason) to be on the lookout for a man named Roy Rogers.

 

 

    In the kitchen of a restaurant, Frog is washing dishes (with a wire whisk) while the proprietor is sitting listening to Roy sing "I'm an Old Cowhand". Frog is obviously disgruntled. He had not envisioned any dishwashing when he elected to accompany Roy. While Roy sings, two young ladies enter the restaurant and listen while he finishes the song. Roy serves them with soup and coffee and chats for awhile until he is startled by the phrase, "following Mary". He asks what is meant by "following Mary" and is told that the girls are actresses in the Merry Makers Carnival. One of them, Judy Mason, promises Roy a job singing if he looks her up. Her step brother runs the carnival. Roy finds out that they open in Rawhide, that he is going that way and that he is looking for a job.

 

 

        A car honks outside and both girls have to leave without eating. Judy's brother, Dave, is waiting with Maurice. They are going to make a side trip and ask the girls to go on without them. The "side trip" turns out to be an assignation with Buxton who shows them a map. It is obvious that Dave is becoming uneasy. He would like to send Judy back to Chicago but they need her.

 

 

        The Carnival opens with dancers and then Maurice's part of the show. He is "Maurice the Mental Marvel", dressed in turban and robe. Judy's job is to go down among the audience and have people address the "mystic stone" on her ring. Then Maurice will answer the question. Unknown to the audience, there is a tiny mike in the ring.

 

 

        Several people ask their questions softly to the Mystic Stone and they are relayed by Dave to Maurice. Frog decides he will ask a question, too. The question turns out to be about his horse and the audience roars with laughter. Roy takes his turn and asks how to get into show business. Maurice responds that he answers only important questions. Roy shouts that his is an important question, that his whole future depends on it. Maurice becomes angry and the uniformed bouncers try to evict Roy and Frog. Frog has the sympathy of the audience on his side and things start to get out of hand. In order to calm down the crowd, Maurice leaves the stage and Dave, improvising on the spot, tells Roy he will have a chance tomorrow at the amateur contest. Whoever wins will have a choice of a week's work with the Merry Makers or fifty dollars. Judy calls out, "What's the matter with giving him a chance to sing right now?" The audience is all in favor and Dave acquiesces.

 

 

        Roy's name is announced and Maurice and Dave stiffen. Roy sings "A Gay Ranchero". The crowd approves and Roy is offered a week's engagement or fifty dollars. He chooses the week's engagement and Maurice's eyes narrow.

 

 

        Backstage, Maurice and Dave decide to let him work the week. If he steps out of line, he will be taken care of. Outside, Roy and Frog wait at the stage door for Judy and Ruby and they leave for a lunch together.

 

 

        Next day, the carnival moves and a wagon becomes bogged down in a stream. Roy suggests unloading it and offers to help but is refused. He wonders why and directs Frog to get inside the wagon to see what it contains. Frog discovers enough dynamite to blow up "half the state". Frog is catching on now to what is going on and he offers his help to Roy again. Roy accepts.

 

 

 

        Back in the capitol, the governor is meeting with the major industrialists of the state. Just as he is attempting to calm the men, Roy telephones him. When the governor hangs up, he passes on the fact that his operative feels sure that he is on the right track, at last. Kraly looks grim.

 

 

        The next scene finds Judy and Roy racing their horses and enjoying a little time out from the carnival. Judy lets him know that she trusts him. "There's no trick in believing what you want to," she tells him. Shortly afterward, as she is preparing for her part, her brother questions her about her feelings for Roy. She asks him to keep Roy on the payroll. He agrees and they both listen to Roy sing, "Roll Along, Prairie Moon".

 

 

        While the Mental Marvel's act is going on, Roy peeks into Judy's room to see how Dave operates the mike. While he is watching, Dave gets the word "triplets" from someone in the audience and he orders Maurice to cut his act short. Roy continues to watch as Dave puts a little book into a secret compartment in Judy's trunk. As Dave leaves, Roy ducks into another dressing room.

 

 

        Dave tells Maurice the message "Do fail at Jimtown tonight." They still are not certain that Roy is the governor's operative. While the carnival is dispersing for the night, Judy pauses at Roy's dressing room door and asks if he would like to have a sandwich with her again but he is forced to refuse. When she leaves, Roy sneaks into her room to investigate the secret drawer and Maurice catches him at it. Roy tries to explain his presence by saying he is going out with Judy and she forgot her coat.

