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Tag Archives: Barton MacLane

Unknown Island (Oct. 15, 1948)

Unknown Island
Unknown Island (1948)
Directed by Jack Bernhard
Albert Jay Cohen Productions / Film Classics

If you liked everything about King Kong except King Kong, then I’ve got a movie for you.

Dinosaurs first made their way onto film in 1914, in both animated and live action films. The most significant early films to feature dinosaurs were probably The Lost World (1925) and King Kong (1933).

The first dinosaurs I remember seeing on film are the animated ones in Fantasia, which was released in 1940, the same year that gave us the slightly less memorable One Million B.C. (1940), which starred Victor Mature as “Tumak” and Carole Landis as “Loana.”

During World War II, the American public’s taste for the fantastical cooled, and for the most part, science fiction elements could only be found in horror movies.

But by 1948, producer Albert J. Cohen decided we were ready for a movie about dinosaurs, and in color no less! Jack Bernhard’s Unknown Island is a low-budget film, though, so it’s shot in Cinecolor — Technicolor’s shabby cousin that makes movies look like old color photographs that have been left in the attic too long.

Nevertheless, Unknown Island will forever have the distinction of being the first live action film in color to feature dinosaurs. It borrows liberally from both The Lost World and King Kong, particularly the latter, with its mysterious island, its rampaging prehistoric creatures, its damsel in peril, its dueling male protagonists (one of whom is more interested in capturing a live specimen than he is in the girl), and a crew of vicious, rowdy seamen who ferry our cast of characters to an uncharted land where dinosaurs roam.

Unlike the stop-motion animation dinosaurs created by Willis O’Brien for King Kong, which are still pretty impressive, the dinosaurs and other assorted beasties in Unknown Island appear to be puppets and actors in rubber suits, and aren’t very impressive.

But if taken in the right spirit, Unknown Island is a fun picture. Blond, tanned, square-jawed Richard Denning — the voice of Mr. Lucille Ball on the radio sitcom My Favorite Husband (1948-1951) — makes for a good hero. He plays John Fairbanks, the only person in the expedition who has first-hand experience of the Unknown Island, and who is haunted by what he experienced there. Virginia Grey is likeable and attractive as the only woman in the film, Carole Lane, and Phillip Reed is nicely unlikeable as her glory-hound fiancé, Ted Osborne. The real gem in the cast is Barton MacLane as the nasty, hard-as-nails Capt. Tarnowski, who rules his crew of Laskers with an iron fist.

Jack Bernhard previously directed the (in my opinion) overrated B noir Decoy (1946), as well as Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (1946), Violence (1947), Perilous Waters (1948), The Hunted (1948), and Blonde Ice (1948).

Unknown Island looks pretty good, but the shadowy jungle scenes featuring the human actors never quite jibe with the brightly lit special effects work with the dinosaurs. Still, it’s an early example of the kind of low-budget giant-monster movies that would become commonplace in the 1950s, but which were still pretty rare in the late 1940s, and for that reason alone it’s worth seeing.

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Cheyenne (June 6, 1947)

Cheyenne
Cheyenne (1947)
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Warner Bros.

Most of the time, when people say “adult western,” they’re talking about the more psychologically realistic western dramas that stood apart from the fray of Saturday matinee singing cowboys. They’re talking about the films of John Ford and Anthony Mann, and TV series like Gunsmoke (1955-1975). Raoul Walsh’s Cheyenne is a different kind of adult western.

While tame by the standards of today’s R-rated movies and cable TV, Cheyenne is a feast of double entendres and sexually suggestive scenes and dialogue. The film stars Dennis Morgan — doing his best impression of George Sanders — as James Wylie, a gentleman gambler who’s impressed into the service of the law by private detective Webb Yancey (Barton MacLane).

Yancey offers to cut Wylie in on the $20,000 reward being offered for “The Poet,” who’s responsible for a series of stagecoach robberies along the Wells Fargo line. Wherever the Poet strikes, he leaves a piece of paper with a few lines of verse, such as “I’m happy the frontier is settling down / With a thriving bank in every town / Let the riders and nesters deposit their pay / So I and my gun can take it away.”

