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Danger Zone (1951)
Philip Marlowe Lite
Hugh Beaumont makes his contribution to the Gumshoe Genre as wise cracking Charter Boat Operator / Private Investigator Dennis O'Brien. When the Charter Boat business is a little slow, O'brien likes to pick up a few extra bucks as a PI. Showing a greater penchant for witty repartee than character judgment and well grounded decision making, O'Brien finds himself at odds with an assortment of characters he meets during the course of the day.
Danger Zone is filmed as two separate stories combined into a feature length film. In Part One O'Brien is duped by a mysterious woman (Virginia Dale) into bidding on her behalf at auction for a suitcase. As it turns out she isn't the only one interested in the suitcase and it's contents. O'Brien is soon up to the lapels of his overcoat in larceny and murder. Part Two finds O'Brien, apparently none the wiser from his previous experience in Part One, bamboozled by a fellow detective (Tom Neal) into escorting a rich socialite to a party. O'Brien is offered a quick fifty bucks to play tag-along to a rich society dame for the evening. So what could go wrong here you ask? As it turns out plenty.The situation goes sideways when O'Brien is accused of murder by the obligatory hard-nosed police Lieutenant (Richard Travis). Fortunately there to assist O'Brien in his travails is his sidekick Prof. Frederick Simpson Schicker (Edward Brophy). Schicker a Runyonesque type character, given to drink and sesquipedalian lingo, keeps an ear out for the word on the street.
Released by Lippert Pictures, this was the first part of a three picture package, each filmed as two separate stories. Lippert was a creative organization, more so financially than artistically, that was able to assimilate name talent that had been cut from their contracts at major studios. Here Lippert filmed two stories that were to be later released as stand alone television episodes. However nothing beyond the original three movies were ever made and as fate would have it, Beaumont never became one of television's legendary detectives.
Danger Zone is a low budget double bill programmer and an oddly constructed one at that. As such it's easy to say "keep moving, nothing to see here" but despite the fact that it lacks the gravitas to be a feature film, it might have made a decent television series given the chance.
Circus Boy (1956)
Adventures Under the Big Top
Circus Boy is based on the adventures of young orphan Corky (Micky Dolenz nee Braddock) who along with his Uncle, Joey the Clown (Noah Beery Jr.) work for the Burke and Walsh Circus owned by 'Big' Tim Champion (Robert Lowery). Other regulars are Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams as the cantankerous general handyman Pete and as himself Bimbo the Elephant, who actually gets top billing over Williams. There are also a few recurring characters that generally bring mayhem with each appearance. Set in the Pre-Automobile Age, the circus travels from town to town along the dusty roads of the West setting the stage for a new drama each week. Episodes are a blend of action, humor and family conflict.
After watching Circus Boy again after these many years, there are several takeaways to be had.
(1) Burke and Walsh should invest in fireproof tents.
(2) If you are a Circus Act looking for long term employment Burke and Walsh is probably not for you. A large number of episodes have Big Tim Champion, always pleased to pick up performers for a discount, hiring a new act (often with personal problems) to replace a previous act. Big Tim goes through high wire performers like a pair of cheap socks.
(3) If the Burke and Walsh circus comes to your town turn and run the other way. Townspeople looking for entertainment are instead usually treated to a large dose of pandemonium. Incidents such as forest fires, stampedes and water reservoir poisoning are not uncommon. The circus is also somewhat lax in keeping the wild animals secured.
But things typically turn out pretty well and in the end the victims usually have a good laugh at the misadventures. Running for two seasons then released into syndication, Circus Boy was one of the iconic Saturday Morning Fare of the 1950's. Any resemblance to programming peers Rin-Tin-Tin and Fury was purely intentional, but all managed to capture a sense of adventure for kids of that era.
