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Son of the Border (1933)
Second Tom Keene oater for Creighton Chaney
1933's "Son of the Border" was only the fifth RKO picture for screen newcomer Creighton Chaney, later forced to adopt his illustrative father's name as 'Lon Chaney Jr.,' and already his third Western, second straight opposite Tom Keene after the better known "Scarlet River." Not a modern Western like its predecessor (which depicted how a Hollywood studio made such films), this is a traditional plotline used many times before and since, the moral problem of a hero whose best friend is in league with the bad guys. Keene is of course our honest, upright hero Tom Owens, while Chaney essays the role of Tom's old buddy Jack Breen, secretly part of the outlaw gang committing robberies in the vicinity. Once Tom learns of Jack's treachery he allows him to leave town for a better life elsewhere with fiancée Doris (Julie Haydon), but 'that old gang of mine' insists on one last job which predictably turns out to be Jack's last, his attempted getaway foiled by the pursuant Owens, firing one fatal shot that halts his friend in his tracks (he couldn't know the identity of the man he was trailing). It's actually a tale of two stories, the exciting if stereotyped first half yielding to a more staid second half with the arrival of Jack's preteen brother Frankie (David Durand), whom Tom quickly takes in, choosing to protect Jack's good name from the boy and avoid telling him how he died. This does not sit well with Doris, still bitterly grieving for her late fiancée and determined to insinuate herself into Frankie's life despite Tom's protestations. She remains the one unpredictable pawn in this chess game, knowingly acknowledging Jack's crimes as he committed them while vowing to avenge herself against the man who killed him, no matter the consequences for the younger Breen (again like "Scarlet River," a preteen prominently features throughout). This was the last of only three credited features for director Lloyd Nosler, and though it was the end of the line for Chaney at RKO he would find better pastures after another six years of struggle.
The Avengers: Dragonsfield (1961)
Steed's lone solo adventure from season one
"Dragonsfield," apart from being the final lost episode from season one, marked the only solo adventure for Steed prior to the second season. A government research institute attempting to create material guarding against radiation finds one of its staff irradiated by an unknown assailant. Steed arrives and meets the project head Reddington (Ronald Leigh Hunt, later seen in "The Cybernauts"), assistants Susan Summers (Barbara Shelley, later seen in "From Venus with Love") and Lisa Strauss (Sylva Langova, later seen in "The Mauritius Penny"), plus security chief Saunders (Alfred Burke, later seen in "The Mauritius Penny" and "The Girl from Auntie"), the latter sharing his suspicions with Steed. Another scientist survives a brutal assault, Steed no closer to finding the culprit until Saunders decides to set up a meeting to ingratiate himself with foreign agent Boris (Steven Scott, second of three, previously seen in "One for the Mortuary"). This was the only appearance of Eric Dodson (previously seen as a different character in "The Yellow Needle") in the role of One-Fifteen, in place of Steed's regular superior One-Ten, played in exactly ten episodes by Douglas Muir (returning five times next season). Other series veterans present include Herbert Nelson (first of three), Morris Perry (second of three, previously seen in "Tunnel of Fear"), and Michael Robbins (second of four, previously seen in "Square Root of Evil"). Steed would receive sole billing for the initial three entries shot for season two (opposite a new doctor played by Jon Rollason), prior to the introduction of new female partner Cathy Gale, in the capable judo kicking person of Honor Blackman.
The Avengers: A Change of Bait (1961)
Ian Hendry bows out of the series after only 25 episodes
"A Change of Bait" marked the final episode for top billed Ian Hendry, who had had enough of the role of Dr. David Keel after 25 entries, leaving Patrick Macnee's Steed to carry on as full time star. This, another lost entry, focuses on Archie Duncan (Victor Platt, first of two) and his investment for a shipment of bananas to be purchased by a firm represented by Lemuel Potts (John Bailey, first of four). What Duncan does not know is that Potts is a corrupt businessman working in collusion with a man called Barker (Gary Hope, first of three) to collect on the insurance when the deals fall through, here making certain that a dock workers strike prevents the bananas from leaving the ship. When Steed orchestrates the success of Duncan's investment Potts has a dilemma that he chooses to solve with a timely case of arson, with both Steed and Keel ready to go up in flames as well. Ingrid Hafner's nurse Carol Wilson would also exit the show, a total of 19 out of 26 first season episodes. The first three episodes shot for season two would feature Jon Rollason as a new doctor before Honor Blackman's debut as Mrs. Catherine Gale.