Cheyenne co-stars Jane Wyman (back when she was still Mrs. Ronald Reagan) as a woman named Ann Kincaid. Ann is married to a Wells Fargo banker named Ed Landers (Bruce Bennett), but their marriage is on the rocks, and she’s clearly attracted to the dashing and roguish Wylie. Of course, for the sake of propriety (and the Hays Code), she acts as though she can’t stand Wylie.

There’s plenty of lighthearted, sexy banter, and great lines like, “How did I know she was the sheriff’s daughter? I couldn’t find a badge.” Or my personal favorite, “You know how women are. Like bears. They never get enough honey.”

Ann and Wylie’s situation is complicated when they fall in with a gang led by the Sundance Kid (Arthur Kennedy). Kennedy plays his role with brio. Sundance is a snarling badass who shoots first and thinks later. When a young punk in his gang stands up to him, and says that the Sundance Kid may have all the other members of his gang buffaloed but he doesn’t fool him, Sundance kicks him to the ground and shoots him dead.

Wylie tells Sundance that he is in fact the Poet, and offers to cut him in on the take from his robberies. He also claims that Ann is his wife, which leads to some sexy playacting. Maybe too sexy. As one of Sundance’s gang says, “He kissed the gal like he liked it. That ain’t like no husband.”

When they go to bed in the same room because some of Sundance’s gang are outside watching, Wylie says, “I’ll sleep with one eye open.” Ann responds, “What do you think I’m gonna do?”

The sexual suggestions aren’t limited to the dialogue. The old spinster housekeeper’s look of regret when Ann says “You know how men are” is priceless. And even I couldn’t believe the scene in which Ann complains about back pain after the night she spends with Wylie.

Janis Paige

The sexiness doesn’t stop with Jane Wyman. Janis Paige gives a good performance as a voluptuous saloon singer named Emily Carson. The two songs she performs in a black bustier, dark stockings, and high heels — M.K. Jerome & Ted Koehler’s “I’m So in Love” and Max Steiner & Ted Koehler’s “Going Back to Old Cheyenne” — were a high point of the picture for me.

I enjoyed Cheyenne quite a bit, but it’s not as interesting as Raoul Walsh’s previous western, Pursued (1947), and it suffers from wild shifts in tone. Most of the film is sexy and playful, but the action scenes are surprisingly dark and violent.

Cheyenne is definitely worth seeing for fans of westerns and aficionados of its prolific and talented director. The actors are all fun to watch, especially Arthur Kennedy, and Max Steiner’s bombastic score does a nice job of propelling the action during the film’s shootouts and chase scenes.

Tarzan and the Huntress (April 5, 1947)

Kurt Neumann’s Tarzan and the Huntress should really be called Tarzan and the Poachers. The word “huntress” conveys more risqué sexiness than the film actually contains (the same can be said of the poster), and seems designed to draw in the same people who shivered at the sight of the muscular Johnny Weissmuller being clawed by the beautiful actress Acquanetta in his previous outing as the King of the Jungle, Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946).

When Tarzan and the Huntress begins, we learn that zoos around the world are facing a post-war shortage of animals. (Did lions and monkeys get drafted? I missed that.)

Enter Tanya Rawlins (Patricia Morison, stepping up from Queen of the Amazons to a higher-quality jungle movie). Tanya is an animal trainer leading a safari that also includes her villainous guide, big-game hunter Paul Weir (Barton MacLane), and the moneyman, Carl Marley (John Warburton).

Meanwhile, a half-naked couple who live in a treehouse with their pet chimp and their boy, who calls his adoptive parents by their first names, are preparing to honor local monarch King Farrod (Charles Trowbridge) on the occasion of his birthday. No, they’re not hippies, they’re Tarzan and Jane, played by Weissmuller and Brenda Joyce. Their adopted son, “Boy,” is once again played by Johnny Sheffield, who looks as if he should probably change his name to “Man” sometime soon (or at least “The Artist Formerly Known As ‘Boy'”), since he’s nearly as big as Tarzan. (This was Sheffield’s last role in a Tarzan picture. In 1949 he struck out on his own in the Bomba, the Jungle Boy series.) When Tarzan inspects the fishing pole that Boy has fashioned for King Farrod, he smiles and says, “Everybody like fishing, even kings.” This might be a lesser entry in the Tarzan series, but the playfulness of Tarzan’s little family group and their idyllic life in the jungle is always fun to watch. If you’ve seen one Tarzan movie, however, you’ve seen them all, and you know that something will soon come to threaten their peaceful existence.