Overland Telegraph (1951)
When Tim and Chito Go Job Hunting Trouble Usually Follows
Passing through looking for work, Tim and Chito get caught up in robbery, murder and a love triangle when local businessman Paul Manning (George Nader) hatches a plan to save his failing supply business. Manning who will lose his contract with the Army due to a new telegraph line, plots to halt construction of the line with the aid of saloon owner and all-around town bad guy Brad Roberts (Hugh Beaumont) and his henchmen (Robert J. Wilke, Fred Graham, Robert Bray). Manning soon finds himself in over his head as events spin out of control.
Like most of the post war Tim Holt Flicks, 'Overland Telegraph' has better than average production values and a fairly evolved story line as B-Westerns go. Holt once again teams up with prolific director Lesley Selander to crank out another pretty good saddle burner, which by this time Holt and Selander could do in their sleep. Holt who had grown tired of the direction of his movies and Hollywood life in general, has less screen time than usual. It has more of the feel of an ensemble cast. Ironically over the next decade much of the supporting cast would move on to more prominent roles in popular television programs of the era. Holt, though still a relatively young man, would pack up his bags and leave Hollywood behind in less than a year.
As RKO cut back production budgets and Tim Holt became progressively disengaged from the movie business, the series declined in the final years. Even so 'Overland Telegraph' is one of Tim Holt's best later films.
Take One False Step (1949)
In order to finance his new college, Professor Andrew Gentling (William Powell) and a pair of colleagues travel to Los Angeles to secure funding from curmudgeonly tycoon (Paul Harvey). Things go awry after Powell runs into his now married, former girlfriend (Shelly Winters) at his hotel bar. Powell, now happily married himself, reluctantly accepts an offer to go with Winters to a small get-together that evening to meet another old friend (Marsha Hunt). After dropping Winters off in front of her house later that night, Powell learns from a newspaper article the next morning that Winters has been reported missing and that foul play is suspected. Rather than reporting what he knows about the incident to the police, Powell, fearing losing financing for his new university from stuff-shirt benefactor Harvey, (who as a plot convenience hates any hint of scandal), decides to play detective and solve the disappearance himself.
'False Step' is part Hitchcock suspense thriller, part old school detective, a smattering of Powell's witty 'Thin Man' and topped off with a few dashes of 1930's screwball comedy. The casting and characters are also an unusual lot from Shelly Winters as the dapper Powell's floozy ex-girlfriend to James Gleason and Sheldon Leonard as a couple of wise cracking Runyonesque type cops. The results, like the styles, are mixed. The movie never really gets into a flow. Like a screwdriver in the bicycle spokes, what could have worked as a suspense mystery is thrown off the tracks by invasive injections of unneeded comedic relief. The script itself, in addition to lacking a cohesive direction, is just generally confusing as to the suspects' relationships and motivations. As such the urbane Powell is largely wasted as he steps through the disjointed scenes in a workman-like manner.
'Take One False Step' does have it's moments mainly due to Powell and cast mates who manage to pull it across the finish line. All-in-all it's a competent but forgettable film.
You Won't be Shocked
Real life husband and wife Cornel Wilde and Patricia Knight star as parole officer / parolee in this quasi noirish post-war drama. Wilde, who is assigned as Knight's parole officer, insists that as a condition of her parole she no longer associate with her former boyfriend, unsavory gambler (John Baragrey). Wilde who is smitten almost immediately by Knight, begins to bend the rules as Knight ignores the conditions of her parole and continues to see Baragrey. Because of her parole violations, Wilde being a concerned officer of the court, suggests Knight move into his home that he shares with his blind, widowed mother and younger brother. The situation continues on a downward trend.
Written by hard edged, cigar chomping, World War II vet Samuel Fuller and directed by melodrama master Douglas Sirk, this movie is a contrast of styles between writer and director. In this case the director Sirk called the shots. With the assist of a script revision from Helen Deutsch (I'll Cry Tomorrow, Valley of the Dolls), Sirk plays it out more as a tortured romantic triangle with dribs and drabs of writer Fuller's permeating cynicism occasionally popping through.
