frontrowkid2002

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Reviews

Psycho
(1960)

Virginia Gregg and Jeanette Nolan
Both of these women did the voice of Mrs. Bates in the movie, "Psycho". Both had considerable radio training. Ms. Gregg played "Kitty" on the radio version of Gunsmoke and also Miss Wong on the radio version of Have Gun Will Travel. Ms. Nolan played a witch several times in television and even did Lady Macbeth in the movie version of Macbeth. Her husband was John McIntyre who played the sheriff in the movie, Psycho, and his wife was played by Lureen Tuttle, who played Effie, Sam Spade's secretary on radio. McIntyre had the classic line of asking John Gavin (Sam Loomis) who claimed Mrs. Bates was still alive. McIntyre told him that Mrs. Bates had died years before and if someone had seen her in the upstairs window, "then who was that woman buried out in Greenwood cemetery." That is when people might start getting suspicious of the outcome.

Jack Armstrong
(1947)

Jack Armstrong serial lackluster reminder of original
When Columbia's schlockmeister producer Sam Katzman brought the radio character of Jack Armstrong to the screen in 1947. the radio serial had been on the air for 14 years. In the late Forties, it had to share airtime with Sky King in a complete half hour version three times a week. Gone were the cliffhanging episodes which kept the kiddies on the end of their seats until the next day's resolution. Katzman's serials were based on radio and comic book characters whose name appeal would hopefully bring in the Saturday afternoon juvenile audience. Commercial tie-ins through publicity both in newspapers and in comic books told the kids that their favorite comic book/radio heroes were now on the screen. While Charles Flynn played a teenage Jack Armstrong on radio, the listening audience did not realize that he was a young man who just finished military service. John Hart however played a mature leading man who hadnt seen the inside of Hudson High School (Jack Armstrong's alma mater) for years. Rosemary LaPlanche's fame as Miss America of 1941 got her the job of the role of Betty Fairfield, played as a young girl on radio, but on the screen could have been the love interest for John Hart. In this reviewer's opinion, Ms. LaPlanche resembled Republic western actress Helen Talbot facially and in her acting style. She would later appear in Republic's Federal Agents vs. the Underworld Inc. Joe Brown Jr. played her brother Billy, whose radio character was famous for starting his sentences with such phrases "Gee Willikers." Charles Middleton, known as Ming the Merciless, turns in a credible performance as the evil Dr Grood. Jack Armstrong was the first of three Columbia serials produced in 1947 with the other two being the Vigilante, taken from the comic books, and the Sea Hound featuring Buster Crabbe as Captain Silver, another radio adventure serial. Booked in second run theaters, they enjoyed a brief run before being deposited back in Columbia's vaults.

Cyclotrode 'X'
(1966)

Cyclotrode X edited version of Crimson Ghost
In 1966, the Batman-Green Hornet pop art craze was popular on television. Teenagers and young adults too young to have seen the original movie serials on television or on the screen were viewing the television revivals as parodies of the real thing. Republic Pictures took several of their serials out of the vaults and edited them into 100 minute features and changed the titles. In the case of the Crimson Ghost, they added color to the negative so that the costume would stand out. If a viewer got the impression that the Crimson Ghost was spoofing the old serials, they were correct. Bill Witney had just returned from active duty as a Marine officer in WWII. he had directed many of the Republic serials with the help of Jack English. This would be his last serial before being assigned the Roy Rogers series in which he would beef up the action, decreasing the musical element. Witney admitted that he did indeed "kid" the serial, but not decrease the entertainment level for the kids. It was also on this serial, that he introduced leading lady Linda Stirling to her future husband, scriptwriter Sloan Nibley.

Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island
(1936)

Only 14 chapter serial in movie history
Movie serials were traditionally 12 or 15 chapters, depending on the production schedule. Republic, Columbia and Universal all supplied their distributors with four serials a year. Republic usually stuck to the 12 chapter format, releasing their summer season serial in 15 chapters. That's so the theaters could start running the first chapter in late May, right before school ended, and wrapping it up by the first week of September. Columbia maintained a 15 chapter serial schedule throughout its career. Universal produced 13 chapter serials. Robinson Crusoe on Clipper Island was the first and only 14 chapter serial in movie history. It came about before the serial was completely finished. The film was shot on Santa Cruz Island, near Santa Barbara. The producers discovered they had gone over budget and to keep the rental cost at $12-15 per chapter, they wrote two additional chapters using footage that had already been used and writing two new "takeouts" or end of the chapter perils. The writer assigned to do this as his first task at Republic was Barry Shipman, who would later write many of the Republic serials and also write the Durango Kid series.