The Avengers: Dead of Winter (1961)
The lost episode "Dead of Winter" deals with cryogenics, introducing Neil Hallett (first of three) and John Woodvine (first of three) to the series, the second of six for Norman Chappell, after "Dance with Death." A shipment of frozen beef from Argentina also contains the chilled corpse of Gerhardt Schneider (Carl Duering), and Dr. David Keel must wait ten hours for it to thaw before an examination can take place. Steed logically assumes the time of death to be exactly two weeks before, when the refrigerated cargo left South America. His questioning of one of Schneider's female acquaintance reveals that she would never had guessed that his month long disappearance would find him arriving at his planned destination frozen stiff. The answers can be found at the cryogenics lab of Dr. Kreuzer (Arnold Marle), where nothing is as it should be.
The Avengers: The Deadly Air (1961)
Allan Cuthbertson and Geoffrey Bayldon
Another lost entry, "The Deadly Air" served to introduce Allan Cuthbertson (first of four), Geoffrey Bayldon (first of two), Michael Hawkins (first of three), and Cyril Renison (first of two) to the long running series, with Douglas Muir's fifth appearance as One-Ten, Steed's superior (the last this season, five more next year). Truscott Research Laboratories is the setting for experiments to devise a new vaccine against a particularly virulent disease. Someone is determined to destroy this vaccine's development, as a test subject serving as guinea pig dies of the disease. Steed and Keel investigate the isolation room, and volunteer to be tested themselves to ferret out the culprit. The second season's "The Golden Eggs" featured a similar storyline.
The Avengers: Kill the King (1961)
Patrick Allen and Burt Kwouk
One of the more promising lost entries from season one, "Kill the King" introduced several familiar faces to the series, Patrick Allen (first of two), Burt Kwouk (first of three), Peter Barkworth (first of four), and Lisa Peake (first of two), with Moira Redmond in her second of two (after the debut episode "Hot Snow"). King Tenuphon (Kwouk) of the Far Eastern nation of Champur, is en route to London to sign a treaty granting a valuable oil concession to Britain. Steed's assignment is to assure the King's safety at all costs, for dissidents in his own nation reject the treaty outright. An assassination attempt aboard the plane results in the wounding of Prince Serrakit (James Goei), the would be killer thrown out to his death by Tenuphon's bodyguard General Tuke (Patrick Allen). In London the King's suite is targeted nearby by Major Harrington (Ian Colin), who admits that he rather likes Tenuphon but insists on his demise. David Keel is mostly absent, busy working at the maternity hospital while his nurse Carol (Ingrid Hafner) renders medical services as needed. The conclusion is a genuine surprise, one that would set a pattern for future storylines.
The Avengers: Toy Trap (1961)
A vice ring in Soho
"Toy Trap" is a lost episode that touches on the seamy side of Soho, as Steed and Keel investigate a vice ring that lures unsuspecting girls out of a local department store. Steed enjoys posing as a doctor, gaining more information than under any other guise previously donned, boasting to his physician partner that he should have adopted in years ago! The mastermind is hardly difficult to spot, featuring series veterans Mitzi Rogers (first of two) and Lionel Burns (last of two).
The Avengers: Double Danger (1961)
"Double Danger" sounds like a winner among the first season's regrettable lost episodes, as Steed orchestrates the prison escape of convicted diamond smuggler Ted Mace (Howard Daley), only to then have Mace kidnapped by Al Brady (Peter Reynolds, first of two) and Bert Mills (Ron Pember, first of two). Brady and Mills are working for the very jeweler they were stolen from, Leonard Bruton (Kevin Brennan, first of two), but as they drive off Mace is shot and needs urgent medical assistance. Enter David Keel, lured by a false tale of glass cuts by Lola Carrington (Vanda Hudson), finding his patient near death on a houseboat. He manages to get a note to his nurse Carol (Ingrid Hafner), who then puts Steed on Keel's trail, rescuing him before the villains can kill the doctor, who was issued a clue in Mace's dying confession: "it was John Bartholomew's plot..." It seems that Bruton was working with Mace to steal his own uncut gems, searching in vain for their whereabouts ever since. Brady confronts Bruton and assures himself of the entire haul by shooting his employer dead, before heading off to the home of the mysterious John Bartholomew. A busy and brisk storyline, also featuring Charles Hodgson (first of two) and Robert Mill (first of two).