Despite a title suggesting more lurid content, 'Shockproof' offers little to actually be shocked by, probably because of the lack of any real criminal intent by the characters beyond parole violations. What tension this movie engenders is more human conflict from the soap opera style re-draft by Deutsch. With a script basically hollowed from Fuller's fatalistic influence, what's left is a sort of a well-crafted but tepid potboiler complete with a contrived populist ending.
'Shockproof' isn't a bad movie just more of a disappointment of what could have been.
They Made Me a Killer (1946)
Post War Crime Programmer
Traveling from Chicago to California, Tom Durling (Robert Lowery) finds himself framed for robbery and murder when he is duped into driving the getaway car for a bank heist. After an auto crash leaves Durling holding the bag with the legal authorities, he quickly escapes after being arrested and sets out to prove his innocence with the help of the slain bank teller's sister (Barbara Britton).
They Made Me a Killer was another of the low budget film fare from Pine-Thomas Productions which at the time was the B movie arm of Paramount Pictures. Pine-Thomas was known for making movies fast, cheap and profitable. At a compact 64 minute run-time, there isn't much in the way of character development. It's more a quick-fire series of events. Given it's slapdash nature you have to suspend some degree of belief and just enjoy the ride. Even though succinct, the script is really pretty clever and lively. 'Killer' doesn't quite have the same level of mood and ambiance as a movie like 'Detour', a movie of similar style and budget. This is largely due to the rapid pace. There really aren't any wasted or meandering scenes as Durling with single purpose tracks down those who set him up.
The cast plays it all pretty well and Lowery does a nice job as the framed-up scapegoat. While not likely to find it's way to many must see lists, 'They Made Me a Killer' is one of the better of the old cheapie crime flicks.
6 out of 10*
Double Jeopardy (1955)
Republic Pictures Last Gasp Crime Programmer
When real estate developer Emmett Devery (John Little) is charged with the murder of his alcoholic, unhappily married, former business associate (Robert Armstrong) who had been shaking him down to keep quiet about past dealings, his lawyer and future son-in-law Marc Hill (Rod Cameron) steps in to prove his innocence. Hill and his fiancé (Allison Hayes) try to unravel an extortion scheme launched by Armstrong and his gold-digging wife (Gale Robbins)
Double Jeopardy was helmed by veteran Republic Pictures director R. G. Springsteen. Springsteen who was better known for directing a string of Republic B-Western programmers, most notably the Rocky Lane series, does a good job in this gritty crime drama. Complete with blackmail, murder and duplicity, Double Jeopardy has the all the elements of later cycle noir. While the director, cast and crew do a nice job, the point A to point B script and short run time (70 minutes) doesn't provide for much mystery or suspense.
By the mid 1950's Republic Pictures had been beset with a financial downturn due to the growing popularity television. Republic had dropped the number of productions down to almost half of what it was only a few years before. Bogged down by it's low budget, even by Republic standards, Double Jeopardy, while technically competent, just doesn't ever seem to be able to get much traction. 70 minutes of passable but nondescript movie viewing.
5 of 10*
Apache Rose (1947)
Roy Finds Oil Where the Sludge Meets the Sea
Hoping to secure drilling rights to the oil rich Vega ranch, wildcatter Roy Rogers discovers a scheme hatched by members of a gambling operation to cheat the Vegas (Russ Vincent and Donna Martell) out of their oil rights. Roy teams up with new found sidekick Alkali and tugboat owner Billie Colby (Olin Howland and Dale Evans) to bring down the criminal racket of Reed Calhoun (George Meeker) who runs his operation from a floating casino which resides just out of jurisdiction offshore.
This was Roy's first movie after the departure of Gabby Hayes who as they say, left to pursue other opportunities. Without an apparent backup plan in place the studio plugged in veteran character actor Olin Howland for his one and only pairing as Roy's saddle pal. Actually Howland did a pretty good job. It makes you wonder why he never found a niche in this kind of sidekick role.