 

 

 

        Roy seems to get away with it but a little later, he finds the three men in the white convertible waiting for him at the front. They tell him to get into the car and, while they are driving out of town, Roy realizes that his life is in danger. He struggles with Maurice in the back seat and manages to jump. Unfortunately, he hits his head on a boulder and knocks himself out. Dave tries to persuade Maurice to leave him there but Maurice is not willing to jeopardize their Jimtown business. The men carry him back to the car and on to the warehouse they are planning to destroy.

 

 

        They bind him hand and foot, set the clock bomb and leave. Roy manages to escape by breaking the glass and freeing the fire axe. He cuts through his bindings and gets out of the building just before it explodes. He is knocked off his feet and down the bank by the force of the blast.

 

 

        The newspaper headlines carry part of the story next day. Frog tries to read the message Maurice is writing at the telegrapher's office. Maurice blocks him but Frog manages to filch the next sheet on the pad with the imprint on it.

 

 

        Roy has called in the aid of his rodeo companions, the Sons of the Pioneers. In their hotel room, they are all discussing the seemingly hopeless situation. Bob tells Roy that they have put the rodeo on ice. Roy responds by saying they can open it when they get back. If they get back, adds a gloomy Karl Farr and irrepressible Pat Brady responds with, "What's the matter with you? Do you want to live forever?"  

       Just then Frog burst in with his slip of paper. They burn a cork and Roy brings up the message which involves the keyword "triplet".

 

 

        The telephone rings in the governor's office. Kraly picks it up and answers in the governor's voice, "Is that you, Rogers?" Unfortunately for him, the governor walks in right then and takes the telephone from him. He reprimands the secretary who is not supposed to answer the private telephone for any reason. The governor gets the message from Roy, tells his secretary that that he will leave for Freeman and to order his car for eight o'clock tonight. Roy and the boys are happy to leave everything on the governor's shoulders but there is one more thing they have to do. They have to intercept the message that will be given at the show tonight.

 

 

        The first thing is to make sure that Maurice and Dave are kept out of the way so they drop a large canvas tarp on them, roll them up and carry them to the back of one of the carnival freight wagons.

 

 

        The governor's chauffeur is unhappy about having to break a date to with his girl and complains to the service attendant who telephones Kraly immediately. [Notice the sign behind him.] In response to the attendant's phonecall, Buxton meets Kraly who tells him that the governor is on the way to Freeman. "The governor is not to get there," instructs Kraly.

 

 

        The governor's beautiful car slips through the night while its passengers are unaware that the saboteurs are setting up a mirror around a bend in the road. When the driver rounds the curve, his own lights blind him and he goes off the road.  The car rolls over and over down a steep embankment. The saboteurs remove the mirror and disappear.

 

 

        The Sons of the Pioneers have pitched in to help Roy by singing "They Cut Down the Old Pine Tree" featuring a fiddle solo by Hugh Farr.

 

 

        When Maurice and Dave do not appear for their "Maurice the Mental Marvel" part of the show, the girls consider giving the audience their money back. Roy volunteers Frog as Maurice and Ruby is sure she can do Dave's part with the switchboard. While they get set up, the Sons of the Pioneers do another number, this time "Red River Valley".

 

 

        All goes along well with Frog acting as Maurice the Mental Marvel until one of the audience gets cranky with him. Frog is ready to fight until Ruby pulls a switch and he dances around, encouraged by the electrical current in the floor. The audience thinks it's all part of the act.

 

 

    Meanwhile, someone has untied Maurice and Dave. They return in time to hear Roy get the "triplets" keyword. As Roy looks for the codebook, Maurice and Dave burst into the room. Maurice has a gun and pistol whips Roy from behind. He raises the gun to shoot Roy but Dave intervenes. When he can not persuade Maurice to stop shooting Roy, he turns to leave, saying that he is quitting the whole racket. Maurice shoots him in the back, wipes the prints off his revolver and puts it into the unconscious Roy's hand. The shot attracts a crowd, including the horrified girls.

 

 

        At the Sheriff's office, Roy will say nothing other than that he did not kill Dave so the Sheriff is forced to lock him up. Judy does not know who to believe but Ruby still vouches for Roy.

 

 

        A little later, Roy calls the guard and asks if he can call his lawyer. The guard is reading a paper whose headlines shout that the governor's condition is critical. Roy turns away, utterly discouraged.  

