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Film / Under Western Stars

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Under Western Stars is a 1938 film directed by Joseph Kane, starring the archetypal singing cowboy, Roy Rogers.

Rogers plays...uh, Roy Rogers. As the film opens the nonspecific Western locale where Roy lives is suffering. Roy's home, already devastated by the Dust Bowl, has been further deprived of water by a rapacious water company that built a dam, which has dried up local streams. Desperate cattle ranchers have gone as far as raiding the dam and opening spill valves to return the water to their parched grasslands.

Roy decides to take more active measures by running for Congress against the incumbent representative, William P. Scully, a stooge of the water company. Roy wins, but still has to fight John D. Fairbanks, the owner of the water company. In this he is assisted by Fairbanks's pretty daughter Eleanor, who has feelings for him.

Under Western Stars was the first starring film role for Roy Rogers, who was already a big music star with his singing cowboy group Sons of the Pioneers. Rogers would eventually become known as the "King of the Cowboys", starring for decades in over a hundred films as well as stage and television.


  • As You Know: Another character helpfully reminds Roy that he is the "son of a congressman, fighting the water company."
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: We couldn't have the hero of a kid's cowboy movie actually kill a sheriff's deputy, after all.
  • B-Movie: One hour long, cheaply made and shot, typical of the wholesome family entertainment that would become Roy Rogers' trademark.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Fairbanks, who has no scruples whatsoever about screwing the ranchers out of water and lying about it in the process.
  • Cowboy: Namely the Singing Cowboy variant, now a Dead Horse Trope. Roy Rogers got this part, his big break in movies, after established singing cowboy star Gene Autry went on strike against the studio.
  • Deadly Dust Storm: A very well timed dust storm forces the congressional party to take shelter in a rancher's cabin. This convinces Rep. Marlowe that Roy is right and Fairbanks is a liar.
  • Droste Image: Scully's comical effort to look like a cowboy ends with him on horseback, at his rally, posed right in front of a poster which shows him in identical dress in the same pose atop his horse.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Although the palomino Roy's riding is actually his iconic horse Trigger, Trigger wouldn't get named or credited until several more films later.
    • More notable is the absence of Roy's wife Dale Evans, his regular co-star in the movies and on TV, the person who wrote their Signature Song "Happy Trails". Rogers and Evans wouldn't get married until 1946, a few years after Rogers's first wife tragically died in childbirth.
  • Fat Best Friend: Roy's jolly friend Frog, who provides broad slapstick comic relief but is also capable of coming through in the clutch.
  • Gilligan Cut: Fairbanks decides Rep. Scully, a city slicker if there ever was one, has to look more authentically Western to compete with Roy. He decides Scully has to ride a horse. Rep. Scully protests, "I can't ride!" Cue Scully on horseback at his next campaign rally.
  • Government Procedural: A surprising amount of this singing cowboy involves Roy trying to get congressional support for his bill to turn management of the dam over to the federal government.
  • Meet Cute: Eleanor actually sees Roy for the first time at a campaign rally, but he meets her for the first time when she catches him practicing his showdown with Fairbanks—by delivering all his lines to his horse.
  • The Musical: Roy sings several songs.
  • New Old West: There are cattle ranchers, there are cowboys on horses, there are wooden saloons, there's a battle against greedy city slicker businessmen, but it's actually set in the present day of 1938.
  • Unwanted Rescue: Roy sees Eleanor on a galloping horse, simply assumes that it's a runaway horse, and charges up alongside her and snatches her off. An angry Eleanor promptly informs him that she was participating in a fox hunt and had full control of her horse. After Roy shamefacedly apologizes, she forgives him.
  • Scenery Gorn: Roy underlines his district's need for access to the water by showing terrifying Stock Footage of the Dust Bowl.
  • Spinning Paper: Used several times to narrate the drought in Roy's district, as well as the progress of his campaign.
  • Video Credits: At the start of the movie to introduce the cast, a common practice back in the 1930s.