From old-fashioned nostalgia to new ways of looking at the classics, bloggers and writers about TV and film had plenty to offer discerning movie lovers in August.

“Professor Kinema” (aka John M. Cozzoli) of the Zombo’s Closet site showed us how the Hollywood flacks did it old-school with a look inside the pressbook for the 1942 Ghost of Frankenstein.

TCM “morlock” David Kalat posted a fascinating multi-part examination of the early days of sound film, detailing that technological revolution’s impact on comedy as well as the business of movies itself. Part One is here, Part Two is here, Part Three is here, and there’s more to come.

Steven Bowie of The Classic TV History Blog took a look back at the now-lost 1960 Playhouse 90 live adaptation of Pat Frank’s post-apocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon.

The Kitty Packard Pictorial reminded us why James Cagney is still the biggest bad-ass of all, and cited a darned good example in the 1931 Blonde Crazy.

Imogen Smith offered an appreciation of the classic picaresque TV series Route 66 on the marvelously eclectic Chiseler website.

Put your feet up and examine these shockingly entertaining links.

August 29, 2012 · Posted in Legends  

Holy crap! The Stark gang is trying to rip off an experimental radio control device from a train! They handcuff Steve Lockwood to the top of a freight car and leave the train to zoom down the track out of control! Tracy manages to reach Steve, but it may be too late! The train’s about to run out of track and go crashing down a ravine, turning Tracy and Steve into a gallon of G-man jelly!

Or not. In a heroic display of why he gets the expense account and deluxe lantern jaw, Tracy manfully reaches into his pocket and fishes out his own handcuff key. He frees Steve and they leap to safety just before the train smashes itself to splinters. What a resourceful guy. MacGyver, hang your head in shame.

Back at the office, Gwen and Steve flank Tracy as he looks over an extortion note that’s arrived in connection with a new case. Addressed to Dr. Worthing, a renowned astronomer at Wilmar Observatory, the note carries a threat to destroy the big telescope’s quarter-million-dollar 200-inch lens unless Worthing pays off fifty grand in protection money. Checking the note for fingerprints, they learn that it’s the work of Pa Stark, who has so many schemes to separate unwary citizens from their cash that we should start thinking of him as the Ron Popeil of crime.

Tracy, Steve and McGurk meet Worthing at the observatory and learn that the Starks have sent a second note setting the time and place for delivering the cash. They also learn that the big brains of Wilmar are a bunch of fuzzy-headed doofuses, as the round-domed and avuncular Worthing earnestly explains that one “Mr. Clark” has already left to meet with the gang in hopes of talking them out of their scheme for the good of science.

We don’t know if Mr. Clark is Worthing’s assistant, a friend, or just some busybody who’s wandered into the storyline, but we do know that he’s this guy:

John Archer, glimpsed in the shot above while playing The Shadow on radio just a few years after Dick Tracy Returns. He essayed the role of Clark in his first year as a movie actor (having debuted a few months earlier in a larger role in the Universal cliffhanger Flaming Frontiers), and went on to become a busy film actor who worked with everybody from James Cagney to Randolph Scott to Elvis Presley. After decades on the big screen, Archer went on to become a familiar face to home audiences when he transitioned to television in the ‘50s and looked like this:

Anyway, Tracy knows – hell, even Mike McGurk knows – that “the good of science” won’t cut any ice with Pa Stark, and the G-men pile into their sedan to save the noble and soft-headed Mr. Clark from himself. But they’re too late; three of the Stark boys have already waylaid Clark on the country road, confiscated the paper-wrapped bundle he’s carrying, and taken him prisoner in his own car. With Trigger leading the way in the family car, Champ, Slasher and Clark follow as they head back to their hideout. Spotting Tracy and company in pursuit, they whip into Chinese fire drill mode, piling back into their own car and blocking the road with Clark’s ride – which they then set on fire and zoom away with Clark still a prisoner. By the time the G-men have extinguished the blazing roadblock, the Starks and their hapless captive are out of sight. It’s the beginning of a very bad afternoon for Mr. Clark.

