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I have been a movie buff of B movies, westerns and serials for some time. I have also gotten to know people connected with the business. Bill Witney, Jennifer Holt, Peggy Stewart, Donna Martell, Adrian Booth, Barry and Nina Shipman. I also have collected a vast film research library to document certain films as to release date and company. For a while, I was a columnist for Classic Images, the film collectors newspaper.

The Hawk of Powder River - 1948

The Hawk of Powder RiverHawk of Powder River stars a personal Western favorite of mine, Jennifer Holt.

Jen and I were Scorpio brother and sister for about 10+ years. I only met her once in person, but we corresponded for a long while.

She always said that this was her favorite Western because she got to play the bad girl, and get rid of all frustrations of always being the good girl.

Actually she played the "bad girl" a second time in a Monogram Jimmy Wakely picture in 1948 called "Range Renegades." She is actually the leader of the gang but plays up to the sheriff's son, Riley Hill, in order to take advantage of him.

Where she dies in Hawk of Powder River during a gun battle (one of Eddie Dean's wild shots must have got her) she is simply captured by Jimmy Wakely as she tries to escape with a buckboard.

Lemme tell ya, when she was good, she was very good, but when she was bad...she was better. Jen had a sultry beauty about her which would have made her excellent for "the other woman" roles. She also had a beautiful singing voice which was not put to good use in the Westerns.

Love those still shots of her with that hairdo. Almost like Veronica Lake. Jen was very attractive and very stylish. You would never guess that she was a Western heroine.

Watch the movie: The Hawk of Powder River —»

Captain America - 1936

Captain AmericaThis was one of the serials Republic did not have the copyrights to so it was not included in the video revival of the Eighties.

It was re-released in 1953 as was the Captain Marvel serial as the Return of Captain Marvel. I believe one of the chapters even has that title card.

When I bought my video copy, it was not one of Republic Pictures Home Videos. In fact, the eighth chapter was linked first, with the remainder of the serial following. I had to make a whole new master copy.

Lorna Gray (Adrian Booth) was in it and told me a great story about how she was encased in this glass top, with hot ice representing the poison fumes.

Apparently she was almost overcome and they had a hell of a time getting the top of the case open. Such things happened on the set of these cliffhangers and made better stories than the script.

I did want to mention about your comment that the serial was shown before the main feature. I guess in some theaters it was, as I have heard, but in my old neighborhood theater, it was the last thing on the matinee.

It was the serial which brought the kids back every week. You couldn't always count on the theater running a western and if there were more than one theater in town, one theater might run Republics, one might run Universal and one might run Columbia.

You learned early where to spend your dime. A story about Dick Purcell which has come down through the years is that he suffered a heart attack shortly after making this movie due to the strenuous scenes he was required to do.

First off, Dale Van Sickle, the Republic stuntman, performed all the Captain's daring do stunts where Purcell, who was a little on the heavy side to be an action hero, played Grant Gardiner.

According to Purcell's IMDB, he made a few more films after Captain America and his heart attack occurred in the locker room of a golf club. Any golfer will tell you that carrying a heavy bag of clubs around eighteen holes on a hot day can be strenuous if you are not in good shape. So I would guess the golfing diid him in. Of course, it makes a better story if you know that he played Captain America in a serial.

Watch the movie: Captain America movie serial —»

Tell Your Children - 1936

Tell Your ChildrenTell Your Children (1936) was originally financed by a church group to alert parents of the dangers of smoking marijuana among young people.It was presented by a school principal telling a story in flashback to a group of parents. The film showed how smoking marijuana could turn a nice young man into a sex crazed maniac.

Dave O'Brien, who later would play Captain Midnight in a Columbia serial and co-star with James Newill and Tex Ritter, in a PRC western series, played a young man who fell under the influence of this narcotic. He appeared with his later wife, Dorothy Short, who would also be in the Captain Midnight serial.

Carlton Young, a familiar villain in Republic pictures, played the sleazy character who was trying to turn the high school kids into addicts.