Peter Arne and Tom Adams
"Death on the Slipway" is the lost episode from season one that introduced series veterans Peter Arne (first of four), Tom Adams (first of three), and Gary Watson (first of four), as well as providing the third appearance of Douglas Muir's One-Ten, Steed's superior. Sabotage at a dockyard where a nuclear submarine is being constructed, Peter Arne's Kolchek the culprit, his killing of one agent forcing the intervention of Steed, an old adversary of Kolchek, quickly recognizing him as not the metallurgist he claims to be and therefore targeted for death. The police continue their own investigation while we learn that supervisor Fleming (Sean Sullivan) is being blackmailed into planting a bomb aboard the unfinished sub. Sounds like one of the more lively entries, despite the near total absence of David Keel, also featuring Patrick Connor (first of two), Paul Dawkins (first of three), Hamilton Dyce (First of three), Billy Milton (first of two), and Redmond Bailey (last of three).
The Avengers: The Yellow Needle (1961)
The African nation of Tenebra
Another lost episode from season one, "The Yellow Needle" focuses on Sir Wilberforce Lungi (Andre Dakar), the British leaning Prime Minister of the African nation Tenebra, soon to earn its independence. David Keel knows Lungi from his days as a surgeon before entering politics, and the two reminisce before the Prime Minister's personal assistant Jacquetta Brown (Margaret Whiting). An assassination attempt on Lungi sends Steed all the way to Tenebra disguised as a journalist to find out who's responsible, learning that a secret society is trying to orchestrate Lungi's death. Bari Jonson (first of two) plays Tenebra's opposition leader, with Wolfe Morris (first of three) as the faithful Ali, a key informant who leads Steed to the truth.
The Avengers: The Springers (1961)
Break out artists
"The Springers" is another lost episode, featuring the second appearance of Douglas Muir as One-Ten, Steed's superior (introduced in "Diamond Cut Diamond"), in a total of 10 overall, five from each of the first two seasons. David Keel is posing as an inmate behind bars, as Steed is trying to learn the trail used by professional 'springers' who mastermind breakouts for any prisoner paying their price. Apparently a girls' school on the coast is part of the setup, since the escapees wind up in Norway. Not one of the more promising storylines, splitting up The Avengers for the most part, only Michael Forrest going on to make two further episodes.
Second script for Brian Clemens
One of the 22 lost episodes from season one, "One for the Mortuary" was only the second to be scripted by future AVENGERS producer Brian Clemens (following the second entry "Brought to Book"), who would not return to the series until season three. Steed is entrusted to deliver a new secret medical formula to a conference in Geneva but is injured in an attack by murderous Benson (Peter Madden, first of three), so asks David Keel to attend in his absence, the formula concealed in microdot form on the invitation card. Benson kills another courier outside Keel's office (Ronald Wilson, first of two), forcing Steed to follow the unknowing doctor to Switzerland, where Keel is tracking a girl he befriended on the plane ride, finding himself accused of a fatal shooting by the local inspector (Frank Gatliff, first of four). Everyone converges on the taxidermy shop of Bernard Bourg (Toke Townley, first of two), where Benson's employer reveals himself to be Steed's less than trustworthy contact Pallaine (Dennis Edwards, first of two). Only the earliest episodes were prone to globetrotting, keeping close to England in later years, lesser roles played by series veterans Steven Scott (first of four) and Irene Bradshaw (first of three).
Second of two solo entries for Dr. David Keel, presciently paired with a female partner
Another lost episode from season 1 of THE AVENGERS, "The Far Distant Dead" served as the second of two solo adventures for Ian Hendry's Dr. David Keel, and certainly covers more territory than "Girl on the Trapeze," kicking off with food poisoning in Mexico before concluding in Marseilles. Instead of the missing John Steed, Keel incredibly receives a female partner in Katharine Blake's Ampara Sandoval, a fellow physician caring for the sick and dying in Mexico City, together stumbling upon a case of fresh food that was fried in hydraulic fluid disguised as cooking oil. The trail leads the two from all the way to France, where an unscrupulous importer (Francis De Wolff) uses his shipping lanes to export dangerous chemicals, profiting upon the suffering of others. Tom Adams (second of three) features as the main henchman (Reed R. De Rouen and Michael Mellinger back for a single episode next season), with the intriguing one-off pairing of male and female doctors working in tandem undoubtedly giving the production team an easier out once Ian Hendry decided that playing the same character over 25 episodes was enough for him. From this little acorn grew the mighty oak, giving birth to Cathy Gale, Emma Peel, and Tara King. Steed enjoyed only one first season episode without Dr. Keel, "Dragonsfield."
