From pioneering silents to landmarks of Hollywood’s Golden Age, the movie bloggers of October found plenty to say about the greats – and a few not-so-greats – of the silver screen.

David Cairns took time out from his usual eclectic offerings to present a heartfelt and  beautifully thought-out appreciation of Casablanca on his Shadowplay blog.

Writer Peter Lenihan exhumed a fascinating “Partial Transcript of an Abandoned Video Essay on Fantomas on The Long Voyage Home site.

TCM “morlock” David Kalat wrapped up his long series on the evolution of film comedy from silent to sound with a comparison of Mack Sennett’s Charlie Chaplin debut Making a Living and Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday.

Gary Cahill of the Movies Unlimited site celebrated Halloween with a brief rundown of some of the  goofiest monsters of the movies.

Kim Morgan captured the appeal of a legendary star with a warm appreciation of Montgomery Clift on her Sunset Gun site.

Suit up and get a grip on these entertaining links.

October 31, 2012 · Posted in Legends  

Dick Tracy and the Stark boys are slugging it out aboard a stolen Navy torpedo boat! Tracy manages to knock Champ overboard, but Slasher attacks with a knife! As they struggle for survival, the boat runs wild through the channel and rams into a pier! The torpedos explode, blowing the G-man and the vicious gangster to smithereens!

Yes, that’s just what would have happened if Slasher hadn’t gained the upper hand and punched Tracy right into the water. Unable to correct the boat’s wild progress, Slasher takes a solo ride on the Fish Food Express while Tracy swims to safety.

Would things have turned out otherwise for the Stark boys if Pa hadn’t doomed them with names like Slasher and Trigger? If they’d been raised as Buddy, Chip and Happy, would they have taken up worthwhile lives as missionaries, movie bloggers or venture capitalists? We’ll never know. But while we ponder these weighty matters, let’s take a moment to wave goodbye to the man who brought Slasher Stark to life (however brief and vicious it may have been):

Jack Ingram, a career movie bad guy who piled up more acting credits during his 30 years before the cameras than any other major player in Dick Tracy Returns. He broke into the business as a musical performer in a touring minstrel show, and began landing small uncredited parts in Westerns and serials in 1935. Within two years he began to play bigger roles and his name started showing up in the credits. Slasher was undoubtedly his showiest part in the ‘30s, but by the time he joined the Stark family, he had already become a familiar face. Moving back and forth from Republic to Monogram to Columbia to Universal, he became one of the most recognizable evil henchmen of the Saturday matinees. Whether as his customary action heavy or the occasional supporting good guy, he traded gunshots, punches and bon mots with a vast range of B actors, from Roy Rogers to Lyle Talbot, from Joan Woodbury to Bob Steele. As savvy an investor as he was dependable as a heavy, in 1944 Ingram bought a 200-acre spread in the Santa Monica Mountains that he rented out for location shooting for features and, later, TV shows. He retired from acting in 1960 with a healthy bank account and almost 300 films and television episodes to his credit – not one of them an A feature, but each in its own way entertaining as hell.

Back at the office, Tracy is dictating his report to Gwen (and neatly slipping in the fact that Champ escaped, for those viewers keeping score) when a hot blonde walks in, just like a Philip Marlowe story. Said blonde is one Mary Watson, who works the cash register at a local cafeteria and whose brother is hanging around with an unsavory crowd. If you’re wondering why the hell she’s bothering the ace G-man with this petty crap, so is Tracy; but Mary proceeds to butter him up about all the great things she’s heard about him – and mentions in passing the name “Stark” as one of the yucky guys her brother’s been hanging with. Mary is played by this particular hot blonde:

Harley Wood, who also worked under the names Jill Martin and Harlene Wood. A Missouri girl who headed west with stars in her eyes, she broke into the movies with small roles in assorted shorts and features that are largely forgotten today. She did land a tiny bit part in the classic comedy My Man Godfrey, a featured role in the Three Stooges short Dizzy Doctors and top billing as the doomed-by-dope “Burma” in the campy drama Marihuana. Around the same time, she scored a string of leading roles in a year’s worth of Poverty Row Westerns, in which she rubbed shoulders with the likes of Bob Steele, Kermit Maynard and Tom Tyler. It was at this time that she appeared as Mary Watson, a small role followed that same year by a leading role in the Republic serial Hawk of the Wilderness. A year later, she ended her acting career to get married and raise a family. In the ‘40s she carved out a new life as a writer and eventually became the lyricist (with composer Sy Miller, her second husband) on a number of inspirational songs, including the award-winning anthem “Let There Be Peace on Earth” – a far cry from the image of the wild, hapless Burma and her hop-peddling ways.

