24 January 2009 | rsoonsa
Thin Plot line Marks One Of The Weaker Frankie Darro Pictures.
This low-budget Great Depression era independent work was produced during transitional periods for a number of its principal players. MEN OF ACTION'S first-billed Frankie Darro is in reality second in story importance to Roy Mason. The latter, who had garnered moderate success as a romantic lead during the late silent film period, was soon to become a prominent Western genre villain (as LeRoy Mason), trading his motorcycle riding roles, as in this piece, for those on horseback. Lead actress Barbara Worth, who took that name for her cinema career (formerly Verna Dooley) after a well-known fictional silent film heroine (THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH -1926), found it to be an untoward choice after the sound period began, with 1935 being the final year of her acting credits, as she then converted to screen writing for a vocation. Second female lead Gloria Shea's disfigurement from an automotive collision that occurred not long after this film's release ended her screen performances. Meanwhile, diminutive Darro, 17 years old at this time and a former popular child actor, remained true to his Awkward Age persona while well into his twenties. Darro plays as Jimmy Morgan who, along with his father (John Ince), is employed by the Evans Construction Company, a firm that is engaged in building a massive dam for the purpose of aiding local high desert fruit growers. Most of the film's scenes were completed at the actual construction site of Boulder Dam along the Arizona/Nevada border, and there is a good deal of footage of the dam's building process, completed in 1935. The narrative shows us that the work crew has been infiltrated by a group of homicidal roustabouts led by one Thorenson (Fred Kohler), all retained by a devious banker, Jefferson (Arthur Hoyt), whose purpose in the tale is to prevent the project's completion, thereby increasing chances of heavy flooding that would destroy orchards and enable Jefferson to purchase the fruit growing land for a very low price. Jefferson's bank is the financial surety for the Evans project, but crew foreman Jim Denton (Mason) has realised the financier's vile plans and manfully attempts to keep the construction on schedule despite trouble caused by the Forces of Evil, in particular a Thorenson-led mass walkout. Jim, in concert with his little friend Johnny, who has remained at his post as water boy even after the death of his father during the film's opening episode as a result of an illicit dynamite charge laid by saboteurs, have along with Ann, the daughter of Evans (Worth), have arranged the advertising for, and hiring of, 1000 "unskilled men" to work at the dam site, as replacements for those employees lost due to the walkout. Those of the workers who remained loyal during the labour trouble are given uniforms and guns, being reassigned as security police to protect the newly hired Evans personnel. Johnny is among the freshly caparisoned guards, and he soon finds himself, along with Jim and his love interest Ann, waging fierce physical combat against Jefferson, Thorenson, and their collection of rounders. Director Alan James, habituated to working with meagre financing, uses single takes, but the seasoned cast is generally able to cover its lines, although there are some notable shortcomings relating to continuity and logic. A goodly amount of stunt work is here, but is largely substandard, especially during the film's frequent fight scenes. Hoyt handily gains acting honours for the film with a supremely unctuous performance as the dastardly Jefferson. Veteran comic actor Syd Saylor is clearly on board for humorous relief but is instead pitifully inept in his attempts at slapstick drollery. Since Boulder Dam upon its completion was the largest concrete structure in the world as well as the location of the globe's greatest hydroelectric energy supply, its footage impersonating the Evans Company project, as enthralling as it is, seems absurd as a means of abetting local fruit farmers with flood control. This rather witless affair has been released, along with another lightweight, but better, Darro starring feature film, ANYTHING FOR A THRILL (1937), by Alpha Home Entertainment, with the two together comprising a bargain for those interested in U.S. cinema of the Depression Era 1930s. As is the case with all Alpha offerings, there has been no effort to remaster the originals, and no extra features are included other than scene indices.