The Avengers: Tunnel of Fear (1961)
Third lost episode from season 1 turns up
Episode 20, "Tunnel of Fear" now joins "Girl on the Trapeze" and "The Frighteners" as the only complete entries from season 1 to have survived, along with the opening reel of "Hot Snow," first discovered in 2016 and issued on DVD in April 2018. Happily, star Ian Hendry as Dr. David Keel is joined by Patrick Macnee's mysterious Steed on a case involving an injured prison escapee (Anthony Bate, later seen in "The Curious Case of the Countless Clues") seeking answers as to who framed him for the Southend funfair payroll some months back. Ingrid Hafner's Carol Wilson exits 10 minutes in, while it's the only time this season we get to see Douglas Muir's One-Ten, Steed's superior (the other four missing, five more next season), plus the second and final appearance from Steed's puppy Juno, from "Ashes of Ashes" (first of three for Morris Perry). It's unfortunate that the villains are such a colorless and obvious lot, but there are two familiar faces among the onlookers in Steed's harem tent (himself disguised as the new barker), Nicky Henson and Julian Holloway. It's a fairly even split between Keel and Steed; the doctor spends most of his time with the escaped convict trying to reenact the crime when not evading the cops, while Steed's masquerade as harem barker is wholly successful, right down to getting knocked unconscious for his overly flirtatious nature. Here's hoping more hidden nuggets turn up again someday.
Seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1977
"Footprints on the Moon: Apollo 11" was a theatrically released 95 minute documentary on the July 20 1969 lunar landing, issued barely two months after its completion. It had curiously languished in obscurity for decades, following its inclusion in Gold Key's Scream Theater television package, mostly consisting of low grade titles from the Crown International Pictures catalog, which is how it received its lone broadcast on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater on Jan 15 1977 (paired with second feature "The Giant of Metropolis"). It was actually 20th Century-Fox that issued the film on its initial 1969 run, and only earned a proper DVD release in 2010. A historic document of long anticipation, we hear the voice of the late President John F. Kennedy proclaiming the nation's goal to put a man on the moon before decade's end, then television coverage before takeoff on July 16, millions of people present near Cape Kennedy in Cocoa Beach, once airborne keeping in contact with the Space Center in Houston (I DREAM OF JEANNIE picked the right time to star an astronaut!). There is a steady stream of commentary from the three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, and an occasion voiceover from 19th century author Jules Verne, who proved most prescient in his own predictions of space travel, right down to the eerily identical size and weight of the spacecraft. The narration by Dr. Wernher Von Braun is thankfully not very intrusive, filling in the gaps where necessary. The pace inevitably drags during the period preceding the actual landing (at 54 minutes) and first walk on the moon, which all these years later has lost none of its power, Buzz Aldrin aptly describing the sight as 'magnificent desolation.' In the end it remains a fascinating look back to one of America's best documented triumphs, and while Gene Roddenberry's STAR TREK was still on NBC as well. Chiller Theater audiences of 1977, so familiar with all the science fiction classics set in outer space, got to share in the real thing on that long ago Saturday night.