At the country shack where the gang is holing up, Pa unwraps Clark’s bundle and discovers a brick of cut-up newspapers in the shape of dollar bills – a chump move that he’d expected, though it probably isn’t doing much for his piles. As for Clark, he’s been kidnapped by vicious killers and watched his nice car burn to a six-cylinder cinder, but it still hasn’t dawned on him just how screwed he is. As hopelessly sensible as Ward Cleaver laying things out for the Beaver, he says, “The reason I came here was to explain – ” but Pa cuts him off: “Save the explanations. We want cash.” Well, sure; in Pa’s situation I wouldn’t take a check, either.

Pa whips out a crudely drawn diagram detailing his plan for destroying the telescope – (A) tunnel under observatory, (B) dynamite in tunnel, (C) BOOM. “Simple,” says Pa. “Bound to work.” Yup. Clark concurs, and agrees to write a note to Worthing urging him to start digging up the 50K.

Meanwhile, Tracy’s returned to Wilmar (doubled here by Griffith Park Observatory), where he’s having a hell of a time convincing Dr. Worthing – who apparently enjoys recurring dreams of fuzzy pink bunnies – to face the seriousness of the situation. Urged by Tracy to evacuate the observatory, Worthing replies, “The crowd’s already gathered for the afternoon lecture, and I’d hate to disappoint them now.” Maybe so, Doc, but imagine their disappointment when they’re all blown to atoms. Tracy basically tells Worthing that it’s his ass – and when Clark’s urgent note turns up tacked to a door by a couple of Stark flunkies, Worthing reluctantly agrees to cut the lecture down to thirty minutes. Tracy looks as though he’d like to pistol-whip the lovable old brainiac, but there are too many witnesses around.

Back at the Stark hideout, even the eminently reasonable Mr. Clark has gotten fed up with how talky the chapter has become. Picking a moment when Champ, Trigger and Slasher are concentrating on a card game, he makes his move and manages to knock all three of the vicious gangsters down, vault the porch railing, and hightail it into the woods. Yowsa! The Stark boys take off after him, fuming and firing their pistols while Clark runs like hell.

One of the observatory scientists – who looks even more like a garden gnome than Worthing – approaches Tracy and points out that the section of the building housing the telescope has inexplicably shifted in the earth, throwing off his calculations. It’s a mystery, all right, but if the building can’t be shot or punched, the scientist has come to the wrong guy for help.

At that moment, Clark breaks out of the trees and lurches toward Tracy. “They’ve tunneled in from the – ” he gasps before shots ring out and he drops dead at the G-man’s feet.

Let’s recap:

And to add insult to injury, Clark wasn’t even shot by any of the Stark boys, but rather by the nameless gang flunkies who’d tacked the note to the door earlier. Tracy and his men whale the stuffing out of them in short order, and proceed to start piecing things together while Clark’s corpse, forgotten now, stiffens and cools on the pavement before them.

Let’s see: Clark said something about a tunnel…the telescope building’s sagging…The scientist helpfully offers, “There’s an old mine tunnel down there”… (They built an observatory over a mine tunnel and can’t understand why the building’s sinking? These astronomers are no rocket scientists.) “That’s it!” snaps Tracy. “Come on!” And off he trots, with Steve and McGurk in tow.

They’d better hurry, because we’ve already heard this exchange among the Stark boys, who are lurking at the edge of the woods:

Champ: We’d better set off that blast and scram!

Trigger: Well, why take a chance of that? We don’t get the money either way.

Slasher: And let ‘em think we’re bluffin’?

Trigger: I guess you’re right. I was just thinking of all those visitors up there.

Slasher: That’s their tough luck.

Yeah. What’s more important, Slasher’s street cred or the lives of a couple hundred tourists? No contest.

So, while Worthing is gassing on in the lecture room about the gaseous rings of Saturn, the Starks are down in the tunnel, setting a time bomb that will touch off a huge stack of dynamite crates. With five minutes before detonation, they beat it just as Tracy and Steve dash into the old mine, leaving McGurk to stand guard. Slasher, that little scamp, creeps up on McGurk and knocks him on his keister. (Lucky McGurk; if it had been Champ, he’d have taken his head off.) Confronted by three Starks, McGurk decides it’s his official duty to run like a rabbit into the tunnel, and Champ bars the door with a thick plank.

Tracy has heard the ticking of the time bomb, and he and Steve are hauling away crates of TNT in a desperate attempt to find it before the whole shebang goes sheboom. As the stuttering McGurk joins them, Tracy locates the bomb – but there are only seconds left before it blows. The G-men hustle down the tunnel in hopes of tossing it outside, but the entrance is barred.