While Mary’s rattling on, Gwen’s face goes through some uncharacteristic contortions, almost as though she thinks Mary’s stinking up the joint. Excusing herself, she goes to her desk and starts typing. While Tracy’s reassuring Mary that he’ll be glad to look into her problem, Gwen returns with a letter for Tracy to sign before he leaves. It says: “Dear Mr. Tracy: The young lady says she is a cashier at a cafeteria, but she is wearing Nuit Noir, a perfume which sells for $50 an ounce.” So her problem was that Mary smelled too good; pretty slick, Gwen! Pretending to sign the letter, Tracy scrawls

and excuses himself to go get his hat. Considering how many hats he’s gone through since this thing started, we can be forgiven for hoping to get a look at the vast Fedora Vault he must keep in the basement, but what he’s really done is slip into a bullet-proof vest while giving Steve the heads-up that the Starks are trying to lure him into a trap. As Tracy leaves with Mary, Steve’s ordering Gwen to get the guys together for a big Stark roundup – unaware that Junior’s eavesdropping. It’s been a few chapters since the kid interfered with a federal investigation and put innocent lives in danger, so of course he’s eager to gum things up again. Moments later, Steve and McGurk drive off to keep an eye on Tracy, unaware that Junior has hidden himself in the back seat of their car to get in on the excitement.

Still playing the concerned sister, Mary leads Tracy down the sidewalk of a seedy part of town under pretense of taking him to her fictitious brother’s hangout. While they take in the depressing sights, we cut to a ratty nearby room where Pa, Champ and a handful of Stark flunkies are talking tough and spying out the window as Mary leads Tracy on. Pa tells one of the flunkies to get ready with “the lever” – and, yes, there’s a big wooden gallows-type switch sticking up from the floor of their room. It’s too bad we don’t get a look at the diagram Pa’s drawn up for this gizmo, because it’s clearly the goofiest Rube Goldberg concept of all, but we’re about to see it in action. The lever’s thrown just as Tracy steps on some metal doors in the sidewalk – you know, the kind that usually open to a sidewalk freight elevator, like this:

But Pa and the boys have removed the elevator, so when the doors open under Tracy’s feet, the view’s more like this:

He lands hard in the basement, where a beefy thug looms in a doorway, giving him the stink eye. But nobody delivers the stink eye like Ralph Byrd, who flips the big jerk this look

and then slides the door shut in the palooka’s face and jams it closed with a handy plank. While the thug’s whining excuses to Pa and the gang, Tracy’s grabbed a metal pole and is inexplicably banging it on the metal doors overhead. No, he hasn’t lost his marbles, far from it: he’s apparently just gained psychic powers, because it’s at this very second that Steve and McGurk have appeared on the scene and are passing right by those sidewalk elevator doors. Recognizing the tap-tap-tap as a Morse code SOS, they charge into the building.

It’s a good thing, too, because Champ’s grabbed a metal bar of his own and is bulling the door open. Starks and Feds all charge in at once, and the basement turns into a shooting gallery. The Stark gang gets a little smaller, Tracy gets nicked in the wrist, and McGurk – fulfilling his contractual obligation to look like an asshole every few chapters – gets a face full of oil. Pa and Champ, on the other hand, get the hell out of there. Scrambling up a ladder while everyone’s busy trying to kill each other, they crawl through a manhole and steal the first car they can find: Steve and McGurk’s ride. Yeah, the one with Junior hiding in the back.