Too Many Blondes (1941)
Rudy Vallee and Lon Chaney
By 1941 the starring career of crooner Rudy Vallee had pretty much wound down, with mostly supporting roles ahead. Universal's "Too Many Blondes" was the studio's one shot attempt at making a buck out of the temperamental star's romantic escapades, incredible to modern eyes considering his charmless persona. Vallee's Dick Kerrigan has only been married a few weeks to pretty young Virginia (Helen Parrish), to the annoyance of her former beau Ted Bronson (Jerome Cowan). The trio have established themselves as a radio sensation called The Bluebirds, but as usual Ted continues to stir up trouble between the newlyweds by reminding poor Virginia of Dick's gambling, his many vaudeville friends and particularly blondes. Eventually she falls for the ruse and demands a divorce, the pair forced to live in poverty saving up for the $500 fee, eventually heading to Mexico to finalize the details, until an offer for the couple (minus the hotheaded Ted) for 40 weeks at $1000 per week comes through provided they're still married. It's all extremely slight, and likely a box office dud since Universal never followed up with a second Rudy Vallee vehicle. Instead, they were already building up third-billed Lon Chaney Jr., of recent releases "Man Made Monster" and "Riders of Death Valley," who would play in three more features before screen immortality beckoned as "The Wolf Man." Here cast as cabbie Marvin Gimble (behind the wheel of a pickup with the words 'Marvin's Transfer Co.'), he's the slow witted boyfriend of brassy blonde Hortense Kent (Iris Adrian), who does what she can to help Dick avoid marital disaster. Occasionally Marvin displays flashes of jealousy, sharing uninspired knockabout bits with Shemp Howard or Eddie Quillan. He and Shemp would make a far more effective comedy team in "San Antonio Rose," doing almost a poor man's Abbott and Costello, but in this minor effort they have no rapport at all. Helen Parrish would become Chaney's leading lady one year later in his final serial "Overland Mail." Easily the cutest blonde on display, though for only a single scene on the train, is the irresistible Dorothy Lee, here sadly making her final screen appearance, indispensable to the forgotten RKO comedy team Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, present in 13 of their 21 30s features.
Simone Simon exits Hollywood after five features
1938's "Josette" marked the fifth Hollywood feature for Simone Simon, after which she left 20th Century-Fox permanently and returned to France, not a bad entry to go out on, paving the way for her eventual return to RKO, where "Cat People" offered her screen immortality in a part she was born to play. She was not actually cast in the title role in "Josette," for the tempestuous gold digging chanteuse is portrayed by Tala Birell, her one ambition to wed a wealthy American millionaire, having met David Brassard Sr. (William Collier Sr.) in Havana. She suddenly disappears from her singing engagement in New Orleans for marriage in New York, only for the not so rich bridegroom to reveal the truth that his two sons run his cannery business while he only collects a monthly allowance of $500. Meanwhile, the harried manager of the Silver Moon nightclub (Bert Lahr) is pleased to have aspiring choir singer Renee Le Blanc (Simone) impersonate the absent Josette, enabling him to earn enough profits to keep the bank from taking his business. It is here that the Brassard brothers, happy go lucky Pierre (Robert Young) and businesslike David Jr. (Don Ameche), make the acquaintance of the girl they believe is Josette, intending to woo her away from their easily duped father. Renee is encouraged to keep up the charade to keep the manager happy, and this includes riverboat rides with Pierre, and one rain drenched Sunday drive with David, who finds himself falling in love with a girl who does not act at all like the gold digger he thinks she is. The imminent return of the real Josette does not prevent a happy ending for all, except perhaps for Josette's companion, played to comic perfection by the scene stealing Joan Davis. Among the unbilled cast members can be spotted Lon Chaney Jr., as a boatman for young David, hoping to catch up with Pierre in his ardent pursuit of sweet Renee. Chaney's two year stint at 20th Century-Fox resulted in few credited roles, but at least here he's granted some lines to distinguish him from Robert Lowery's equally miniscule boatman.
Love and Hisses (1937)
News flash from Walter Winchell
In 1937, the fabricated radio feud between New York newspaper columnist Walter Winchell and bandleader Ben Bernie (good friends in real life, just like Fred Allen and Jack Benny) resulted in a pair of long forgotten features from Darryl Zanuck's Fox company, "Wake Up and Live" and "Love and Hisses." Their verbal sparring was buttressed by various turns from equally forgotten specialty performers, with Alice Faye leading lady in the first, Hollywood newcomer Simone Simon in the second, Joan Davis stealing scenes in both. "Love and Hisses" brought their screen career to a premature end, innocuous but not uninteresting, as Simone impersonates an up and coming singer championed by Winchell, unaware that she is a protégé of Bernie, his partner Bert Lahr the unlikely but amusing love interest for Joan Davis. Entering into this mix is aspiring songwriter Dick Baldwin, who mistakenly believes that Ben Bernie has stolen one of his songs, immediately falls for the irresistible Simone, and regales her with other tunes from his repertoire. It's love at first plight, with Douglas Fowley again typecast in mobster mode, enabling Winchell to top his rival in the less than tense finale, dragged out with ten minutes of song and dance. Walter Winchell would continue his career as one of the world's best known gossip mongers (multiple film and TV appearances), but poor Ben Bernie never made another film, his premature death in 1943 denying him the opportunity to hear his greatest musical triumph, a fast paced rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown," become the longtime theme for the Harlem Globetrotters. Among the familiar faces in the unbilled cast list, Lon Chaney Jr. can be spotted at the five minute mark in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him bit as the attendant for one of Winchell's radio broadcasts, watching an irate Ben Bernie kick a drum on the way out; sadly, this silent role was typical of his two year tenure at Fox, most of his other parts distinguished by at least a single line, not so here.
