When he was still calling himself Leonard Slye, Roy Rogers appeared in a couple of Charles Starrett’s films as a member of the musical group Sons of The Pioneers.  In 1951, right around when Starrett was hanging up his spurs, Rogers made the move to TV with “The Roy Rogers Show.”

In between, he made pictures like “Frontier Pony Express” and, in 1949, this one.

“Down Dakota Way” features a mature Rogers, a sure-footed cowboy star comfortable in front of the camera.  It also features ALOT of re-used footage from a previous Rogers vehicle?  I can’t figure which one it is.  A little help?

Another former Sons of the Pioneers band-member, Pat Brady, plays the comic relief.  Brady learnt his comic stylings from the worst, Mr. Smiley Burnette.  Here, he’s doing a recycled Burnette bit, taking a correspondence course in detecting.  Brady would do 35 films with Rogers before joining him on his long-running TV show.  That’s him mugging in the yellow hat.

The plot involves a former schoolteacher of Rogers’ and her errant son.  Roy plays Roy Rogers, who is on his way to a Wild West show in Cheyenne. It’s set in the modern day, but Roy and co. still travel by horse.

Montie Montana plays Sheriff Holbrook.  Montana was a rodeo star who appeared in a couple dozen westerns, mostly in uncredited roles.  Besides his debut in “Circle of Death”, this is perhaps his meatiest character.  He’s filled out a bit since that film and retains his authentic drawl and ease in the saddle.  He also benefits from the much higher budget of this film (“Circle of Death” was pure Poverty Row.) He looks good in color, actually Trucolor ©.

Although the Pony Express only operated for 18 months, it captured the imagination of the nation for many years.  It isn’t difficult to summon some pity, then, for the filmmakers who set out to portray the exciting gallantry of this high-paced life of nearly perpetual motion.  Especially when they are handicapped by the necessity of anchoring the story in the standard standing western city sets.

The task here falls to screenwriter Norman Hall, a long-time serial writer, who later penned a number of the last Durango Kid films – Blazing The Pecos Trail, Whirlwind Raiders, and Last Days of Boot Hill.  The plot he comes up with is heavy on intrigue and light on hard gallops and lightening fast horse changes.

Senator Lassiter is visiting St. Louis at the onset of the Civil War.  His plan is to disband the Union-friendly troops in Sacramento so that his men in California can take the state for the Confederacy.  How?  By sending forged orders through the pony express.

I understand this early film (1939) is atypical of a Roy Rogers vehicle cuz he doesn’t sing much.  It is however the first RR film I have seen.  Here are my observations on this soon-to-be legend.  Roy has a drawl, he’s good at the fast dismount, is invited to dinner but “don’t have clothes for that sort of thing”, doesn’t smoke, uses a lasso, has a sidekick in a battered hat (eerily familiar), wears his own hat tight on his head ALWAYS, and has a nice quirky smile.

About those songs.  Song #1:  sung to a gal on a couch, fireside.  “Old Kentucky Home.”  Song #2:  pressed into singing by the gal at the big ball.  “Rusty Spurs.”

An interesting note.  Roy’s sidekick, played by Raymond Hatton, sweetens a trade by throwing in one of Trigger’s horse shoes.  Apparently, Trigger is a star in the Old West.

Fittingly, it is Trigger who saves the day here, taking the important vouchers to St. Louis at high speed.  Really, Roy only gets an Assist on this one.

Unlike Charles Starrett, Roy is definitely a star in the singing cowboy mold of Gene Autry.  He does throw a good movie punch, however.