Adventures of Captain Africa, Mighty Jungle Avenger! (1955)

Adventures of Captain Africa (1955)‘Well, we’ve got you, and now we’ll finish the great Captain Africa. You were fools to try and fight our great world organisation!’

A big game hunter teams up with a government agent to investigate a series of suspicious accidents. In the nearby jungle, the native tribes worship Captain Africa, a mysterious, masked white man who fights for truth and justice. Together, they become involved in a mission to restore a deposed caliph to his rightful throne.

One of the last of the movie serials comes courtesy of Columbia studios and some all-to familiar names. Producing is the legendary scrooge Sam Katzman, Spencer Gordon Bennet is in the director’s chair and the script was by George H Plympton, who had spent almost a quarter of a century delivering such Saturday morning thrills. Initially, Katzman intended this 15-episode white-knuckler as a sequel to box-office hit ‘The Phantom’ (1943). After all, lots of the old action scenes, fights and stunts could be seamlessly matched with new footage of star John Hart in the old Phantom costume.

But all did not go to plan. Filming was already well advanced when it turned out that the studio’s rights to use the character had expired. In a shocking development, Katzman’s negotiations with the copyright owners did not go well (they probably wanted money or something). However, such a problem were a mere bagatelle to our penny-pinching hero! The script was quickly rewritten so footage from other old serials could be used, retakes were ordered (how that must have hurt!), and Katzman put Hart in riding britches and jammed a flying helmet on his head sometimes. And so, with one mighty bound, Captain Africa was born, heroically rushing through the jungle one step ahead of an angry tribe of copyright lawyers.

Inevitably, the final product is not very good. Great white hunter Bob Osborne is concerned about sabotage at his compound. He has a pretty fine collection of tigers (perhaps they got lost on the way home from the pub!) and they have a regrettable habit of getting out of their cages and bothering the help. Government agent Ted (Rick Vallin) suspects something is going on and the two of them spend an awful lot of Chapter One talking it over. These chats allow for lengthy clips from ‘Jungle Menace’ (1937) and ‘The Desert Hawk’ (1944), as well as a few shots from ‘The Phantom’ (1943) of course. There’s a sequence of a shipwreck (for some reason) and a fight with swords between desert tribesmen. Shamelessly, that fight also crops up in Chapter Two, courtesy of a different flashback story being told by a different character!

But we have to get used to Ted’s company as we spend most of the episodes running around with him as he rocks a striped bed-sheet and saves hopeless Princess Rhoda (June Howard) from various bands of outlaws and agents of evil. Yes, it’s just an endless series of captures and escapes, and the main villain never actually appears! And they wouldn’t have had to use another actor either as he’s the twin brother of the deposed sovereign! But no, obviously that would have been too difficult (trick photography is just so expensive!) so we’re served up one fight after another with faceless minions. Additionally, the ‘agents of a foreign power’ are apparently led by someone called Boris. Can I identify him from the few dialogue exchanges that these villains have between them? No. I couldn’t. Perhaps I should have tried harder.

Captain Africa does actually show up every now and then, but often seems to be a guest star in his own serial. He does make a couple of exciting last ditch escapes though, as he wakes up beneath a descending portcullis (he rolls out of the way) and a speeding boulder (he steps to one side). His tactics mostly consist of running up to various stunt players and belting them one, although he does create a couple of stock footage explosions by throwing things. Actually Hart had replaced Clayton Moore as TV’s ‘The Lone Ranger’ a couple of years earlier. Unfortunately, the change didn’t sit well with fans of the show and Moore was re-hired the following season.

Adventures of Captain Africa (1955)

‘No, I don’t remember when Professor Zorgman’s giant robot hijacked the space rocket carrying the secret doo-dad. I wasn’t in Chapter 6.’

To save money, serials often had a ‘recap’ episode where characters would simply sit around and say things like ‘do you remember when the gang almost got their hands on the meteorite element at the mine? or ‘yes, wasn’t that when they tried to dynamite the bridge/derail the train/bomb the factory/kidnap the professor’s daughter, etc, etc.?’ Obviously, this allowed for the replay of a few scenes from previous episodes. But a single ‘recap’ episode simply wasn’t enough for the thrifty Katzman! In this serial, there are four!

To be fair to our favourite skinflint producer and his colleagues, obviously the radical rethink that proved necessary mid-production must have affected the quality of the final product but, predictably enough, the results are really wretched stuff. Only four more movie serials were made after it, as shrinking budgets, tired plots and endless repetition had put them on the ropes as early as the end of the 1940s.

And, of course, the arrival of television proved to be the final cliffhanger that no square-jawed serial hero could hope to escape.