Watching from a safe distance, one of the Starks says, “She’s due now,” and he’s right: the front of the mine sails into space in a terrific explosion of earth and rock that must mark the end of Tracy and his crew…

As Chapter Five gets rolling, we see that Tracy has been thinking fast and has planted the time bomb against the mine entrance. The three FBI men take cover down the tunnel, letting the explosion take care of that barred entrance without setting off the crated dynamite that would have wrecked the observatory. Crawling through fallen timbers and plaster boulders, they’re free and mad as hell.

“Let’s get to the plane!” shouts one of the Stark boys, leaving the audience to wonder, WHAT GODDAM PLANE? There’s a mad dash across the hillside, with Tracy and his men right behind and everybody hurling hot lead – and sure enough, in the middle of a field sits a gleaming little monoplane that nobody (including the filmmakers, apparently) had noticed before. The Starks take off amid a hail of bullets and vanish, evidently leaving Pa to fend for himself – which won’t be hard to do, since the only person who knew the location of the hideout was the late Mr. Clark.

Steve has gotten a pretty good look at the plane, and back at the office he works with an artist to put together a sketch. The drawing, plus the X (for “experimental”) that he’d seen in the plane’s serial number, leads them to the Carston Aircraft Corporation, where they learn that it’s a new model that’s still being tested in hopes of landing a government contract. Carston assures them that they couldn’t have seen one of his planes, though, as one has crashed and only three other unflown prototypes exist. One of those is about to be taken up for a shakedown, and he invites Tracy and Steve to observe. Tracy, ever on the lookout for new ways to put himself in needless danger, decides to stow away.

So it’s off into the wild blue yonder, but not for long. The plane sets down at a makeshift landing strip in the countryside, where pilot Brand is met by Pa Stark and a handful of flunkies. Brand climbs into a plane that’s been detailed to resemble the experimental job and takes off. Before driving away, Pa instructs flunky Pete (Charles Sullivan) to fly the real plane to a location where it will be disassembled and hauled away. As Pete climbs into the cockpit, Tracy makes his move – but he’s outnumbered by Pete and the other two flunkies. Pete gets the plane into the air and Tracy’s left sprawled in the dust.

Brand, meanwhile, following Pa’s instructions, has bailed out of the second plane and allowed it to crash – and Tracy quickly figures out that the Starks’ new scheme is stealing experimental government airplanes by crashing decoys and spiriting the genuine articles away. He takes his story to Carston, but Brand lies like a rug and even manages to blame Tracy for the latest crack-up. Carston swallows it whole, staring at the frustrated G-man like something he’d scraped off his shoe. Feeling his oats, Brand offers to take Tracy up for an official ride-along in another experimental job the next day: “Of course, two of this model have cracked up, but I’m sure you’ll be safe tomorrow.” To Brand’s surprise, Tracy takes him up on it.

Brand, by the way, is played by Eddie Cherkose (pictured in this installment’s crummy screengrab, below). A prolific songwriter and lyricist who cranked out a pile of ditties performed by Republic singing cowpokes like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Rex Allen, Cherkose was also an occasional actor, and turns in a solid job here as the two-faced pilot.

So a new day dawns and it’s wild blue yonder time again, but what Tracy doesn’t know is that Pa has come up with a new death trap for the persistent Fed. As the plane climbs toward 14,000 feet, Brand indicates that it’s time to use their oxygen tanks – which in 1938 terms means that both men stick rubber tubes into their mouths like long floppy straws at a soda fountain. But there’s no going Dutch for Brand; he’s loaded Tracy’s oxygen canister with anesthetic, and our hero is soon nodding off to fuzzy pink bunny land.

Brand snips the ripcord on Tracy’s parachute, tips the plane’s wings, and gives the G-man a shove. The last we see of Tracy is his rapidly diminishing figure as he snores his way toward the rudest of awakenings, thousands of feet below…

August 26, 2012 · Posted in Legends  

August 23, 2012 · Posted in Legends  

Ye gods! It’s 1938! Dick Tracy’s a G-man! His assistants are flying a witness back to finger punk mobster Kid Stark in court for shooting an agent! To save the Kid, the Stark gang’s luring the witness’s airliner into a mountainside! Tracy takes off in a small plane to lead the liner to safety, but ends up crashing his own plane! Is it curtains for the Dickster?