Heaven on Earth (1931)
John Carradine debuts at Universal, in only his third film role
1931's "Heaven on Earth" was adapted from Ben Lucien Burman's 1929 novel MISSISSIPPI, detailing the warring factions between steamship folks and shantytown residents, with Captain Lilly (Harry Beresford) of the Morning Glory and son States (Lew Ayres) parting ways when the latter learns that his real shanty dwelling father had been killed by Lilly, who then adopted the boy as his own. In defying the captain and returning to his own people, superstitious kin who believe in spirits and voodoo, States is quite happy boarding with Aunt Vergie (Elizabeth Patterson) and her teenage daughter Towhead (Anita Louise), the latter instantly smitten with the handsome newcomer. Captain Lilly proves unable to entice States to return to the Morning Glory, and recovers his dog Shoo-Fly in the mistaken belief that he was stolen by States (the culprit was actually Towhead). Lilly spitefully destroys States' own newly built shanty, injuring the visiting girl, resulting in a marriage proposal that further divides father and son, but the stormy waterlogged climax provides for a happy ending. A very hard to find pre-code feature produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. (currently in extremely poor condition), with a meagre cameo from Slim Summerville as a sympathetic jeweler, and a major part for 8th billed John Carradine, here credited for the only time on screen under his first professional moniker 'Peter Richmond' (his birth name being 'Richmond Reed Carradine,' though his mother always called him 'Peter'). In just his third film role, he can be spotted early on as shantytown resident Chicken Sam, so named for his penchant for stealing chickens, who takes a potshot at the dog, only to be hit by return fire from States, who proceeds to patch up his wounded arm. This offers Sam the opportunity to divulge States' true heritage, that he himself is actually a shantytown person, the captain his real father's killer, suggesting court records to prove that what he says is the truth. We only see Carradine once more, just after the one hour mark, leading a posse to free the imprisoned States after Captain Lilly has him arrested for daring to propose to the pretty Towhead. With this being Carradine's Universal debut in late spring of 1931, it proves that he was present during the Robert Florey preproduction phase of "Frankenstein," and supports his story of refusing without regret to be tested for The Monster (Bela Lugosi having balked at playing the mute role). He did a total of seven Laemmle-era Universals before making a triumphant return as a star in 1943's "Captive Wild Woman" (following "Heaven on Earth" with "The Invisible Man," "The Black Cat," "Transient Lady," "Bride of Frankenstein," "Alias Mary Dow," and "She Gets Her Man").
Broken Sabre (1965)
Feature film culled from 3-part color episode of Chuck Connors' series BRANDED
"Broken Saber" may not be easily available nowadays (the entire series BRANDED issued on DVD in 2005), but the original 3-part episode "The Mission" certainly is. This was Chuck Connors' follow up to the highly successful THE RIFLEMAN, but only lasted two seasons due to the star's refusal to cozy up to the sponsors. The abbreviated first season of 16 episodes was in black and white, except for this one, shot in color in anticipation of feature release overseas, supposedly adding 20 minutes of new footage shot exclusively for this version only (which I have not seen). Connors' character Jason McCord was the lone survivor of an army battle with renegade Indians at Bitter Creek, where his supervisor had lost his mental acuity, a fact that McCord knows yet keeps to himself out of respect to the general's memory and his efforts to keep peace with the Apaches. Drummed out of the service for desertion, McCord is unjustly branded a coward, unwilling to clear his name yet not backing down from a fight. This 3-part storyline sees him called into service by President Ulysses Grant (William Bryant), on a secret mission to infiltrate a band of marauders working our Southern borders, retreating to safety in Mexico after conducting each outpost raid. John Carradine makes a brief appearance as Jason's grandfather Joshua McCord, one of the few who know the whole truth but aren't talking (a total of five episodes during its two season run). Among the guest stars who stand out are Macdonald Carey, Cesar Romero, Wendell Corey, Rochelle Hudson, and an especially animated Peter Breck, soon to star in THE BIG VALLEY. As a 3-part episode in color it works extremely well, ratcheting up suspense with each chapter, concluding with a delicious twist that proves more than satisfying; I can only wonder what additions were made to bolster this feature.
