Rhythm on the Range

Rhythm on the Range is a 1936 American Western musical film directed by Norman Taurog and starring Bing Crosby, Frances Farmer, and Bob Burns. Based on a story by Mervin J. Houser, the film is about a cowboy who meets a beautiful young woman while returning from a rodeo in the east, and invites her to stay at his California ranch to experience his simple, honest way of life.[1][2] Rhythm on the Range was Crosby's only western film (apart from the 1966 remake of Stagecoach) and is notable for his introduction of two important western songs, "Empty Saddles" by Billy Hill and "I'm an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande" by Johnny Mercer, the latter becoming a national hit song for Crosby.[3] The film played an important role in popularizing the singing cowboy and western music on a national level.[4]

Rhythm on the Range
Rhythm on the Range Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNorman Taurog
Produced byBenjamin Glazer
Screenplay by
Story byMervin J. Houser
CinematographyKarl Struss
Edited byEllsworth Hoagland
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • July 1, 1936 (1936-07-01)
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States


Doris Halliday (Frances Farmer), the daughter of a wealthy banker, is about to marry a man she doesn't love so the family will become richer. Her outspoken aunt Penelope Ryland (Lucile Gleason), the owner of the Frying Pan Ranch in Arizona, objects to their marriage, claiming people should only be married if they love each other. Doris starts to see Penelope's point and eventually runs away the night before the wedding.

Doris hides in the wagon of a train owned by traveling cowboy Jeff Larabee (Bing Crosby). When they meet they take an immediate dislike for each other. Despite a few romantic moments, they fight all night long. The next day, Doris is to be left at a stop. When she is attacked by Jeff's prize bull, however, Jeff is forced to save her. The train eventually leaves without them. They decide to part their ways, until they discover it's a long way to the next stop. Doris secretly steals a car and gives Jeff a ride.

Penelope and her employee Buck (Bob Burns), who happens to be a friend of Jeff, try to find Doris. They take a train hoping to locate her. On the train, Buck meets Emma Mazda (Martha Raye). Emma is attracted to him and tries to flirt, but Buck isn't really interested. They both take off at a stop and decide to travel together. Meanwhile, Doris' father initiates a search to find his daughter and promises the one who brings her back a $5,000 reward. A couple of criminals, who have seen Doris, try to catch her and bring her back.

Jeff and Doris drive to his house, where they meet up with Buck and Emma, who are now in love and engaged. Buck suggests Jeff ask to marry Doris as well, but he is reluctant to. The moment they do fall in love, they are located by Robert and Penelope. Penelope blames Jeff for being a gold digger and tries to protect Doris from him. Offended and confused, Jeff runs away. Doris follows him and declares her love. Jeff gives in and they kiss.



Filming locationsEdit


Bing Crosby recorded some of the songs for Decca Records.[10] "I'm an Old Cowhand", "I Can't Escape from You" and "Empty Saddles" all enjoyed top 10 chart successes.[11] Crosby's songs were included in the Bing's Hollywood series.


Frank S. Nugent, writing in The New York Times, commented:

"Bing Crosby rides a broncho, milks a wild cow, croons a lullaby to a 2,200-pound Hereford bull and has a box-car romance with a runaway heiress in his new picture at the Paramount. All of which may be interesting and amusing—in fact, it is—but we prefer to think of Rhythm on the Range as our screen introduction to Martha Raye."[12]

Variety thought that

". . despite the title, the costumes and the characters, this is no western. There's very little range, but plenty of rhythm, and the latter makes it pleasant entertainment. Bing Crosby shoots par on singing and light comedy but, because of story handicap, he might have had some tough going minus the aid of a pair of new faces (Raye and Bob Burns), clicking on their first picture attempt ... Best musical sequence, and bringing the picture to a corking climax is a jam fest in the ranch house with Crosby and Miss Raye singing and truckin' to "If You Can't Sing It, You'll Have To Swing It" (Sam Coslow) and "I'm An Old Cowhand" (Johnny Mercer). Miss Raye gets in her hottest licks here. There's also some heated trumpeting by Louis Prima at this time."[13]

Los Angeles Evening Herald Express

"Given a good story at last and the best support that has fallen his way in a long time, Bing Crosby hits his stride again in Rhythm on the Range, the new picture at the Paramount."[14]

Writing for The Spectator in 1936, Graham Greene gave the film a mixed review. Noting that Crosby's character spent the majority of the film nostalgically mourning "Empty saddles in the old corral" which "by its nature [should have been portrayed as] a private emotion", Greene found Crosby's portrayal to "represent permanent, if disagreeable, human characteristics of nostalgia and self-pity". Nevertheless he summarized the film as "quite a tolerable picture with a few scenes which do deserve to be called popular cinema". Greene also praised Burns' acting as "excellent".[15]

In his book, Singing in the Saddle, Douglas B. Green summarized Bing Crosby's impact on western music and the national interest in singing cowboys and the West during the 1930s.

Though born in the West, Harry Lillis Crosby (1903–1977) was anything but a cowboy. Yet he was one of the most influential performers in the style, for while earnest and sincere Gene Autry was appealing to middle and rural America, the ultrahot Crosby roped in the sophisticates with his frequent performances of western songs on film, on record, and especially on radio, where he was a national sensation. Though Crosby could deliver a western song with sincerity—he introduced "Empty Saddles" in Rhythm on the Range and had the true national hit recording of "Home on the Range"—he was at his best when mocking himself. Urbane and hip, he was no cowboy and he knew it, and when he poked fun at his image in a song like "I'm an Old Cowhand (from the Rio Grande)", he was at his most charming. Urbanites appreciated his cool irony and distancing, and yet while they smirked they could still enjoy the kitschy glamour of the West and the singing cowboy. Although Crosby attracted an audience entirely different from Autry's, both singers contributed enormously to the interest in cowboys, the West, and western music that permeated the country in the middle 1930s. Though the broad scope of Crosby's career extends far beyond western music, it is important to acknowledge his impact on the sudden and sustained interest in the singing cowboy during the formative years of the genre. Rhythm on the Range was a big-budget film and exemplified more than any other easily discerned landmark the embrace of the singing cowboy by Hollywood and by popular culture.[16]


The film was remade in 1956 as Pardners, starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.[17]


  1. ^ "Rhythm on the Range". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 21, 2012.
  2. ^ Bookbinder 1977, pp. 77–79.
  3. ^ Green 2002, p. 71.
  4. ^ Green 2002, p. 156.
  5. ^ "Full cast and crew for Rhythm on the Range". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 21, 2012.
  6. ^ Bookbinder 1977, p. 77.
  7. ^ "Locations for Rhythm on the Range". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 21, 2012.
  8. ^ "Soundtracks for Rhythm on the Range". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 21, 2012.
  9. ^ Reynolds, Fred (1986). Road to Hollywood. John Joyce. p. 79.
  10. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". A Bing Crosby Discography. Retrieved December 29, 2015.
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 105. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  12. ^ Nugent, Frank S. (July 30, 1936). "The New York Times". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ "Variety". August 5, 1936. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. ^ "Los Angeles Evening Herald Express". July 31, 1936. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ Greene, Graham (14 August 1936). "Rhythm on the Range". The Spectator. (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. pp. 93–94. ISBN 0192812866.)
  16. ^ Green 2002, p. 156.
  17. ^ "Rhythm on the Range". IMDB. Retrieved 26 September 2020.

External linksEdit