The film is filled with titillating bits of boozing, wild partying and other things which parents of the Thirties were worried that their children would become involed.

Once it played the second and third run theaters, it was shelved until the Fifties when it was re-released as Reefer Madness or the Burning Question. It was even shown in high school health classes where the kids must have gotten a chuckle out of seeing the melodramatic actors and the vintage clothes.

In the Seventies, it became a cult film for midnight showings of kids who no doubt were puffing on the weed while they were watching the picture. It has achieved cult status as being the worst or second worst B picture next to Plan Nine from Outer Space. It should be viewed as a historical piece of social hysteria at a more innocent time.

Watch the movie: Tell Your Children —»

Up In The Air - 1940

Up in the Air"Up in the Air" was one of a mystery-comedy series produced by Monogram Pictures co-starring Frankie Darro and Mantan Moreland.

These second feature films were popular in neighborhood theaters for both while and black audiences. When this film or any film co-starring Mantan Moreland played in Harlem, his name was featured in bold type over Darro's.

The team worked well together as amateur detectives involved in some mystery. Darro had been a child star in silent Westerns, working with Tom Tyler and continued through the Thirties in B westerns and serials.

Now, In his twenties, he came off as a cockly juvenile, always trying to outsmart the cops while romancing the heroine.

In this film, which takes place in a radio studio, Lorna Gray (later to become Adrian Booth) is a singer who is mysteriously murdered during a broadcast.

Among the suspects are Marjorie Reynolds, who later co-starred with Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn, who gets a chance at stardom to replace Ms. Gray, and her old boyfriend Gordon Jones, who appears as a singing cowboy wanting to get on radio.

A look through the cast list shows many familiar credits connected with B westerns and even the opening few bars sound like the famous Rough Riders song. The cast includes Dennis Moore, Tristam Coffin (who ordinarily played villians and for a while appears to be a red herring), Dick Elliott (who played the mayor of Mayberry on Andy Griffith), director Howard Bretherton who directed several Hopalong Cassidys, Majorie Reynolds (who had appeared with Universal singing cowboy Bob Baker) Lorna Gray (Republic's Adrian Booth) who gets the chance to demonstrate her singing ability, and Gordon Jones who not only played the Green Hornet at Universal but later became Roy Rogers' sidekick in the Forties.

In a "blackface sketch" which today would be considered politically incorrect, Darro and Moreland recreate a double talk dialogue routine which Mantan would also do with his former vaudeville Ben Carter in a Charlie Chan feature.

Moreland shows why he was popular with both white and black audiences as he does a humorous tap dance routine from his vaudeville days. These Monogram films. made at a time when racial humor was done in fun and not meant to be cruel, are good examples of B movie entertainment.

Watch the movie: Up in the Air —»

Detour - 1945

Detour"Detour" was released by PRC in 1945 and has been called a good example of film noir as well as the best B picture ever made.

It most certainly was the best PRC film ever made and could have easily been made by Monogram since the actors had appeared in Monogram features.

Claudia Drake, Tom Neal's girlfriend, appeared in a Johnny Mack Brown western as a saloon dancehall girl who sang no doubt.

Ann Savage had appeared in Monogram features. I had never seen her before but this part was tailored for her. The only other person who could have played the role convincingly was Tom Neal's real life girlfriend Barbara Payton.

Surely you have heard the story of their tumultuous relationship.

At one point, Payton was dating Franchot Tone. Coming home from a date one night, Neal caught them together and beat the crap out of Tone. Neal was a former Golden Gloves champion so his fists were technically lethal weapons.

Bill Witney described Tom Neal in his book as a "miniature Clark Gable." Neal made two serials, "Jungle Girl" at Republic and "Bruce Gentry" at Columbia.

He did have a small mustache but not in "Detour". In fact, in some shots his profile reminded me a bit of Howard Duff.

In those scenes where he is arguing with Ann Savage, I'm sure he thought that the dialogue was very familiar. It was the same as he might have used on Barbara Payton.