The Singing Cowboy (1936)
Gene Autry and Lon Chaney
1936's "The Singing Cowboy" was a notable early effort from Republic's Gene Autry, with the added dimension of television in its infancy along with its nearly a dozen tunes. Smiley Burnette is back as Frog Millhouse, here distracted by bad luck omens (he carries a horse shoe that's more trouble than it's worth), leading to the opening murder, as Lon Chaney's Martin shoots his partner to gain ownership of the ranch, and the hidden gold mine that only he and his henchmen know about. Unfortunately, the ranch has been left to the dead man's young daughter, Gene her legal guardian, in need of $10,000 for an operation that will enable her to walk again. While Gene and his band become television performers under the banner 'The Covered Wagon Coffee Caravan,' the crooked Martin seeks to make certain that their bank loan is turned down. For Chaney, he remained stuck in an endless rut of villainous roles in his fifth year in Hollywood, preferable to his next two years as a Fox bit player, preceding his breakout success in "Of Mice and Men." Lois Wilde is a fetching heroine, Ann Gillis the child actress just starting out as competition for Shirley Temple.
Four time loser on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater
"Invasion of the Animal People," though carrying a 1961 copyright, is actually a 1958 production originally titled "Rymdinvasion i Lappland" (Space Invasion of Lappland), made in Sweden by Hollywood director Virgil Vogel, coming off a pair of marginal Universal entries, "The Mole People" and "The Land Unknown." The arctic setting certainly provides a more interesting backdrop than anything that happens on film, as a trio of aliens burrow into the snow and ice, allowing a solitary creature to escape, approximately 20 feet tall and covered in fur. We only get to see the 'animal person' during the final two reels of an 80 minute feature, actually 9 minutes longer than the original, despite several scenes of exposition shortened and streamlined. The perpetrator of this 'new' movie was our old friend Jerry Warren, a hustler adept at taking other people's films and making a fast buck out of them, adding newly shot footage of his own that adds nothing but running time. Such was the case here, as John Carradine supplies three minutes of on screen narration to open the film, after which we only occasionally hear his sterling voice propping up the deadly dull proceedings. Warren needlessly begins his version with an abominable 17 straight minutes of new dialogue heavy scenes, utilizing actress Barbara Wilson for proper continuity, so by the time we reach the original footage it's a painless rendition of the unreleased "Terror in the Midnight Sun" (interrupted by only two additional Warren-shot scenes). Gorgeous brunette Barbara Wilson did a fairly daring nude scene in the Swedish version, also a veteran of pulsating pulchritude in "Teenage Doll," "Blood of Dracula," and "The Flesh Eaters." Screenwriter Arthur C. Pierce continued in the genre vein with "The Cosmic Man," "Beyond the Time Barrier," "The Human Duplicators," "Mutiny in Outer Space," "Women of the Prehistoric Planet," "Dimension 5," "Cyborg 2087," "The Destructors," and "The Astral Factor." Jerry Warren deserves some small credit for hardly tampering with what he had, but not for the two additional reels of nonsensical claptrap. Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater aired this Carradine title on four occasions: Mar 2 1968 (followed by "Journey to the Seventh Planet"), July 26 1969 (preceded by "Godzilla vs. the Thing"), May 30 1970 (followed by "The Black Doll"), and July 24 1971 (followed by "Space Monster").