Back at the office, Tracy is getting his wounded wrist bandaged when the phone rings. It’s Pa, and he’s taken Junior hostage. He tells Tracy that he’ll release the kid if Tracy agrees to take his place – the G-man’s life for Junior’s. “Junior?” says Tracy. “Never heard of ‘im.” He hangs up and everyone in the office exchanges high fives.

Okay, not really. Tracy makes the deal, and soon he’s hoofing it down a dusty country road, his injured arm in a sling and a radio transmitter under his lapel. (Yes, the comic strip Tracy was still eight years away from his wrist radio, but in 1938 the serial Tracy was high-tech enough to wear a wire.) Pa and Champ pick him up and drive to their hideout while Tracy conversationally drops clues to their location into the ears of the eavesdropping Feds. But no sooner does he say the address – 14 Outpost Road – than Pa reaches over and plucks the transmitter out from under Tracy’s lapel.


The Starks take Tracy to a hilltop house overlooking Outpost Road. Pa and Champ are in major gloat mode: not only is Tracy their prisoner, they have no intention of letting Junior go, either. As Champ reaches out to drag Junior out of the room, the kid lets him have a sharp kick in the shins, and the big thug makes ready to backhand him across the room. Tracy steps in and administers the stinkiest stink eye of them all. “Cut it, Champ!” he snarls. “You lay a finger on that kid, and all the bullets in the world won’t keep me from tearing you apart.” Champ’s been the burly bane of Tracy’s existence throughout this serial, but here it seems to dawn on him that this is the guy who’s wiped out four Stark boys already. In a nice little piece of acting by John Merton, Champ visibly shrinks from Tracy’s gaze and quietly locks Junior away without any more rough stuff.

Through the door of his boarded-up room, Junior overhears Champ telling a flunky that 14 Outpost Road has been booby-trapped. When the G-men respond to the false address that Tracy had broadcast, they’ll activate a timer switch in the gate that will blow them all up after they’ve entered the house. Whipping out his trusty jackknife, Junior pries open the boards blocking a French door and makes a run for it.

At the same time, Pa is having a nasty good time telling Tracy the same story. He directs Tracy to a window where he can see the G-men arriving and hustling through the booby-trapped gate. We cut back and forth between Junior running downhill, the G-men charging the house, and then 14 Outpost Road is blown to splinters.

Murder in his eye, Tracy turns and advances on Pa Stark – but Pa’s already holding a gun on him, and as Tracy’s unblinking face fills the screen, we hear a gunshot…

October 27, 2012 · Posted in Legends  

Dude Stark and his flunkies have kidnapped an injured gang member to keep him from squealing! Dick Tracy and Steve Lockwood are in hot pursuit of the Starks’ stolen ambulance! Tracy leaps into the Stark vehicle and struggles with an armed flunky! The flunky’s gun goes off, killing Dude at the wheel! The now-driverless ambulance shoots down an embankment in a sickening crash! Is this finally the end of Dick Tracy?

Well, it would be if Tracy hadn’t bugged out of the ambulance right before it took the dive. After rolling down yet another so-smooth-you’d-swear-it-had-been-raked-by-a-film-crew sandy incline, he brushes himself off and watches grimly as the ambulance bursts into flames. Steve rushes up, asking, “Were they killed?” “Yes, all of them,” our hero replies – and he would know; as far as the Starks are concerned, Dick Tracy is the friggin’ Angel of Death.

Unlike the chapters that followed the deaths of Kid and Trigger, this episode doesn’t spend any time on the Starks’ grieving process (i.e., Pa snarling while the boys look bummed out). Apparently, Pa Stark’s gotten pretty blasé about burying his worthless offspring by now. But that doesn’t mean we can’t say goodbye to Jack Roberts, who played the ill-fated Dude.

Roberts was a Canadian actor whose Hollywood career began just two years before his turn as the Stark gang’s nattiest (and whiniest) member. The bulk of his movie work took place during the 1940s, in small featured roles and bit parts. He appeared in two other Republic serials – SOS Coast Guard and Dick Tracy’s G-Men, playing support to Ralph Byrd in each. Though he landed tiny roles in Sorrowful Jones, The Great Gatsby, Ace in the Hole and other well-regarded films, he never managed to log any truly memorable performances. In fact, due to the continued cult interest in serials, Dude Stark is almost certainly the one role for which he’s likely to be remembered. So let’s all tip our jauntily-angled fedoras to Jack’s memory.