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End of the World/La Fin Du Monde (1931)

La Fin Du Monde (1931)‘Please summon our mother to the asylum.’

Disgusted by the modern world, a famous astronomer retires to an observatory in the frozen wastes. He is forced to reconnect with society when he discovers a comet on a collision course for Earth. The news causes massive panic, and unscrupulous financiers seek to use the situation to their own advantage…

Abel Gance was a highly successful French filmmaker of the 1920s, whose modern reputation rests largely on silent epic ‘Napoleon’ (1927), a film so vast in scope that it required special projection equipment and a custom-made screen to show it. Nowadays, it’s a recognised classic, partly due to the director’s use of close ups and dolly shots; common film grammar now, of course, but almost unknown in the silent era. He even shot some scenes in colour and 3-D, although they were discarded later. Not surprisingly, the special screening arrangements prevented any commercial success on the continent and, on release in America, it was cut down considerably from its original running time of over 5 hours(!) and flopped. Hard. The upshot of all this was that, by the early 1930s, Gance no longer had the creative freedom he had enjoyed in his heyday, and that may go to explain this well-meaning but rather lifeless project.

This tale of the coming apocalypse focuses on the Novalik brothers; Martial (Victor Francen), a Nobel-prize winning stargazer and Jean (played by Gance himself) an aesthete and philosopher. Martial has achieved world renown but Jean prefers to live anonymously in poverty. He rejects the love of pretty blonde society gal Genevieve (Colette Darfeuil) because he knows that he is ‘born to suffer’ on behalf of mankind; something that provokes much staring off into the distance while looking vaguely constipated. Unfortunately, Darfeuil gets into the crosshairs of dastardly arms manufacturer Schomberg (Samson Fainsilber).

This is a curious, and rather dated story. On the plus side, Gance does not skimp on the concluding spectacle, and the mendacious behaviour of the authorities and big business ring all too true. Where the film fails is in the personal stories of its main protagonists. The self-sacrificing Jean is a ridiculously messianic figure; playing Jesus on the cross in a passion play, lying on his sick bed surrounded by white doves, and being stoned in the street when he tries to help a child. The fact that the director chose to cast himself in the role is an interesting choice, to say the least!

‘I say, Cecily’s garden parties are really wizard, what!’

Elsewhere, the other main characters are one note; Francen the dedicated scientist, Fainsilber the dedicated capitalist, but there is one notable exception: Darfeuil’s apparent heroine. Hers is a problematic role. At first, she is dedicated to Gance’s martyr-in-waiting, vowing to wait for him even after he rejects her. Shortly after that, though, she’s flirting with Fainsilber at ritzy parties, much to the joy of her ambitious father (Jean D’Yd).

After one such encounter, he forces himself on her, and her father advocates she marry him to save the family from being disgraced! Not surprisingly, she runs away to join Team Francen and help in their efforts to get the word out about the upcoming Armageddon and prepare a new world for whoever might survive. This decision is reinforced by a vision of Gance on the cross. However, she soon gets bored with all that pesky office work, and runs back to rapist Fainsilber instead! Then she betrays him to Francen as the comet approaches! Women, eh? Just can’t make up their minds!

What also won’t sit too well with a modern audience is the slow pacing and some of the performances, which are ridiculously melodramatic at times. Similarly, some of Gance’s filmmaking techniques, although highly innovative at the time, now appear a little forced and crude. The climactic scenes are also of their time; there’s lots of drinking as the final hours approach but not nearly as much fornication as you would expect. Still, it was 1931, l suppose.

A seriously dated spectacle, with undoubted historical value but offering little in the way of entertainment.

James Tont: Operazione U.N.O./Goldsinger (1965)

James Tont Operation UNO (1965)‘Barbara, if you hadn’t sent that mouse when you did, I wouldn’t be a man anymore; l’d be a hamburger.’

A secret agent who has problems keeping his mind on the job chases down a vital roll of microfilm, only to find it contains no information, just musical notes. As he struggles to decode the message by listening to various lounge singers, a sinister villain targets the United Nations on behalf of an aggressive foreign power.

Italian EuroSpy parody that finds Lando Buzzanca as this week’s ‘Tont On A Budget’, running around the glamorous capital cities of the world at a pace to make even the most enthusiastic film editor’s head spin. Along the way he tangles with the obligatory elements of guns, gadgets and girls, but mostly girls. He also encounters a talking mouse.