Overland Trail: The Reckoning (1960)
Monica Lewis and John Carradine
"The Reckoning" was the penultimate episode of this regrettably brief series, OVERLAND TRAIL an attempt at something new from William Bendix, fondly remembered for THE LIFE OF RILEY, as superintendent Fred Kelly, up and coming Doug McClure his sidekick Flip, keeping the stage trail West from Missouri safe for all. The Wild Bunch is still on the loose, leader Cash Burdette (Harold J. Stone) trying something different by luring the men out of Laramie leaving it defenseless for a raid. His son Nicky (Denny Miller) winds up shot dead by Flip after a failed stagecoach robbery that leaves Flip bleeding and near death. Caring for him is the blind Anne Michaels (Monica Lewis), whose arrival in town was sparked by reporter Caleb Nash (John Carradine), claiming to have knowledge of her son's whereabouts, having abandoned her family for another man years before. Fred Kelly realizes that Nash is just a con artist, forcing him to return the money paid for his false information, though in fact her offspring was not far off, the deceased outlaw killed by Flip, who now must hang for it as revenge via the boy's father, Cash Burdette. Though Flip attempts to cover up her son's life of crime a locket delivered by Nash reveals the ugly truth, but will it be enough to keep Burdette from adding one more murder to his long list of sins. Carradine is well cast as a human parasite, whose distasteful actions nevertheless result in saving Flip's life, but not without consequences. Neglected and forgotten for decades, OVERLAND TRAIL can now be enjoyed since its DVD release in 2011.
North West Mounted Police (1940)
Alas, not one of De Mille's best
1940's "North West Mounted Police" may have been Paramount's biggest box office success that year, but considering it as the first color film for director Cecil B. De Mille it must rank as one of his few failures. The Duck Lake massacre of 1885 led by Louis Riel (Francis McDonald) provides a solid backdrop for an abundance of poorly sketched characters unable to overcome the sluggish pace. The chief villain is Jacques Corbeau (George Bancroft), whose wildcat half breed daughter (Paulette Goddard) is in love with Mountie Ronnie Logan (Robert Preston). Gary Cooper toplines as the Texas Ranger sent north to bring Corbeau to justice, sparring with dedicated Sergeant Jim Brett (Preston Foster) over the lovely April Logan (Madeleine Carroll), sister of Ronnie. This makes it sound like a real snoozefest, and while it's not quite that bad it certainly isn't very captivating. Supporting players like George E. Stone are on and off in a flash, while poor Lon Chaney (previously seen in a silent role in De Mille's "Union Pacific") doesn't fare much better as Shorty, one of the trappers involved with Riel, who at least has a chance to exult in becoming a father. We last see him with his pretty young wife, properly scolding him before he meekly replies, "yes mama."
Slave Ship (1937)
Warner Baxter commands the last slaver
1937's "Slave Ship" looks today as gritty as it must have been shocking to audiences 80 years ago, a script concocted by several writers, including William Faulkner, who admitted that he merely doctored certain scenes that hadn't come off. George S. King's 1933 novel "The Last Slaver" was the basis for a story that remarkably pulled no punches in depicting the odyssey of the newly launched ship Wanderer, tasting blood on the runway as Lon Chaney delivers a stinging unbilled cameo as a doomed laborer unable to escape its path. Three years, and as many names later, the rechristened Albatross is now commanded by Jim Lovett (Warner Baxter) and first mate Jack Thompson (Wallace Beery), with cabin boy Swifty (Mickey Rooney) willing to fight anyone for what he believes in. The slave trade had fallen on hard times by 1860, officially a hanging offense, so after their most recent trip back from Africa, Lovett meets and marries young beauty Nancy Marlowe (Elizabeth Allan), deciding to start over with a new crew and sail to Jamaica in the business of trading goods instead of lives. This does not sit well with the crew, willing to continue their trafficking on human suffering despite the risks involved, forcibly taking control of the ship after a successful mutiny. Unable to prevent the six week voyage back to Africa, Lovett reveals all to his wife, who finds that she still loves him and is willing to forget about his past and work out their future. What they don't know is that Thompson plots to leave his captain behind while the fully loaded ship returns to America, only for the intended victim to turn the tables on his captors, producing a climax as rich in excitement as it is unpredictable. If not for the poorly done romantic scenes involving the little dog it might have been an enduring classic, but it's still a real find, quite unexpected for 1930s Hollywood. MGM's "Souls at Sea" may have earned all the accolades but Darryl Zanuck's pluck produced the better picture, under the assured guidance of director Tay Garnett, both John Ford and Howard Hawks proving unavailable. Beery actually plays the villain, George Sanders in support, Mickey Rooney the true standout.