Naah. Seeing the mountains looming before him, Tracy thinks “Screw it,” nonchalantly shrugs into a parachute, bails out and strolls away.

As Tracy begins hoofing it back to the city, the Starks are packing up their gear. Their plan to murder the witness foiled, the gang’s hustling to make a getaway before Pa gets any crankier, and in the rush a flunky accidentally leaves a pair of pliers behind. Moments later, Tracy wanders onto the scene and finds the tool underfoot. Noting that the name “Stub” has been engraved on the handle, he whips out a plastic bag – apparently, he keeps those on hand in case he has to take sidekick Mike McGurk for a walk – and tucks the evidence into his pocket.

Back at the office, he finds a partial fingerprint on the pliers while bland assistant Steve Lockwood takes center stage for a moment to give Junior and the kids in the matinee audience a momentum-halting tutorial on what a “moniker” is (such as, for instance, “Stub”). Tracy, Steve and Gwen step into the teletype room to send the fingerprint and moniker specs to D.C., leaving Junior to make his own entertainment. Entertainment, in this case, thy name is McGurk, who’s currently earning his $10.60 a day investigating the inside of his eyelids and snoring like a ripsaw. Snatching up the regulation random loose feather that you always see lying around government offices, Junior applies it to McGurk’s nose (as seen in our latest crappy screengrab) –

and backwards goes Mike, crashing to the floor. Junior laughs his ass off at Mike’s pain and humiliation, as do Tracy, Gwen and Steve. This is what people did before they had TV.

Tracy and Steve head out to attend the Kid Stark trial, but first have to deal with a trio of Stark flunkies they catch trying to plant a bomb under the hood of Tracy’s car. They beat hell out of the bad guys, stack ‘em up like cordwood, and Tracy breezes off to court – where that witness from the airliner must have sung like a coloratura, as the next thing we see is a headline screaming “KID STARK TO DIE! Killer Sentenced to Die in Gas Chamber.”

This would be a golden opportunity for a courtroom scene in which Ned Glass struts his stuff as the punk Kid, rising up for one last blast of vicious short-man braggadocio before he melts down and gets hauled away in tears, to await his date with the executioner – but then Republic would have had to put up a courtroom set, light it, hire all those extras…Nope. Not gonna happen. We won’t be seeing Ned again.

At their hideout in the Mid-City Garage, a multi-leveled parking structure, Pa and the boys are taking the news about the Kid pretty hard. (Of course, none of the boys is suicidal enough to bring up the fact that it was actually Pa who committed the murder the Kid’s paying for.) But business is business, and they’ve got crimes to commit. Pa snarls at his loved ones to get off their worthless backsides and get back to work. Work, in this case, is a large-scale stolen car operation in a hidden section of the garage, and Pa turns out to be a demon micromanager. Moving through the chop shop, he rattles off one complicated order after another: “File off the serial numbers, take off that sedan body and make it a coupe. And paint it yellow.” “Pull it down, put in a Drake Motor, and paint it two-tone green.” Who knew Pa had such a flair for design?

As it has a way of doing in these things, fate’s about to bring our warring alpha males together again, for Tracy’s finally gotten a response from Washington: the fingerprint belongs to one James “Stub” Madison (not to be confused with James “Dockwalloper” Madison, the fourth president of the United States), whose last recorded place of employment is the Mid-City Garage.

So it’s off to the chop shop, where Tracy hitches a stealthy ride on the running board of a hot car up to the top floor. There, in a small room, he finds Pa and Slasher gloating over the half million they hijacked in the previous chapter. For a moment he has the drop on them, and even manages to get the cuffs on Pa – but then Champ arrives bearing a pipe wrench, and it’s time to play dogpile on the G-man. It’s a pretty wild and surreal donnybrook, with Tracy flailing out in all directions at the Stark boys, all of them rolling on the floor and bouncing off the walls. At the same time, Pa seems to have lost his marbles, madly whacking the nozzles off a series of wall-mounted pipes like Cheetah whooping it up while Tarzan wrestles a lion.

Pa’s not crazy, though; those pipes are part of a paint removal system that uses ether fumes, and the Starks seal a gagging and desperate Tracy in the paint room until he slumps to the floor, ready for his root canal.