Apache Rose is another of Roy's films that was chopped to bits for television. The original 75 minute runtime was cut to 54 minutes. This left close to a third of the movie on the cutting room floor making it almost indecipherable. Apache Rose is still readily available in the full uncut format. It is highly recommended before watching or buying a DVD that you get the unedited version.
Neither one of Roy's best or worst movies. Probably most fans will enjoy though.
5 of 10*
Grand Canyon Trail (1948)
Silver Mine Swindle
Roy Rogers becomes entangled in murder and larceny after his friends (Andy Devine) and singing ranchers (Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage) invest $20,000 in a seeming worthless silver mine. When an old prospector who might know where the silver is located disappears, Roy suspects that the project's mining engineer (Robert Livingston) could be behind it. Seeking proof of a crime, Roy's investigation becomes even more complicated when the mine owner's secretary masquerading as his daughter (Jane Frazee) arrives in town. In a case of mistaken intentions Frazee constantly thwarts Roy's attempts to bring the bad guys to justice.
The ghost town set and dark abandoned hotel form the stage for this action oater. Roy's nine pictures with Andy Devine marked a real difference in style from earlier movies. Andy was brought in after Gabby Hayes left the series in 1946. While Andy still provided comic relief, the villains grew more ruthless and Roy sang less. Here there are only three pretty good non-action stopping tunes in the movie. Comedy of Errors inspired sequence in the spooky hotel about halfway through seems a little out of sync with the rest of the movie.
Originally filmed in "Trucolor", seemingly only the black and white prints remain on this one. Unfortunately as with a lot of the later Roy Rogers movies, this one was later chopped to bits to reduce the runtime from 67 minutes down to 54 to fit for television. Good news here is that unlike a few of Roy's other movies where the chopped footage appears lost forever, Grand Canyon Trail can still be found intact in the full length version. For Roy Rogers Fans it's worth the effort to find to 67 minute unedited format.
Pretty decent Roy Rogers flick. 6 of 10*
Pals of the Golden West (1951)
Roy's Last Starring Movie
The Border Patrol calls in their ace troubleshooter Roy Rogers to put the kibosh on a cross-border cattle smuggling operation in order to control an outbreak of Hoof and Mouth Disease. Roy soon teams up with fellow Border Patrol Officer (Pat Brady) and local newspaper photographer Pinky Lee to bust the racket headed by murderous scoundrels Lucky Grillo and Ward Sloan (Anthony Caruso & Roy Barcroft). To bring the bad guys to justice Roy must work around the meddling of pesky out of town reporter Cathy Marsh and local newspaper woman Elena Madera (Dale Evans & Estelita Rodriguez).
Director William Witney once again revs up the action. Complete with fisticuffs, gunfights and a couple of bear attacks, Pals of the Golden West is a fitting end to Roy's run as a silver screen hero and an end to a great stretch of movies with Witney at the helm. In an uncharacteristic scene Roy actually bleeds after a fight here. It finds Roy once again pitted against frequent nemesis and veteran Republic Pictures Bad Guy Roy Barcroft, who just never seemed to learn that crime doesn't pay. It was also the third and last of the unusual pairings with sidekick Pinky Lee. However well intentioned, the cartoon like antics that served Pinky well as a children's show entertainer just didn't add much to his trio of movies with Roy.
In the final scene Dale bids Roy farewell and announces that Roy has taken a "new assignment in Capitol City". With that, after a string of over a hundred movies, Trigger rears up, Roy waves good-bye and along with Bullet, all literally ride off into the sunset. However the best was yet to come. Fans only had to wait about six weeks for the start of the long running Roy Rogers Television Series. Launched just before New years in 1951 the "Roy Rogers Show" would be remembered and have a lasting influence on a new generation of viewers. Roy would be joined by "Queen of the West" Dales Evans, Trigger, Bullet and sidekick Pat Brady for the entire six year run of the series.