Back at the office, Gwen reminds Tracy that he’s promised one Commander Mason to attend a demonstration of the Navy’s new torpedo speedboat. Tracy’s a little reluctant to step away from his current investigation – not yet having succeeded in massacring the entire Stark family, and all – but he says he “owes” the commander (we don’t know why, and maybe we don’t want to), so the whole gang decides to make a party of it and they head for the docks.

At said docks, Pa Stark and a gentleman named Kruger are watching one of the torpedo speedboats zipping through the waves.

“They’re the fastest Naval craft afloat,” says Kruger, “and my government is willing to spend plenty to secure one.” Yes, Pa and the boys have scored another sweet gig betraying their country for fast cash. Kruger continues: “I can’t understand how you’re going to manage it.”

“Listen, Kruger,” snarls Pa, “my sons and I have handled bigger jobs than this.” Sure, just ask our satisfied customers like Zarkoff. Or Baron Kruger. Or Carston. Or…just take my word for it, okay?

Though Kruger doesn’t have much to do in this chapter, he’s definitely worth a moment of our time. Kruger is played by this guy, standing to the right of Edgar Rice Burroughs:

J.P. McGowan, an actor whose resume stretches back to 1910. An Australian native who fought in the Boer War, McGowan parlayed his good looks and horsemanship into a mountain of two-fisted roles throughout the silent era, including three separate outings as Western hero “Whispering Smith”:

He moved into supporting parts during the 1930s, logging an estimated total of over 200 movie roles – a figure rivaled by the number of movies he directed simultaneous with his acting career. He was married for a time to silent serial queen Helen Holmes, with whom he appeared in her legendary 1914 series The Hazards of Helen. And from his retirement from the screen in the late ‘30s until 1951 (he died in ’52), he served as executive secretary of the Screen Directors Guild. A real film pioneer, and one hell of an interesting guy.

Meanwhile, Tracy and his posse are enjoying the boat show courtesy of a wide-screen picture tube mounted on the side of the Dayton Television Corporation’s remote truck, as seen in the latest installment of our Crappy Screengrab Theater, above. (It isn’t true TV, Mr. Dayton tells the young wonks in the audience, more of a telescope image thrown up on a television screen so it doesn’t require anyzzzzzzzz. Oh. Sorry. Anyway, it lets them see the action four miles away without using a camera, got it?) On the screen they see the high-powered torpedo boat take out a target vessel with one shot, and all the grownups figure it’s Miller Time.

What they didn’t see was Champ and Slasher Stark in a third boat, sporting cute little Popeye hats and monkeying around with prop fishing poles. They also miss Slasher hauling out a big-ass gas gun and firing a shell into the torpedo boat. The Starks climb into the torpedo boat, toss the limp forms of the sailors into the water and take off across the waves. Being the fastest Naval craft afloat and all that, they make a quick and effective getaway.

Junior sees the gas wafting around and calls the G-mens’ attention to it. They, ahem, commandeer a nearby motorboat and race out to the Starks’ abandoned fishing boat. There’s nothing left but a couple of unlucky sailors floating face-down and a used gas gun – which Tracy takes back to the lab as evidence.

A little wave of the Tracy laboratory wand later, he discovers that the gas used on the sailors was provided by the Draper Gas Company. And one phone call to the Dayton Television Corporation later, Tracy and Steve have Mr. Dayton’s telescope-boob tube hybrid focused on the window of the Draper offices. On their silent screen they see Kruger and Mr. Draper pointing to a map of the M Street Dock, which isn’t nearly as neatly drawn as Pa Stark’s anal little crime diagrams:

The TV image is silent, but thanks to the miracle of talking pictures, we can hear Kruger instructing Draper to have more gas delivered to the dock.

Tracy recognizes Kruger as an “international spy” and he and Steve lay rubber getting to the Draper office, but by the time they arrive Kruger has already left. Mr. Draper tries to stall, but once Tracy mentions “M Street Dock,” Draper folds like an overcooked noodle. He confesses that he’s been ordered to bring more poison gas shells to the dock – and Tracy and Steve are on the move.