Hauling Tracy’s limp form into a sedan, they give the wheel a good crank and send the car hurtling down the circular ramp to certain destruction. “That evens up for the Kid,” Pa says grimly…

And maybe it will. Looping downward through the garage in a demonstration of physics rarely seen outside a Daffy Duck cartoon, the car picks up speed, finally zipping out of the garage and into a busy street – barely missing a truck and finally flipping over, skidding on its roof, a pile of smashed and twisted metal that’s joined the heavenly fleet…

As Chapter 3 begins, we see that the wreck isn’t nearly as gruesome as it had looked before (you’d almost think they’d switched stock footage on us. Hmm.), and Tracy manages to crawl out in one piece just as Steve and a carload of G-men pull up. They all charge into the garage to nab the gang, but the Starks are already making tracks – without the half million bucks,  however, which – DUH – they’d left in that ether-filled paint room. The G-men recover the loot and the Starks’ files.

Tracy finds a slip of paper in the files with the faint impression of writing on it. With a little chemical know-how and a handy No. 2 pencil, he manages to bring out two words – “Baron Kroner,” the name of an unscrupulous weapons dealer. As Tracy and Steve are wondering what the Starks could have in common with Kroner, through the magic of clumsy segues we learn the answer:

Kroner’s hot to get his hands on an experimental remote control device the U.S. government has developed, and it’s worth big bucks to him for Pa and his brood to rip it off so he can peddle it to an unsavory (and, being pre-WWII, unnamed) foreign power. Kroner’s played by this handsome specimen –

Harrison Greene, a bit player and character actor who also appeared in the previous Tracy serial as one “Durston Cloggerstein.”

Durston, ah, Kroner informs the Starks that the device has been installed in a small Army tank for testing, and that he’s arranged for the train carrying it to be sidelined at a rural whistlestop called Perlita Junction. He assures them that the guards will be “disposed of,” and all the gang has to do is board the train and bring back the radio control doodad. He doesn’t mention why the folks responsible for disposing of the guards can’t steal the device while they’re at it but, hey, who wants to pay for all those extra actors? Not one to question the Republic bean counters, Pa promises he’ll have that remote control in the Baron’s moist fleshy hands by nightfall.

Meanwhile, Tracy’s had his staff combing through Kroner’s recent communications, and they’ve come up with a suspiciously worded telegram pointing them to Perlita Junction. Before you know it, he’s pulling up at the Perlita station in a car bulging with Feds. FYI: Throughout this serial, whenever Tracy needs more muscle than Steve and, ahem, McGurk can give him, it’s provided by Agents Rance (Reed Howes), Reynolds (Robert Terry) and Hunt (Tom Seidel). The “Lee, Rico, Youngblood” of Dick Tracy Returns, they’re as studly a bunch of guys as ever jammed their skulls into fedoras.

Discovering the station master tied up and his telegraph equipment disabled, they hoof it toward the tracks, where they discover the Starks and a crew of flunkies fueling up the little tank so they can move it into the ravine and work on it out of sight. (Out of whose sight? The combination of crooks and FBI agents on the scene looks to have tripled the population of greater metropolitan Perlita.)

It’s shootout time, and hot lead’s flying fast and furious. When Tracy manages to kill one of the gang’s flunkies, Pa Stark decides it’s time to beat it. Abandoning the tank, the gang gets the train going and rolling down the track. Steve manages to climb up the side of a freight car and gets himself pummeled senseless for his trouble. Just to rub it in, the Starks lock him to the top of the car with his own handcuffs and toss away the key. They abandon ship and leave the cars running wildly down the track, in the path of an oncoming passenger train.

While the station master struggles to get his telegraph working, Tracy hops into the tank and roars off after the runaway. Catching up, he makes a leap for the freight car as the experimental tank plows on without a driver…and, climbing to the top, he discovers Steve contemplating how long it would take him to gnaw his own arm off at the wrist.

The station master manages to get a message down the line, where the tracks are switched just in time to spare the passenger train, though it’s such a close shave that they’ll probably never get the smell out of the seats. Steve and Tracy’s runaway, however, is now headed for a ravine where the rickety trestle has collapsed to the ground. Any second now, they’ll be spread all over the landscape, as dead as Kid Stark’s chances of a triumphant return in Chapter Four…

August 18, 2012 · Posted in Legends  

August 17, 2012 · Posted in Legends  

Republic Pictures had a hit on their hands with the 1937 Dick Tracy serial, and the studio wasted no time in getting a sequel before the cameras. Eighteen months after Dick Tracy premiered, Chapter One of Dick Tracy Returns was unspooling on the nation’s matinee screens.