The plot of how he got involved with Charles Haskell dying by accident and covering up only to become involved with Vera and her accidental death reminds me a bit of the Whistler radio show plots.

In one scene where he pulls up to the gas station, where he meets Vera, I was trying to freeze frame the screen to see what type of gasoline he used. I'll bet it was Signal Oil since that was a West Coast gasoline and sponsored the Whistler on radio.

This was a good film and one that you wouldn't mind seeing over again.

Watch the movie: Detour —»

The Scarlet Clue - 1945

The Scarlet ClueJust finishing watching Charlie Chan and the Scarlet Clue

Released in May, 1945, the story takes place in a broadcasting building where both radio and TV programs are produced. Important papers on radar equipment have been stolen and Chan tries to find out who the mysterious criminal is.

A sinster figure in a black cloak and horror mask is shown skulking around who uses a trap door in an elevator to eliminate those who might reveal his identity.

Ordinarily I am not a big Chan fan, but these were very popular B Monogram features that played at neighborhood theaters often with a Western.

I recall reading about the trap door in the elevator and wanted to see it. Reminds me of Port of Forty Thieves where Stephanie Batchelor rigs an elevator to send a cohort to his death.

Watch the movie: The Scarlet Clue —»

Loaded Pistols - 1948

Loaded PistolsYour print of "Loaded Pistols" a Gene Autry 1949 film from Columbia contains the scene at the beginning where Russell Arms is implicated in a murder during a blackout of a poker game. For years, this scene was edited out and the film starts with Gene riding on Champion singing the song.

Loaded Pistols was a pop tune made famous by Phil Harris, who also brought the Darktown Poker Club where he talks about having a "sharpened razor" to use if the cards aren't dealt his way. Russell Arms became one of the regulars on the Lucky Strike Hit Parade, although he doesn't sing in this picture.

Barbara Britton, who had made a few movies, became more popular as Pam North on "Mr. and Mrs. North.

Robert Shayne, who plays the villain, was best known as Inspector Henderson on "Superman."

Western veteran hero Jack Holt was doing character roles about this time. He once had been a popular B movie hero at Columbia in the early Thirties.

Filmed in black and white, rather than Cinecolor, this Autry production proved popular with his fans with the right amount of action and music. Autry often used pop tunes of the day to feature in his films and usually they were tied in with his recordings so that music shops carrying his records could help promote the film.

Chill Wills, who became the voice of "Francis the Talking Mule" fills in as Gene's comedy relief as Smiley Burnette was working in the Durango Kid series and Pat Buttram, Gene's Melody Ranch sidekick, had not yet been brought into his pictures.

Watch the movie: Loaded Pistols —»

Bride of the Gorilla - 1951

Bride of the Gorilla"Bride of the Gorilla" sounds like a fitting title for an Ed Wood cheapie, but actually the plot isn't too bad, blending voodoo with horror.

Raymond Burr stars as a plantation manager in love with Barbara Payton, who is married to an older man (Paul Cavanaugh).

Burr is shown as a violent, letchous man who throws over a native girl who is in love with him. Her aged mother puts a curse on Burr to change him into a gorilla.

A Jack Broder production, Bride of the Gorilla was released through Realart which had acquired the B series library from Universal when they had discontinued their B production.

Realart released these Universal films under their own banner as double features as well as producing ones of their own.

Raymond Burr was doing villainous parts at this time as he had not yet acquired his law degree as TV's Perry Mason.

Ms. Payton was enjoying a certain notoriety as the girlfriend of Tom Neal in a torrid relationship that kept the tabloids in circulation.

Tom Conway, familiar to detective film fans as the Falcon, makes an appearance as the doctor who tries to solve the mystery of Burr's irratic behavior.

Burr's transformation into the gorilla is shown in a few scenes where his hands get larger and grow hair.

Steve Calvert is listed in the credits for playing the gorilla. Apparently Ray Corrigan wasn't available. Bride of the Monster wont keep you on the edge of your seat, but it is an entertaining way to spend an hour

Watch the movie: Bride of the Gorilla —»

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