Opening with a song that should get every copyright lawyer in the world reaching for a lawsuit, it’s clear from the get-go that we’re in very broad comedy territory. Buzzanca is the cleverly named Agent 007 and a half, who is in trouble with his controller because he’s more interested in getting his hands on the fairer sex than on that missing microfilm. Turning into a surgeon to perform the necessary operation to retrieve his prize from the body of an enemy agent(!), Buzzanca finds the message coded in musical notes, and has to spend a lot of time hanging around nightclubs and listening to horrible songs to decode it. As this tends to involve one gorgeous euro-babe after another, it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make.

It involves a bewildering travelling schedule too; taking in Las Vegas, Miami, Hong Kong, and several major cities, although l am unconvinced the production visited many of them (or even more than one!) ln other developments, Buzzanca flirts shamelessly with Miss Lollypop back at HQ, eye drops and sunglasses give him x-ray vision, and at one point his body ends up covered in gold paint, a bit like actress Shirley Eaton in some other, slightly better known film whose title escapes me at the moment. Our villains are Goldsinger (Loris Gizzi) and his bowler-hatted henchman Kayo (George Wang) and, as well as the title song, more of the musical soundtrack flirts cheerfully with dire legal consequences.

James Tont Operation UNO (1965)

‘But I ordered the Aston Martin…’

As you may have gathered, none of this to be taken remotely seriously, but the film aims for a wacky sensibility that it never really delivers, instead settling for boring, predictable jokes and half-assed physical gags. So, rather than knowingly winking at the audience with a sly grin, instead it chooses to hit them constantly over the head with one heavy blunt object after another.

On the plus side, there is a high speed car chase with some excellent stunt driving. It’s rather a good sequence, but seems to have wandered in from another movie entirely. Interestingly enough, Buzzanca’s little Fiat does turn into a submarine at one point, predating a certain Lotus driven by Roger Moore in some other spy movie I vaguely remember that was made a dozen years later. His car also boasts a telephone and a TV, although this does seem to be stuck on a channel that shows endless rejected entries for the Eurovision Song Contest.

The directors here were Bruno Corbucci (brother of the more successful Sergio) and Giovanni Grimaldi. Both had long careers in Italian cinema, almost exclusively in comedy (which is a bit hard to believe!), although Grimaldi also penned thriller ‘Web of the Spider’ (1971). Lovely co-star Evi Marandi also appeared in the much better EuroSpy ‘From The Orient With Fury’ (1965), as well as Mario Bava’s ‘Planet of the Vampires’ (1965) and bargain-basement doodle ‘Goldface, The Amazing Superman’ (1967). Here, she continually resists Buzzanca’s oily charms, but can she hold out until the final credits? I think you already know the answer to that one.

Comedy sometimes doesn’t cross national boundaries, and this would seem to be a prime example of that. It was successful enough domestically to get a swift sequel.

The Rat Savior (1976)

The Rat Savior (1976)‘The rat, a cunning and dark creature, can control the human mind.’

The economy of a small Croatian town has collapsed; leaving the population without work and starving. A struggling writer is evicted from his rooms and forced to take shelter in the abandoned Central Bank. The other occupants of the building turn out to be a pack of rats, who have learnt how to take human form and plan to take over…

Distinctly odd horror-science fiction piece from Croatian director Kristo Papié that may have been intended as much as political commentary as entertainment. After all, the early 1970s were a turbulent period in the then Social Republic of Yugoslavia. The Croatian people had always been concerned by what they perceived as disproportionate Serbian influence in matter of state, and this had prompted the growth of the powerful ‘Croatian Spring’ political movement of the period. More autonomy was eventually granted to the country’s federal units by a change to the country’s constitution in 1974, although this meant a weakened centralised government. President Tito was able to hold things together until his death in 1980, but, after that, the Republic began to disintegrate, eventually breaking apart completely after the bloody conflict of the 1990s.

Here, we join the action on the streets of an unnamed, small Croatian town, where the population are on its knees. There are no jobs, no money and even the shopkeepers are closing up and taking government service. Writer lvica Vidovic can’t get his latest novel into print, as his publisher is more concerned with the dilapidated condition of his offices, and he’s thrown out by his landlady after he can’t pay the rent. Taking refuge in the ruins of the derelict bank, he witnesses a banquet attended by strange-looking people who dance and gorge on fancy food. The local police don’t believe him as there no evidence when they return to the scene. Vidovic teams up with Professor Fabijan Sovagovic and daughter Mirjana Majurec to investigate, and they discover that the strangers are actually rats, who have taken on human form and have already infiltrated many public and civic offices…

The Rat Savior (1976)

His experiments with home-brew were a bit hit and miss…

Taken at face value, we have an off the wall update of Don Siegel’s ‘Invasion of the Bodysnatchers’ (1956) with the rats simply taking the place of pod people. Similarly, the rats are able to duplicate exactly the appearance of any individual, a power apparently granted by the title character, a shadowy, mysterious presence who may possibly have been intended to represent President Tito.