At the dock, Tracy and Steve get the drop on Slasher and a pair of flunkies. While Tracy stands around snapping out orders and looking butch –

Champ is creeping out through a trap door in the dock and tippy toeing around behind the Feds. (That’s Champ in mid-tippy, above right.) Champ climbs onto a towering pile of lumber atop which a handy crate is perched and drops said box on Tracy’s head. And off we go into another bone-crunching brawl. While Tracy manages to hold his own with Champ – and actually knocks the big guy on his keister, for a change – Slasher manages to disarm Steve. Before you know it, Steve’s out cold on the dock and all four thugs have piled on our favorite G-man.

Tracy and one of the flunkies take a header off the dock and into the harbor. There’s a brief and frantic slapfight in the water that appears to have been choreographed by Joe Besser – and then Tracy spoils the atmosphere of seaside frolic by shoving his opponent under and drowning the son of a bitch. In no mood to be murdered next, the Starks grab a big weighted fishing net and heave it down at the water-treading Fed…

And down he goes, enveloped in its hempen mesh, struggling helplessly as he sinks to a watery grave…

Except he doesn’t. Proving that tough guys are too secure to be embarrassed by lame cliffhanger resolutions, Tracy just slips the net off his head and swims back to the surface. Duh. By this time, the Starks have vanished in the torpedo speedboat again, so there’s nothing left to do but wake Steve up from his knuckle-induced coma and head back to the office.

And we’re just in time for a visit from FBI Chief Clive Anderson, who’s come out from Washington to shoot the breeze and politely hint that maybe it’s time to wrap up the Stark case before we run out of chapters. You youngsters who ponied up your nickels to watch the first Tracy serial the year before may remember Anderson as played by distinguished former silent matinee idol Francis X. Bushman:

But here Anderson’s played by actor James Blaine –

a burly no-nonsense actor who worked his way up from stage roles in the ‘20s to a decade-long string of uncredited featured roles in serials, Westerns and mysteries. He landed the occasional bit part in more prestigious movies like After the Thin Man, Parnell and High Sierra, but most of his career was spent as a uniformed cop, prison guard or plainclothes policeman in support of Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, the Lone Wolf, Boston Blackie, and other popular series detectives.

Besides prodding Tracy to hurry up and knock off bring to justice the rest of the Starks, Anderson is also there to ask for a little background on the case…which means that we’ve been lulled into sitting down for another recap chapter. This one’s devoted to the wasted life of young agent Ron Merton, as detailed in our coverage of Chapter One, and it’s just as depressing the second time around. Just as Anderson and the audience are ready to open a vein, Gwen takes a phone call and tells Tracy that one Dr. Strobach at Receiving Hospital has an injured man with information about the torpedo boat.

The patient is Kruger, who tells Tracy that his government had decided to cancel the deal with the Starks after they’d already stolen the torpedo boat. Given the choice of leaving town or telling the Starks that he wouldn’t be able to deliver the 50 grand they’d expected, Kruger should have made a beeline to the Greyhound station. Instead, he tried to come clean and Pa and the boys filled the reneging bastard full of lead. With his last breath he manages to tell Tracy that the torpedo boat’s being held at a derelict vessel in Red Hook Channel.

Tracy and Steve board the derelict and decide to split up and look around. “You check the forward deck,” says Tracy, “I’ll go aft.” Being a government employee, Steve has plenty of experience with his superiors going aft, and wanders off. And wouldn’t you know it, aft is exactly where Champ and Slasher – still wearing their snappy little sailor caps – are readying the torpedo boat and its explosive cargo for a little cruise. As they head out into the channel, Tracy’s stunt man makes an impressive leap aboard, and the fight is on.

Champ is knocked overboard and Slasher pulls one of his pet knives. As he and Tracy struggle, the boat runs wild and heads straight for the pier. The torpedos explode on contact, transforming the boat and everything aboard into flying shards of flotsam…

October 13, 2012 · Posted in Legends