That original Tracy cliffhanger had been a bizarre and frequently goofy affair that threw the no-nonsense comic strip detective into a wild grab-bag adventure that swung eccentrically from proto-noir to science fiction to hick comedy to slam-bang crime drama with no rhyme and damned little reason. For the follow-up, Republic’s writers wisely chose not to try topping the previous insanity, and instead crafted a straightforward storyline reminiscent of the relatively more realistic procedurals that distinguished Chester Gould’s newspaper strip in the 1930s. At that time, the great grotesque villains such as Flattop and Pruneface had yet to appear, and the continuities were mostly devoted to Tracy tracking down torn-from-the-headlines-style murderers and mobsters. Dick Tracy Returns would follow Gould’s lead by pitting his hero against a family of killers inspired by the Barker gang, who had been decisively put out of business by the FBI just three years earlier.

The result was good news for the kids of all ages who followed the weekly chapterplays: a straightforward cops-and-robbers adventure with surprisingly good production values and a script that made sense – both elements worth noting for a period in which the serials’ reach frequently exceeded their grasp. And it was even better news for heroic-jawed star Ralph Byrd,

whose dynamic turn as Tracy in the first production earned him professional status that was practically unheard-of in the sound serial era: his name above the title.

As in the previous serial, Tracy has moved up from hotshot city detective to ace G-man, and Chapter One kicks off with not so much a bang as a rat-tat-tat as Tracy shows a film of tommy gun-toting rats to a class of fresh-faced FBI recruits. One of the young men particularly catches his eye – in a nice way, you understand –

and when eager and winsome Ron Merton (David Sharpe) graduates Fed school, Tracy takes the newly minted agent under his wing and has him assigned to his own office in California.

Tracy’s crew – Gwen, Steve, Mike and Junior (characters returning from the first serial but each played by different actors) – all agree that Ron’s a swell guy, so there’s little doubt that he’ll be pushing up daisies sometime in the next 15 minutes.

And having dropped all those names, here’s a quick rundown of the supporting cast so far:

Gwen Andrews, Tracy’s secretary, is played by the attractive and pleasant “B” actress Lynn Roberts. Also billed as “Mary Hart” in a handful of Roy Rogers oaters (giving Republic its own Rogers and Hart team, yuk yuk), Roberts had appeared in the studio’s Lone Ranger cliffhanger earlier that year and would work in Westerns with Gene Autry, Monte Hale and Tim Holt in between smaller parts in movies for bigger studios.

Steve Lockwood, Tracy’s chief assistant, is played by the bland and unobtrusive Michael Kent. Standing next to charisma-to-burn Ralph Byrd was a sure way to become invisible, and none of the three actors who played Lockwood in the serials managed to make much of an impression. But make no mistake; Steve’s a swell guy, too.

Mike McGurk, the comic relief, is played by Lee Ford (left). As an inept operative who’s there mostly to supply laughs, Ford replaces hayseed comic Smiley Burnette from the first serial; he’s annoying, but if you have to have McGurk around (Note: You don’t), he’s still an improvement over Burnette’s moronic original.

Tracy’s kid sidekick Junior is played by former Our Gang actor Jerry Tucker. Replacing the more effective Lee Van Atta from the first serial, Tucker spends the entire production wearing a poorly tailored uniform and getting himself kidnapped time after time. It’s never explained why he’s dressed for military school, but he’s so irritating that one can’t blame Tracy for packing him off to the cadet factory.

Returning to the short happy life of Ron Merton, that young G-man gets his first assignment when a request comes in for an agent to accompany an armored car transporting a pile of cash to a bank – a seemingly cushy gig that goes awry as the car is attacked by the infamous Stark gang.

Led by hatchet-faced Pa Stark (Charles Middleton), the main members of the gang are his five thuggish sons. Each trembles a little before Pa’s venomous wrath – and so would you if your dad was Ming the Merciless – but make no mistake: they’re hardened criminals, to a man. Here’s Pa with his four oldest boys, and just check out the mugs on these mugs:

From left are Jack Roberts as Dude, Charles Middleton as Pa, John Merton as Champ, Jack Ingram as Slasher, and Raphael Bennett as Trigger. We’ll get to know them better as the serial throws a spotlight on the individual Stark boys in upcoming chapters.