After all, we’re told that if the Savior’s dies, his followers will lose all their powers and return to their normal form. Something that was paralleled to some extent by the historical events that followed the President’s actual demise. lt certainly seems likely that the rat’s behaviour was supposed to reflect that of the Serbians, who were certainly perceived as enjoying a far higher standard of living than that in Croatia at the time. Ironically, the Serbians believed the exact opposite of all this by the mid-1980s.

Leaving aside the political subtext, the film itself is a little bit of a mixed bag. On the plus side, Papié’s use of a washed-out colour palette to capture a community on the brink of collapse is highly effective, and there are committed performances from the cast. However, the story is a little disjointed in places, and never develops in a way that truly grips an audience. The human/rat makeup is also a little weak, just some hairy eyebrows and buck teeth, and it lends proceedings a touch of comedy that may have been unintentional.

This is a film very much of its time and place, and, no doubt contains many unique subtleties that can’t be fully appreciated by a modern audience not familiar with the history of the country concerned. A poll of Croatian critics voted it as still one of their nation’s Top 20 films as recently as the 1990s.

An unusual piece of work that doesn’t really cross the boundaries of nations and decades.

Too Soon To Love/Teenage Lovers (1960)

Teenage_Lovers_Too_Soon_To_Love_(1960)‘Just yesterday she was playing with dolls…and now she’s playing with emotional dynamite!’

A group of teenagers get into trouble at a local fairground, but one of the hell raisers returns to cover for a quiet, bookish girl when she is stopped by the police. An unlikely romance develops, but her increasingly active social life does not meet with the approval of her strict family…

To a modern audience, this exploitation flick revolving around an unwanted teen pregnancy may seem more than a little quaint, even melodramatic when hormone-fuelled hero Richard Evans resorts to burglary to pay for his teen-lover’s illegal abortion. But it’s important to remember when the film was made, the attitudes of society back then and the stigma surrounding children born out of wedlock.

Indeed, we really are in a long lost world here; a teen-centric playground of drive-in’s, malt shops, car hops, rumbles and white-walled tyres, all undercut with the apparent threat of violent delinquency. The film opens on the local boardwalk where a gang of teens are running riot. Well, they hijack one of the rides anyway, and that’s no surprise when you realise the main instigator is a grinning Jack Nicholson! Yes, there’s already a touch of the devil in him, even in just his fifth screen appearance. Good girl Jennifer West is too dopey to realise what’s going on and is snagged by The Man, until handsome Richard Evans’ line of smart talk defuses the situation. Even so, by today’s standards, this example of juvenile delinquency would barely qualify as horseplay.

After that, the two start an on-off romance, cemented when Our Jack gets a bit hands on with West in the back of her friend’s car, and Evans gets a good kicking for interfering. Sadly, that’s the end of Jack’s involvement in the movie with barely a quarter of an hour gone. From there on, we’re focused almost exclusively on Evans and West as their romance develops, much to the disapproval of her straight-laced father Warren Parker. Things start going bad for our golden couple when they are arrested for necking in his car in the woods (‘We try not to encourage that sort of thing’ says The Man) and Parker slugs Evans when he tries to explain. One night, West sneaks out and the two go to the beach but the moment she lies back and disappears out of shot, quickly followed by Evans, we know exactly where things are heading. Especially when her white scarf flies off and lands in the ocean (symbolism alert!)

Teenage_Lovers_Too_Soon_To_Love_(1960)

‘Most people don’t like to go to the dentist but I rather enjoy it myself.’

This is all fairly familiar territory, of course, with the usual crop of adults playing teens; Evans being in his mid-twenties at the time of filming. But all is not quite as it seems. Instead of condemning our leading couple for their sins, the film paints the adults as the real villains of the-piece. Parker is a self-righteous, judgemental, violent control freak hidden behind horn rimmed glasses and a respectable suit. He has stubbornly refused to move with the times, expecting standards of behaviour that belong to a society that is already passing away with his generation. Ultimately, his inflexibility (and that of society as a whole) is pushing the younger generation in the very direction that they are so quick to condemn.

Debut director Richard Rush also co-authored the screenplay and it’s no surprise that he went on to helm bigger films such as ‘Getting Straight’ (1970), ‘Freebie and the Bean’ (1974) and ‘The Stunt Man’ (1980). His work here in both departments is definitely a cut above this kind of low-budget b-picture. In particular, an almost wordless sequence where Evans and West visit a backstreet abortion clinic is gritty, and shot with a strangely poetic realism.

