Bells of Rosarita (1945)
“All These Western Stars…Plus Music, Romance and Thrills!”
Director: Frank McDonald
Cast: Roy Rogers, Trigger, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes
Synopsis: A young woman needs the help of Roy Rogers when she discovers her deceased father’s former business partner is attempting to take the circus she inherited from him.
If “I was the rootinest, tootinest, shootinest wildcat of the West” is the kind of line that has you praying the batteries in your remote are still working, then Bells of Rosarita, yet another of the million or so B-movies made in the 1930s and ‘40s by Roy Rogers, certainly isn’t the movie for you. That line is spoken by Gabby Hayes (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), who made 192 movies in 21 years (or 190 in 19 years if you discount his last two – yup, Gabby slowed badly after ’48) which perhaps suggests the quality of most of the films in which he appeared. For that reason alone, Bells of Rosarita, despite having clearly been made on the cheap, is perhaps better than would normally be expected thanks to some slyly reflexive ideas, even though its paucity of plot leaves it struggling to entertain.
Rogers usually played a modern-day cowboy sharing his own name in his movies, but he takes this device one step further in Bells of Rosarita by playing an actor called Roy Rogers who is making a film called Bells of Rosarita. How far out is that? It almost leaves you wondering whether Charlie Kauffman ever saw this movie. Art (of a sort) imitates life even further when characters in Bells of Rosarita who are working as cast and crew members on the film within a film come up with lines like ‘‘Say, Roy, this is just like one of your movies” followed by ‘Yeah, but your films usually end with music,” whereupon our hero takes up his guitar and starts crooning. I tell you, it’s enough to mess with your head – like trying to figure out where the universe ends and what lies beyond it.
Sadly, apart from that weirdness, Bells of Rosarita is just another standard Rogers flick. He knew what pleased his fans, did Roy, and he made sure he delivered exactly what they liked with every new flick. This one features another woman (Dale Evans, the soon-to-be Mrs Rogers) in distress, with a cold-hearted property developer (Grant Withers – My Darling Clementine, Trigger Jr) aiming to cheat her out of the ranch left to her by her recently deceased father. It’s up to Roy to save the day, and this time he calls upon the help of his fellow cowboy stars at Republic, most of whom you’ve probably never heard of. The story – what there is of it – moves fast, although as the movie’s only 68 minutes long it doesn’t really have much choice, and there’s a neat rendition of a tune called The Bugler’s Lullaby from the Robert Mitchell Boys’ Choir which incorporates the mournful strains of The Last Post.
(Reviewed 29th October 2014)