In this case, it’s a perfect storm of Tarzan-related problems — hunters and trappers arriving from the “civilized” world, treacherous locals, and Cheeta and Boy’s shared love of shiny objects.

When Weir tells Tanya that King Farrod won’t allow more than two specimens of each animal to be taken out of the jungle, Noah’s-Ark style, she sputters, “You can’t be serious!” So in a back-door deal, the king’s scheming nephew, Prince Ozira (Ted Hecht), offers Weir and Tanya a “no quota, no restrictions” offer on trapping animals, as long as they pay him a bounty per animal.

One of the members of Tanya’s safari offers to trade Boy a hand-crank flashlight for Cheeta. Boy refuses, since Cheeta’s like a member of the family, but he’s not above stealing a pair of lioness’s cubs in exchange for the nearly worthless bauble.

Tarzan returns the two cubs to their mother and draws a line in the sand. Hunters stay on their side of the river, Tarzan stay on his.

The hunting party doesn’t seem overly concerned, but then Tarzan calls all the animals to him with his powerful jungle cry, and they leave the hunters’ side and come to his.

It’s on.

Tarzan knows just how to handle the greedy poachers when they cross the river into his territory. “Hunters without guns like bees without stings. Hunters not so brave now,” he says, after he steals all of their weapons and hides them behind a waterfall.

That would be the end of the story if it weren’t for that darned Cheeta, who wants Tanya’s shiny compact so badly that she shows the hunters the way to the waterfall.

Cheeta gets her compact, the poachers get their guns, and it’s time for Tarzan and Boy to hand out the punishment, one hunter at a time.

Tarzan and the Huntress was Weissmuller’s penultimate turn as Tarzan. After appearing in Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948), he went on to star in the Jungle Jim series and Lex Barker took over starring in the franchise with Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949).

Weissmuller appears to have gained some weight since he made the previous picture in the series, Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, but he’s always fun to watch as the character. Brenda Joyce looks beautiful, as always, but I wasn’t sure what to make of her little slip-on pantyhose shoes.

If you’ve never seen a Tarzan picture before, Tarzan and the Huntress probably isn’t the place to start, but it’s solid entertainment for fans of the series, and offers especially good animal action and hijinks.

Santa Fe Uprising (Nov. 15, 1946)

R.G. Springsteen’s Santa Fe Uprising was a bittersweet viewing experience for yours truly. On the one hand, I really enjoy this series, based on Fred Harman’s comic-strip cowboy. It’s solid, fun, Saturday matinée entertainment. On the other hand, a big part of my enjoyment came from the wooden, straight-shooting acting style of “Wild” Bill Elliott as Red. Elliott’s persona was so stolid that it seemed tongue-in-cheek, and he had great chemistry with the child star who played his Indian sidekick Little Beaver (Bobby Blake, who later in life would be known as “defendant Robert Blake [9/18/33], aka Michael Gubitosi”).

After starring in 16 Red Ryder pictures from 1944 to 1946, Elliott bowed out and was replaced by square-jawed matinée idol Allan Lane. In the title sequence of Santa Fe Uprising, in which Red Ryder and Little Beaver appear in motion on the cover of a storybook, Lane bears a striking resemblance to Elliott. Up close, however, he’s more traditionally handsome and less interesting a performer.

Still, director Springsteen is a professional, and he keeps things fast-moving and exciting despite a modest budget and familiar shooting locations.

The film takes place in Bitter Springs, New Mexico, in 1894. The action kicks off when the U.S. Marshal for the territory is murdered by stagecoach robbers. The editor of the Territorial Gazette, a man named Crawford (Barton MacLane), demands that his killers be found. There is a toll road that’s safer to travel on than the main road, but the man who owns the property through which the toll road runs demands $3 a head of cattle to use it, which few ranchers can afford. When old rancher Lafe Dibble (Tom London) is killed by bandits, his son, Sonny Dibble (Pat Michaels), vows revenge.

