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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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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