Cowboy G-Men
(1952)

Cowboy G-Men: What's in a title
A previous reviewer pointed out that G-Men was not a term used in the old West during the time period in which the program was set. No kidding. They did have U.S. Marshals hired by the government to rule territories that had not officially been set up. In the Golden Age of B westerns, there was a series called the "Rough Riders" which co-starred veteran Westerns stars Buck Jones, Tim McCoy and Raymond Hatton. However the term "Rough Riders" did not gain popularity until Teddy Roosevelt organized a group of cowboys and wranglers to charge up San Juan Hill. No doubt the word G-Men because kids of the Fifties were familiar with it. There were at least three radio programs dealing with the FBI at that time. Gang Busters, F.B.I. in Peace and War and This is Your F.B.I, Russell Hayden was already known to kids as one of Hoppy's sidekicks in the movies and Jackie Coogan was known to adults who recall his childhood movies. In fact, anytime Coogan's name is mentioned, I first think of Cowboy G-Men and Stoney Crockett before I think of Uncle Festus.

Utah
(1945)

Utah: Republic Pictures' answer to Oklahoma stage play
In 1945, Roy Rogers had become Republic's King of the Cowboys. His films were shown not only across the country, but in allied countries which were depending on US films for entertainment. In major cities, like New York, Roy's films got booking dates in first run theaters. Studio president Herbert Yates was in New York City when he saw the Broadway production of "Oklahoma." Taking note of the musical western elements, he decided that the Rogers' pictures would all feature a musical production number at the end. This is why the entire cast, including Gabby Hayes and a flock of sheep, perform on stage before a group of townspeople. This would be the agenda until 1946 when William Witney, Republic's serial director, took over the helm. It was his idea to "toughen up" the King of the Cowboys and add some realistic and bruising fight scenes.

The Lost City
(1935)

Lost City urban legend debunked
In the mid Fifties, Famous Monsters of Filmland published photos and stories about early horror and sci-fi serials. The Lost City serial was reviewed by Forrest Ackerman, FM's publisher, in which he told a story about the serial being run on early television in New York City. This was at a time when the networks were using old movies to fill up daytime schedules. As the story goes, the kids were so frightened at seeing black natives being turned into giant zombies with wide-eyed expressions and menacing grins, that protests were made to the station running the serial. The station discontinued the serial viewings. This story found its way into a couple of movie reference books. A serial historian checked out the story and found no mention anywhere that it either ran or was discontinued due to criticism. The serial has become a classic among fans because of its outdated racism and because it featured George Hayes, who became "Gabby Hayes" in Roy Rogers westerns. It also featured familiar B actors Kane Richmond, Claudia Dell and William "Stage" Boyd. Boyd was a B actor whose infamous claim to fame was that he once arrested for having illegal liquor at a party in his house during Prohibition. When the story was published in the paper, a photo of another William Boyd, whose stardom was on the rise. The studio where Boyd was working released him on the morals clause, even though he was not guilty. It may have been at this time that the William Boyd who was arrested took the name "Stage" to differentiate from the other Boyd. In any case, the innocent Boyd toiled in the B picture sweatshops until he was cast in a A western as Hopalong Cassidy.

Twilight on the Rio Grande
(1947)

Gene bides his time at Republic
When Gene Autry returned from WWII's military service, he found his spot as Republic's top Western star had been usurped by Roy Rogers. Rogers had been in some of Autry's early movies as one of the Sons of the Pioneers. Autry was interested in producing his own films, but he had to first win a court battle with Republic who said that he still owed them time on his contract. Autry made a deal with the studio that he would continue to make films while the courts figured if he was still obligated to honor the contract. If he won, then he was free to go. Autry made five films during this period, using the light musical touch that he had used previously. Sterling Holloway was chosen as his sidekick since Smiley Burnette had left for Columbia. In Twilight on the Rio Grande, Autry is teamed with Bob Steele, who had been part of Republic's three Mesquiteer series. Steele's role in the film is short-lived since he is murdered. Since the plot is in Mexico, there are plenty pretty girls, singing gauchos and romance. While Gene does a good job with the title song, he never released it on record. The song could have been a hit when paired with the other featured song, The Old Lamplighter. For the record, Gene finished his series at Republic in 1947 and went to Columbia to produce his own series which competed with Rogers at the box office.