Red takes over as U.S. Marshal of the territory, but he finds himself in hot water when it turns out that Crawford’s motives might not be as pure as they seem. When a man is murdered, and it looks as if Sonny killed him, Crawford and his boys demand that Sonny be strung up despite the fact that he professes his innocence. Things go from bad to worse when Little Beaver is kidnapped, held as a possible exchange for Sonny, after Crawford’s crew fails to bust Sonny out of jail to lynch him.

During the last part of the picture, Red is sleep-deprived after searching for Little Beaver night and day, which leads to a lot of strange acting from Lane, who keeps opening his eyes wide and half-yawning.

But if you’ve ever seen a western programmer before, you know that neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor sleep deprivation shall keep the heroes from their appointed shoot-outs, from which they will always emerge victorious.

Mysterious Intruder (April 11, 1946)

Mysterious Intruder
Mysterious Intruder (1946)
Directed by William Castle
Columbia Pictures

“I may not be the greatest detective in the world … but I am the most unusual.”

So says Don Gale, the shady private investigator played by Richard Dix in William Castle’s Mysterious Intruder, the fifth entry in Columbia’s mystery series The Whistler. Based on the CBS radio show of the same name, each film in the series featured Dix in the lead role, but unlike other B mystery series of the ’30s and ’40s, like Charlie Chan, The Falcon, Boston Blackie, Michael Shayne, and the Crime Doctor, Dix played a different character in each. The Whistler, who narrated the radio show but never participated directly in the events of the story, made similar appearances in the film series, walking in the shadows, whistling the haunting 13-note theme music by Wilbur Hatch, and occasionally offering a pithy analysis of the trouble the characters were in. The anthology format and Dix’s strange, arresting performances made The Whistler one of the more interesting series of its time.

In Mysterious Intruder, Gale is an oily operator who employs a “photographic model” named Freda Hanson (Helen Mowery) for dirty work. He also has a secretary named Joan (Nina Vale) who hates him. Clearly motivated by money, Gale walks the narrow line between self-interest and outright villainy. He’s an interesting character to watch, since his intentions remain shadowy right up to the end of the picture. This being a B-level programmer, we’re not treated to a deep character study, but Dix is a good enough performer to make Mysterious Intruder worth watching.

When the film begins, Gale is in his office, which has a spectacular view of the city and looks as if it should be home to the most expensive lawyer in town, not a small-time bedroom snooper. He’s visited by Edward Stillwell (Paul Burns), a kindly old music store owner who wishes to track down a young woman whom he hasn’t seen since she was 14, seven years ago. Her name is Elora Lund, and he has something he wants to give her. One hundred dollars is all Stillwell can afford to pay, which isn’t enough to pique Gale’s interest, but he changes his mind when Stillwell tells him that Elora Lund will pay any amount for bringing them together.

Three days pass, and Stillwell receives a visitor in his shop. She’s a tall, attractive blonde, and she convinces Stillwell that she is Elora Lund. (She’s actually Freda Hanson, Gale’s blackmail tool.) Stillwell tells “Elora” that among the countless odds and ends that her late mother brought in for him to sell was one item that will bring a fortune if sold. Unbeknownst to Freda, however, she was tailed to the store by a hulking thug named Pontos, played by dependable character actor Mike Mazurki. (Mazurki is always a welcome sight, but he doesn’t have a lot to do in this picture. It’s not too different from the role he played in Dick Tracy; a vicious killer with few to no lines.) Pontos murders Stillwell, and Freda screams and flees the scene.

Meanwhile, we learn that the real Elora Lund (Pamela Blake) is in a sanitarium, recovering from the effects of an auto accident. She’s appears to be uninjured physically, and why she wasn’t recuperating at home is never explained. Ah, the good old days of “rest cures.”

Before he became the premier schlockmeister of the ’50s and the most famous “gimmick” director in Hollywood, William Castle was a dependable director of one-hour programmers, including several Whistler and Crime Doctor pictures. Mysterious Intruder is a tight, entertaining ride that features plenty of twists and turns, as well as one of my favorite plot conceits, the private dick who constantly contaminates crime scenes and tampers with evidence for his own purposes, all while staying one step ahead of the police.

Tarzan and the Amazons (April 29, 1945)

TarzanAmazonsOn August 8, 1944, The Hollywood Reporter announced that director Kurt Neumann was looking for 48 athletic, six-feet tall women to portray Amazons in the next Tarzan movie.