 

 

        Kraly enters the Freeman post office and picks up his message from the box.   Meanwhile, Judy and a stately old gentleman drive up to the county jail and ask to see Roy. Judy introduces the jailer to Roy's "grandfather" who is Frog Millhouse in a very good disguise.   "Grandpa" goes in to see Roy while Judy delays the jailer on the sidewalk with a tearful story. Roy instructs Frog to make sure Judy knows the truth about her step brother. He is to show her the code book and then get it back to Roy as soon as they can.

 

 

 

 

        Judy is astounded to find the code book among her things. She said that when she joined the show Maurice had given her the trunk as a gift. Frog explained just how Dave was killed. They hear Maurice calling Judy and Frog hides among her wardrobe. She pretends she has been packing to leave and Maurice persuades her to stay on. After he leaves, Frog reappears unaware of a spangled dress hanging from his neck like an apron.

 

 

        Later that evening Ruby and Judy drive up to the County Jail once more. Judy goes in to talk to Roy and hands him the code book while Ruby keeps the jailer occupied. Ruby lets him know that she is a magician and he eagerly asks her to demonstrate. In the cell, Roy reads the code book and finds that the last instructions will be given from the boss himself in tonight's show. Judy tells him that they are going to help him break jail, that the boys are ready, and to watch Ruby. Ruby is doing tricks for an enthralled audience of one who ends up with a baby chick on his head, unaware that she has stealthily taken the cell key and thrown it to Roy. Under cover of a weeping Judy, the girls leave. The jailer returns to the baby chick. Roy sneaks up behind him and thrusts him into the cell.

 

 

        The Mental Marvel show is on again. Ruby mans the switchboard with Roy at her shoulder. But when Kraly gives the message to the Mystic Stone ring, Ruby is rattled and forgets to throw the switch. Maurice hears Ruby repeat the message to Roy, realizes what is going on, stands up and tells Kraly to leave quick. Kraly draws a revolver and runs. Roy runs after him and into Maurice. He punches Maurice who falls back and Bob punches him. Frog punches him once more for good measure. Roy yells at Kraly to drop his gun. Kraly turns and fires then Roy kills him.

 

 

        While this has been happening, Frog has been making Maurice talk. Everything, Maurice tells him, is set to blow the bridge as the train hits it. Roy tells Bob and the Pioneers to get their horses and follow him.

 

       

        Roy, on the faster horse, gets there first and climbs up the cross bracing under the bridge to where the dynamite is strapped to a truss. The outlaws who have just mounted their horses to leave, see him and return, firing rifles and hand guns. [Unusual for a b-western, Roy is grazed on the cheek and there is blood on his face.] He is hit in the arm but he struggles on and dismantles the fuse just in time. The train crosses safely.

 

 

        The Sons of the Pioneers are now on the scene and soon have the villains in tow. Frog assists Roy down the last few feet and takes him to a doctor.

 

 

        The next day's newspapers proclaim the end of the sabotage ring.

 

 

        The rodeo is now back on the road again. The governor pronounces Roy Rogers to be King of the Cowboys, presents him with an award and the rodeo goes on. The girls are given jobs in the rodeo and the film ends with Roy and the Pioneers singing, "Ride, Ranger, Ride".

 

 

Professional Stills 

 

Courtesy of Fred Sopher

 

Courtesy of Jan Scott

 

 

 

 

Courtesy of Bruce Hickey

 

 

Courtesy of Buddy Bryant

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

 

Courtesy of Jan Scott

 

Courtesy of Bruce Hickey

 

 

 

 

Courtesy of Fred Sopher

 

Courtesy of Buddy Bryant

 

Courtesy of Buddy Bryant

 

Courtesy of Buddy Bryant

 

Courtesy of Buddy Bryant

 

Courtesy of Buddy Bryant

 

 

Courtesy of Jan Scott

 

Courtesy of Jan Scott

 

Courtesy of Jan Scott

 

Courtesy of Jan Scott

 

Roy with Dorothea Kent

 

 

Posters

 

Courtesy of Bruce Hickey

 

 

Courtesy of Fred Sopher

 

Courtesy of Fred Sopher

 

Courtesy of Fred Sopher

 

 

Courtesy of Bruce Hickey

 

 

Courtesy of Bruce Hickey

 

Courtesy of Bruce Hickey

 

Courtesy of Buddy Bryant

 

Courtesy of Buddy Bryant

 

 

Newspaper Clippings

 

Fractional Ad