21 January 2006 | horn-5
Based loosely on a novel based loosely on real people.
Universal Pictures Corporation's 35th sound-era serial (attributing itself as "The NEW UNIVERSAL during this period) is tag-lined on the films and the posters and the ads as "13 Thrill-Smash Authentic Episodes Based On W.R.BURNETT'S Famous Novel "SAINT JOHNSON"... (written exactly as cased here.) The novel was Burnett's version of the Earp-Clanton Tombstone period, with the names of all participants changed, and first saw screen light in 1932's "Law and Order," starring Walter Huston and where son John Huston got his first screen play credit. Universal trotted a version of Burnett's novel out four times from 1932 to 1953.
On this serial version, Wyndham Gittens, Norman S. Hall and Ray Trampe are credited with...Original Story and Screen Play (written exactly like that)...and about all that is retained of the basis source, as written by Burnette in the novel, is a retired lawman and three former deputys and a gambler friend come to town---Brimstone in this case--- and everything from that point is a NEW story from The NEW Universal. "Based on" barely qualifies in this case.
Retired lawman Kentucky Wade (John Mack Brown) and his three buddies, Mike Morales (Frank Yaconelli), "Dude" Hanford (George Shelly) and "Trigger" Benton (Bob Kortman, as one of the good guys for a change)come to Brimstone and help their friends Larry Munro (Frank McGlynn, Jr.) and his sister, Lucy (Lynn Gilbert), in their fight to retain control of Larry's rich ore mine. "Doc" Hardy ( a thinly-disguised "Doc" Holliday character played by Walter Miller), as an old friend of Wade's, joins them in their efforts to keep Matt Keeler (Russell Simpson), the scheming owner of "The Brimstone News", from his efforts to wrest control of Munro's property and mine. Keller employs a legion of who's-whos from Central Casting's Henchman Division---Francis McDonald, Charles Stevens, Alan Bridge and Bud Osborne among them---and sidelines at running runs guns to Red Hatchet (Chief Thunderbird) and his tribe so they can also get in on the fray against the Munro's and Kentucky and friends.
Filled from front-to-back with stock footage from earlier Universal serials (including footage from the silent era which served to jar the speed-projected nerves, including some of the cliffhangers,) but no shortage of well-delineated characters on both sides of the good-bad fence, which was not unusual in Universal's serials at the time. George Shelly sings two songs, here and there, written by Kay Kellogg and sometimes hard to flash-forward through as there is oft-times dialogue, incidents and plot developments going on at the same time.
But it is a "movie-movie" serial-serial and, as such, and judged only by when-why-and who it was made for standards, has nothing to be ashamed of. And Charles Stevens doing his usual renegade half-breed adds points, also. Plus gap-toothed Bob Kortman fighting on the side of the angels for a change.
That alone, makes it a keeper.