Lash of the West
(1953)

Lash of the West
Lash LaRue was a popular B western star of the late Forties, dressing in black and cracking an 18 ft bullwhip. In the early Fifties, many of the former cowboy stars were going into television, either on a network show or hosting their own films. Buster Crabbe, who had been Lash's predecessor at PRC in the Forties, hosted a NYC TV show called "Buster's Buddies." Ray Crash Corrigan had his own TV show as well as operating the Corriganville movie ranch. Lash of the West was a 15 minute show where Lash talked about his grandfather who had been a famous marshal in the days of the West. There would be a fade out to clips from one of Lash's films. Filmed in 1953, it only ran a few months, and then re-appeared a few years later. Lash himself would go on to play a semi-regular part on the Wyatt Earp TV show as Sheriff Johnny Behan. After years of personal problems, Lash finally became an evangelist and became a popular guest at Western film conventions in the South. He also took a bit part in the TV remake of "Stagecoach" at the request of his former fans, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

The Vampire's Ghost
(1945)

Peggy Stewart in Vampire's Ghost.
I had never seen or heard of the Vampire's Ghost until I attended a Western film festival where Peggy Stewart was a guest star. She was a popular Western heroine at Republic, making films with Bill Elliott, Sunset Carson and Allan Lane. When they announced they were going to run it, she made a face and said, "Oh no, you're not." Peggy never attends screenings of her old films because it brings back memories that make her cry. She says she always recalls what went on behind the scenes and would rather talk with the fans. When I saw it, I recall one particular scene where she is supposedly walking in a trance. She had shoulder length hair and a beautiful face. It's no wonder her co-workers and fans love her. At the awards banquet, they presented her with a plaque which had the figure of a ghost on it. She got a big laugh out of that.

Blazing Across the Pecos
(1948)

Waa Waa Waa I want my hour back
If you had seen as many Durango Kid westerns as you said you did, you should have realized that these were designed for kids some sixty years ago. Barry Shipman who wrote several of the screenplays admitted that they were written to a formula and as such the plots did tend to become a bit stereotyped. Frankly, we didn't care. We were there for a afternoon of fun and excitement where we could scream and yell to our hearts content without too much adult supervision. Obviously if you had been in the audience as an adult, we would have thought it was a little strange. The reason that the print quality is so bad is that Columbia cranked these things out on a budget. They were not meant to last several decades and in fact, many have disintegrated through the years because of poor storage. What I can't understand is if you were bored by the film, why didn't you turn it off. That way, you could have spent the rest of your hour more constructively. Incidentally, Charles Starrett hails from Athol, Massachusetts, whose family owned a machine tool business.

Melody Time
(1948)

Melody Time brings back memories
I believe I first saw Melody Time when it was re-issued to theaters in the Fifties, but like it's successor, Make Mine Music, certain episodes found their way onto Disney's weekly TV show. That's when it was on Wednesday nights, not Sundays, and in black and white. Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill were the two most repeated segments on television because of the popularity of their characters. Dennis Day of course was well known to youngsters because of his appearance on the Jack Benny show and of course Roy Rogers was the top western star in 1948 when the movie was released. Even today, my favorite part of the program is the song, "Blue Shadows on the Trail." Make Mine Music had the classic Casey at the Bat,as told by Jerry Colonna, whom even though you may never have heard of him, brings laughs at his narration. The other character to come from Make Mine Music was Bongo, the circus bear. There were Bongo story books and of course records. While modern day audiences may find fault with Disney's story telling techniques as being stereotyped or old-fashioned, he brought to life in vivid Technicolor the classic stories of childhood.