The Stark siblings pump the armored car full of lethal gas, roll it into a moving van and haul it to the city dump, where they plan to burn their way in with an acetylene torch and make off with the loot. However, Ron Merton, having snatched up a handy gas mask, isn’t quite dead yet, and gets the drop on them. Well, almost. Kid Stark, the youngest of the gang, has managed to elude the agent’s notice and he plugs Ron in the back.

Hooking up with their old man, the boys crow over their big heist, but Pa rains on their parade when he insists that Kid go back to be sure the FBI agent is dead. Kid Stark can be seen at left in the lousy screengrab below –

and if he looks familiar, it’s because he’s this guy –

Ned Glass, a beloved and versatile character actor who played the hell out of everything for over four decades, here taking his first featured role before the camera. His turn as the Kid – pugnacious, defensive and viciously resentful of being the runt of the Stark litter – is a highlight of the episode.

Kid takes a taxi back to the dump (hey, a fare’s a fare) and it’s just as well for him that he did, since Ron Merton still isn’t quite dead yet. Partly gassed and shot in the back, Ron’s staggering down the country road in search of help. Unfortunately, while he has pluck aplenty he’s short on luck, because the car he tries to flag down is the taxi carrying Kid, who whips out a revolver and plugs Ron in the front.

In the meantime, Dick Tracy (remember him?) has figured out that the armored car’s been hijacked. Tracy and Junior find Ron’s bullet-riddled body and, calling for an ambulance, Tracy takes off in hot pursuit of the taxi. With Kid waving his gun and urging more speed, the terrified cabbie finally smashes up the taxi in a fiery crack-up. Confronted by Tracy, Kid tries to bluff his way out by pretending to be an innocent bystander, but Tracy’s too savvy to fall for it and leads Kid off wearing a new pair of bracelets. The taxi driver has miraculously survived, too, and crawls away before he can get involved.

That’s his tough luck, because Tracy needs his testimony to make sure Kid Stark gets what’s coming to him. The G-men learn that the cabbie has gone underground in Salt Lake City, and Steve and McGurk are sent to fly him back.

Meanwhile, believe it or not, Ron is still hanging in there. He’s comatose now and in an iron lung, but the doctors say he has a good chance of pulling through. Pa Stark, clearly used to cleaning up his kids’ messes, slips into the hospital disguised as a janitor. Kid’s plugged young Mr. Merton over and over, but it’s Pa who seals the deal; reaching down to the electrical cord that’s keeping the iron lung working, Pa unplugs Ron…and the brief career of a swell guy with the misfortune to work for Dick Tracy comes to a merciful end.

Tracy’s not a happy man, and he whips his agents into a frenzy to locate the Stark gang. After some nicely played procedural sequences involving plaster tire casts and old-fashioned shoe leather, Tracy tracks a couple of the Stark boys to the airport’s radio building. Fisticuffs ensue – Tracy mixes it up with the brutish Champ, then barely dodges a knife hurled by Slasher (which buries itself in the heart of one of the gang’s flunkies; for Slasher’s sake, let’s hope that his accidental victim wasn’t one of the Starks’ cousins. There’d be no juice box for Slasher tonight.). Though outnumbered, the G-man is too much for the Starks, and they take it on the lam. Tracy discovers that they’ve busted up the equipment that broadcasts a radio beam to keep planes on course when visibility is low…and, of course, the fog is already thick as pea soup. And as the luck of Tracy’s subordinates would have it, the airliner bearing Steve, McGurk and that hapless cabbie is making its approach right now.

Putting two and two together, Tracy realizes that Pa and the boys smashed the equipment so they could transmit a phony beam that will end the threat to Kid’s liberty by luring the plane into the mountains. Leaping into a perky little two-seater, he takes to the air – and in a nifty display of Republic’s accomplished miniature effects, manages to warn the liner out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, Tracy can’t correct the trajectory of his own plane’s desperate maneuvers, and the chapter ends with his two-seater smashing to pieces on the mountainside.

Will the Starks get away to continue preying on decent citizens? Will Kid beat the rap, nail a sweet book deal and hit the lecture circuit? More importantly, is this the end of Dick Tracy?

Oh, c’mon…there’s a reason they didn’t call this serial “Ron Merton Returns.”

August 13, 2012 · Posted in Legends  

August 10, 2012 · Posted in Legends