He found ’em. Tarzan and the Amazons is the ninth film that stars Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan. While it’s far from the best of the series, the Amazons really are something else. If you like sexy, tough women who can kick a little ass, this is the movie for you. Sure, there are a few butterfaces in the bunch, but mostly it’s like watching dozens of stunt doubles for Wonder Woman stand around looking sultry before they break into action. And I don’t think the group’s collective resemblance to Wonder Woman is accidental.

Wonder Woman made her debut in All Star Comics in December 1941, and by 1942 was a well-established character. Wonder Woman may have been what most Americans thought of in 1945 when they thought of an “Amazon,” since the metal tiaras, metal wrist- and armbands, gladiator sandals, and above-the-knee skirts look as if they owe more to DC Comics than they do to classical Hellenic representations of Amazon warriors. (Although the warrior women in Tarzan and the Amazons are more partial to leopard print than Wonder Woman ever was.)

Apparently producer Sol Lesser’s previous Tarzan film, Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943), had been unpopular with both critics and audiences, so he brought back the character of Jane, who had been absent from the last few Tarzan movies. The dark-haired, petite Maureen O’Sullivan, who had played Jane opposite Weissmuller in his first six Tarzan films, did not return for the role. Instead, Jane was played by Brenda Joyce, a sexy blonde and former model who looks nothing like O’Sullivan. (It’s explained in this film that Jane was performing nursing work in England during World War II.) Joyce would go on to play Jane in four more Tarzan movies, three with Weissmuller and one with Lex Barker. Also, the dependable Johnny Sheffield makes his sixth appearance as “Boy.” I think the introduction of Boy in the fourth Weissmuller Tarzan film, Tarzan Finds a Son (1939) marked a downturn in the series, but his scenes with Tarzan’s chimp companion Cheeta are pretty cute. He also can handle a bow and arrow, and when he dives into the water, it looks as if he’s been taking a few lessons from Weissmuller, who was an Olympic swimming champion.

The plot of Tarzan and the Amazons kicks into gear when an Amazon hunter named Athena (played by Shirley O’Hara) is attacked by a panther. Tarzan saves her, but in the course of the attack one of her golden bracelets falls off. Cheeta finds it and gives it to Jane as a gift. A group of explorers see the bracelet and convince Boy to lead them to the secret world of the Amazons. A child raised by Tarzan really should know better, but I suppose there wouldn’t be a movie here if Boy didn’t do something dopey. Tarzan gets to show off his sage side, however, when Boy asks him why he refuses to lead the scientists and explorers to the Amazons’ land himself. “Not good for man to look straight into sun,” Tarzan says. “What’s the sun got to do with it?” Boy asks, to which Tarzan responds, “Sun like gold. Too much sun make people blind.” So perhaps Boy’s actions are not so much dopey as they are an attempt to defy his adoptive father and his raised-by-apes-but-strangely-Confucian wisdom.

The inevitable violent clash between cultures is done well, even though the RKO Tarzan pictures never had the budgets of the earlier and more prestigious MGM productions. Also, if you watch carefully, you’ll see the same few Amazons firing arrows in shot after shot, since apparently only a few of the towering “glamazons” cast by the producers could convincingly handle a bow and arrows.

Weissmuller wasn’t the first actor to play Tarzan, but he was by far the most successful and may still be the most well-known. By 1945, however, he was no longer the trim, leonine lord of the jungle seen in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934). If you’ve never seen Weissmuller in action, those two are the ones to see. Aside from the fact that they’re great, albeit dated, adventure pictures, watched in succession the two films offer the pleasure of seeing O’Sullivan’s Jane transform from a prim, fully clothed Englishwoman into a scantily clad lover of the jungle god, living with him in the treetops, swinging from vines, and swimming in the nude. In fact, Tarzan and His Mate would be the last film in which O’Sullivan appeared in such states of undress. By the third Weissmuller film, Tarzan Escapes! (1936), O’Sullivan’s skimpy two-piece costume became a more concealing one-piece outfit, and she even started wearing shoes. By the fourth film in the series, the two adopted a son and lived together in a jungle tree house as a family unit, which satisfied bourgeois sensibilities, but wasn’t nearly as sexy or exciting as when it was just the two of them, fighting wild animals and bad guys in between outdoor lovemaking sessions.