Robin Hood of Texas
(1947)

Robin Hood of Texas
Robin Hood of Texas was one of five movies Gene Autry made for Republic, while waiting for the courts to decide if his contract was still valid after serving in the Army Air Corps. Autry maintained that the time limit had expired while he was in the service and Republic claimed that they still had the right to his services. Autry had returned to Republic to find that Roy Rogers was known the Western king of the box office. He wanted to produce his own films over at Columbia, but needed a release from Republic. Robin Hood of Texas was heavy on music and comedy, using the talents of the Cass County Boys, Autry's musical back-up on his radio show. Republic used the term "Robin Hood" in several of their movies to create the image of the hero who often had to flee from the law to capture the real thieves. In this particular picture, Autry and his friends are accused of assisting bank robbers make their getaway.

The Gunfighter
(1950)

Addendum on the Gunfighter
The Gunfighter established the trend for mature Hollywood westerns by having the hero be a mature gunfighter who wants to retire in peace, not in pieces. The movie created the line which has been parodied since "everywhere I go, some young punk wants to try me." Using Richard Jaeckle and Skip Homier as the young wanna-be gunfighters was a classic piece of casting, since both of them went on to play similar parts in westerns, although not together. One piece of trivia about this film was that Harry Cohn at Columbia originally had bought the script with the intent of having John Wayne play the lead. Wayne,by now, was a major star, producing his own films. Wayne wanted to do the role, but didn't want to do it at Columbia. As a young actor, he had been treated badly by Cohn who humiliated him after his disastrous first lead in "The Big Trail." Wayne told Cohn in so many words what he could do with his script. The script was then sold to Twentieth Century Fox. Wayne did play a similar role in his final picture, "The Shootist."

The Old Corral
(1936)

Sons of Pioneers musical number
"The Old Corral" became famous for its fight scene between Gene Autry and his future competitor at Republic, Roy Rogers, known at that time as Dick Weston. Rogers was part of the Sons of the Pioneers musical group featured in Autry's pictures. In this film, they play highwaymen (overland bus robbers) who also known how to warble a tune. While most of them are captured and put in jail, young Weston gets away and Autry has to go after him, not only for the robbery but because the group needs his harmony. After he is subdued, Autry asks him to yodel. Rogers then learns why he was captured. In the next scene, the group is shown singing "Silent Trail," a moving ballad about the passing of the old West. The sincere expressions on their faces as they sing compliments their harmonious treatment. They always gave their songs a bit more class than the usual "hillbilly" groups Autry had in his films, who had been taken from the National Barn Dance radio show.

Tales from the Darkside: Black Widows
(1986)
Episode 6, Season 3

Shocked at seeing Margaret O'Brien as a fat old lady
I recall this episode from "Tales from the Dark Side" because it starred Margaret O'Brien as a mature Black Widow spider mother. I hadn't seen her in many years and was shocked to see how heavy and old she had become. Some of that was make-up but some of it was due to the passage of time which of course comes to all of us. I remember seeing Margaret O'Brien paper dolls and coloring books and she even had a Capitol Records album where she read "The Three Bears." Then I later saw a few pictures of her where she lost weight and still had that cute smile. The other thing I recall about the episode was where they showed a brief shot of "the bridegroom". His face was a ghastly white (from all the blood sucked out of him" and there was a web like silk over his face. The scene doesn't last that long, but it does leave an impression.

King of the Carnival
(1955)

King of the Carnival last bow for Republic serials
When King of the Carnival hit theater screens in 1956, it would be the last in a long line of Republic serials. Television had already made its impact on Saturday afternoon movie fans, and even the serial's regular companion, the B western, had already bitten the dust. The plot of counterfeiters working under at a carnival was more suitable for a B detective feature. The serial's hero Harry Lauter was familiar to young fans as Ranger Clay Morgan, Jace Pearson's partner on Tales of the Texas Rangers. He had already starred in another Republic serial, Trader Tom of the South Seas. Republic itself would close its doors forever in a few more years. But it left behind cinema memories for two generations of fans.

Perils of Nyoka
(1942)

Kay Aldridge and Adrian Booth
I've had the pleasure of meeting both of these ladies at nostalgia film festivals. I was sitting with Kay Aldridge in the viewing room when they ran a chapter of Daredevils of the West in which she co-starred with Allan "Rocky" Lane. Kay gave out with a shriek at the appropriate time as her screen image was about to go over a cliff in a runaway wagon. Adrian told me the story of how Kay was tied up and hanging in mid-air during a scene from "Nyoka" They had her standing on a box for the close-up shot and then took the box away for the long shot. Kay looked up to the heavens and said "Oh Lord, send me a man right away." Of course it got a laugh from the crew. I don't know how old she was at the time of "Nyoka," but when she didn't report to work one day, director Bill Witney discovered that she had chicken pox.Kay had a rather sophisticated way of talking which may have detracted some from her athletic character role, but she did make three serials for Republic. She later married a millionaire and moved to Maine, but did make some festival appearances.

Deadwood Dick
(1940)

close call for actress
Adrian Booth Brian a.k.a Lorna Gray tells the story about one scene in Deadwood Dick where she and the hero are standing on a platform during some type of celebration. The heavies stampede a bunch of cattle down the main street and the hero and Adrian have to duck out of the way. Unfortunately, proper protective measures weren't taken and the cattle crashed into the platform just as Adrian and the hero are making their escape. Adrian said after the dust cleared, the assistant director came over to her and said "I hope you didn't lose your hair ribbon because we don't want to shoot it over again." That along with other reasons is why she was glad to leave Columbia.

Desert Command
(1946)

Edited serial
Desert Command (1946), a feature version of a early John Wayne serial, was one of Republic's attempts to cash in on the box office appeal of one of their stars. In 1933, John Wayne, a struggling B actor, was working in serials for Mascot Pictures, the forerunner to Republic. The Three Musketeers was an updated version of Dumas' adventure classic using Foreign Legionnaires instead of royal swordsmen. The serial was the third of three chapter-plays Wayne made at this time. In 1946, he had become a major star, producing his own films at Republic. Desert Command was designed to play the bottom half of a double bill at second run theaters at a Saturday matinée, where a Roy Rogers or Gene Autry film might be the main feature. Autry had also appeared in a sci-fi western serial for Mascot, "Phantom Empire" which was re-edited into a 1940 feature, "Men With Steel Faces." Other Republic serials re-edited as features included "Hi-Yo Silver" (The Lone Ranger, 1938), Lost Planet Airmen (King of the Rocketmen, 1949), and Zorro Rides Again (same title as 1937 serial). In 1966, to cash in on the Batman "camp" craze, Republic re-released several of their serials as features under different titles for television in the "Century 66" package.

Daredevils of the Red Circle
(1939)

flooded tunnel ending for Chapter One
In looking over previous comments of Daredevils of the Red Circle, many of you comment on the ending of Chapter One where Charles Quigley is trying to outrace a torrent of water riding on a motorcyle. I had the privilege of knowing Barry Shipman, the scriptwriter for "Daredevils." He would pen many of the famous Republic serials, including the Lone Ranger, before going over to Columbia to write the Durango Kid features. Bill Witney relays the story of how the chapter came to be written in his autobiography. First, they found a real tunnel in downtown Los Angeles. At that time, the L.A. traffic had not grown to the proportion it is today and Republic got permission from the city to block traffic while they shot footage inside the tunnel. A miniature replica of the tunnel was designed and a process screen was used to show the water seemingly coming from behind Quigley. It was Barry's suggestion that the hero narrowly escapes downing by getting to the end of the tunnel where he turns the wheel to close the watertight doors. This conclusion was known as the take-out or the solution to the cliffhanger.

Daredevils of the Red Circle
(1939)

flooded tunnel ending for Chapter One
In looking over previous comments of Daredevils of the Red Circle, many of you comment on the ending of Chapter One where Charles Quigley is trying to outrace a torrent of water riding on a motorcyle. I had the privilege of knowing Barry Shipman, the scriptwriter for "Daredevils." He would pen many of the famous Republic serials, including the Lone Ranger, before going over to Columbia to write the Durango Kid features. Bill Witney relays the story of how the chapter came to be written in his autobiography. First, they found a real tunnel in downtown Los Angeles. At that time, the L.A. traffic had not grown to the proportion it is today and Republic got permission from the city to block traffic while they shot footage inside the tunnel. A miniature replica of the tunnel was designed and a process screen was used to show the water seemingly coming from behind Quigley. It was Barry's suggestion that the hero narrowly escapes downing by getting to the end of the tunnel where he turns the wheel to close the watertight doors. This conclusion was known as the take-out or the solution to the cliffhanger.

Streets of Ghost Town
(1950)

Re-using old footage
I would like to comment on the previous blogs about the re-use of old footage. Yes, there was a lot of stock footage used in the Durango Kid films, just as there had been in the Lash Larue series. This had nothing to do with television, since TV's influence didn't make an impression until the early Fifties. Post-war production costs and the tight budgets which governed these films were to blame. Actually, it made sense. Why would you shoot new footage of a masked rider on a white horse again and again when you already had footage on this? My friend Barry Shipman, who wrote the Durangos, told me that at the end of the series in 1952, he was simply writing continuity so that the old footage and the new footage could be matched up. What the hey? The kids didn't care about story lines. Just keep the Durango Kid riding and shooting. The comment about the hokey comedy of 1950 amused me. Burnette was doing the same comedy on Petticoat Junction, but there was a laugh track added to tell the audience when to laugh. We didn't have the laugh track at the movies so we had to decide for ourselves what was funny and what wasn't. Also, note the printed narratives at the beginning of every Durango with no off screen narrator reading. Judging from those words, the scriptwriters must have thought we were pretty intelligent. Could the kids today read that without help?

Jungle Drums of Africa
(1953)

Not one of Republic's best
Jungle Drums of Africa, a 1953 Republic serial, was a last ditch stand to get the youngsters back into the theater for Saturday matinées and away from that "new kid on the block," television. Clayton Moore, on hiatus from "The Lone Ranger", and Phyllis Coates, who had played Lois Lane on TV's Superman were well known to youngsters at that time. The serial line of battling hostile natives and foreign agents seeking to get oil deposits for their country was stretched out to 12 chapters and padded with footage from previous Republic jungle serials. One scene where Phyllis Coates is being sucked through a wind tunnel was taken from "Perils of Nyoka," one of Republic's better jungle serials. In his autobiography, Clayton Moore agrees that the serial was the worst serial he had ever done. Moore had been the hero of "Perils of Nyoka" which had an exotic storyline and fast paced action. Moore blamed television for part of the serial's demise because youngsters did not have to wait until next week to find out how the story turned out. The storyline of Jungle Drums dragged out and there was no tempo. The same artificial scenery of trees and rocks were used in almost every set. The Lone Ranger TV production would experience the same situation as characters always seemed to be meeting in front of the same papermache rock. Although the natives were played by African-American (or to use the Fifties term Negro) actors, Moore said that there was no tension between the races. They were just actors doing a job and there was no need to make an issue about the way the parts were being played. At this time, Republic was producing two new serials each season and re-issuing two of their previous serials to meet contractual agreements of four serials a year.

Return of the Bad Men
(1948)

Return of the Badmen historically incorrect
The reviewer "krorie" from Van Buren, Arkansas, goes to great length to point out how historically Return of the Badmen were, listing the dates the different real life outlaws, depicted in the film, were living and when they died. While your research is to be commended, you missed the whole point of the movie. It was made for entertainment not enlightenment. Most of the westerns made by Hollywood took liberties with the facts and were presented in a fashion that audiences could accept. The Return of the Badmen, like its predecessor "Badmen Territory" used the combined villainy of real life western outlaws to add appeal to the western. While both films were made in the late Forties, and television had not yet made an effect on the movie going public, the genre was slowly being burned out. Everything possible had been tried in order to boost box office appeal. Actually, the B western was already suffering from postwar production costs, and ticket prices in those years right before television. Many families, particularly those with small children, did not have the money for a babysitter and so spent the evenings at home listening to radio. The movie westerns did their best box office at the Saturday afternoon matinées when parents dropped off their children at the theater so they could go shopping. While Randolph Scott made many westerns, these two westerns, particularly Return of the Badmen, must have made an impression on producer Mel Brooks because he uses Randolph Scott's name as an in-joke in his 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles. The townspeople are reluctant to help their new sheriff, who happens to be black, combat the outlaw hoards which is coming to their town. One person speaks up in defense of the sheriff by saying "You would help Randolph Scott" whereupon the people reverently repeat Scott's name as they take off their hats and are bathed in a heavenly light which shines from above.

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