Co-author Laszlo Gorog did not climb so high, though. His best known work was already behind him; science fiction cult ‘classic’ ‘The Mole People’ (1956), lightweight ‘Jurassic’ forefather ‘The Land Unknown’ (1957) and Bert I Gordon’s appalling ‘Earth Vs. The Spider’ (1958). West only had a couple of more acting gigs, but Evans made acting his career, most famously with a featured role on hit TV show ‘Peyton Place.’

On the surface a generic, bottom of the bill ‘torn from the headlines’ programmer, but not far beneath the surface is a quiet plea for greater understanding and a better level of communication between generations.

Pygmy Island (1950)

Pygmy Island (1950)‘Sometimes white lady talk, Makuba no understand.’

After some local trouble involving the appearance of supposedly supernatural ‘Bush Devils’, Jungle Jim comes across the dog tags of a missing army captain and a native lasso of unusual manufacture. When he sends the items to Washington, an army unit are dispatched to investigate and Jim is drawn into a conflict involving a lost tribe and some enemy agents…

Johnny Weismuller’s fifth outing as a middle-aged Tarzan in a safari suit sees the big lug in a tussle over the Nagoma plant, a previously unknown piece pf greenery that makes fireproof rope with incredible tensile strength. Well, it makes a change from fabulous diamonds, I suppose. On this outing, he’s assisted by Tamba the chimp, replacing annoying crow Caw-Caw and cute pooch Skipper, these household pets presumably having finally met their makers after surviving four movies roaming a jungle filled with some of the deadliest predators in the world.

Proceedings open with the usual five minutes’ worth of solid exposition. Spinning headlines tell us: ‘Army Captain Vanishes’ (obviously a slow news day at the ‘Evening Dispatch’!) and a radio announcer explains that Captain Kingsley has vanished in Africa while on a confidential mission (not all that confidential then). Pentagon bigwigs convene at The Bureau of Strategic Materials, probably the most convincing public office since Boris Karloff headed up the ‘Department of Queer Complaints’ as Col. March of Scotland Yard.  But no matter! The boffins decide that the lasso sent by Jim has considerable military potential and send a unit to the jungle to acquire the plant its made from, with Jim joining as a guide. Actually, his role is mostly to ‘go and have a look around’ and solve all the problems, while the soldiers flounder in his wake, making camp and presumably digging latrines.

It quickly turns out that the missing Kingsley is – gasp! – a woman (Ann Savage), but thankfully we don’t get a lot of the usual sexist rubbish for once. Ok, she needs saving by Jim on one occasion and stays out of the fighting, but she’s presented as professional, business-like and she’s not handed a tiresome romantic subplot with clean-cut army major David Bruce. Our heroes are pitted against the gang of Leon Marko, the apparently friendly white man who runs the local trading post (and no, it’s not a spoiler— in the world of Jungle Jim, white men who run trading posts are never to be trusted!)

Swinging the scales in the favour of the angels, however, are the lost tribe of the title. Rather against expectations, they turn out to be a band of white men and women in cheap black wigs led by Billy Curtis, the Munchkin in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939) who allegedly made off-screen passes at Judy Garland! He also starred in dreadful ‘midget western’ ‘The Terror of Tiny Town’ (1938) and appeared in later series entry ‘Jungle Moon Men’ (1955). Actually, he appears a lot happier here as, despite the idiotic dialogue and his ridiculous hairpiece, he gets to be the hero and save the day on more than one occasion. It’s refreshing to see his character portrayed in a positive way, rather than just as some cheap comic relief. He’s probably best-remembered now as Mordechai in the Clint Eastwood classic ‘High Plains Drifter’ (1973).

Pygmy Island (1950)

The casting call for Madonna’s new video was very popular.

Elsewhere in the cast, Savage starred in classic low-budget film noir ‘Detour’ (1945), and lesser known thrillers such as ‘The Spider’ (1945), and ‘The Last Crooked Mile’ (1946). One of the heavies is Tris Coffin, who famously donned the ‘Commando Cody’ flying suit as the ‘King of the Rocket Men’ (1949). Bruce appeared in the title role of horror quickie ‘The Mad Ghoul’ (1943), one of the weakest offerings from Universal’s (usually) highly dependable b-movie unit.

Probably the film’s most famous scene finds Weismuller facing off against a gorilla on a rope bridge over a canyon. It’s highly reminiscent of a scene from Stephen Spielberg’s ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981), if by ‘highly’ you mean ‘extremely vaguely’. Aficionados of these kind of films could be forgiven for believing this simian adversary to be our old friend Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan, but apparently it’s not! In the late 1940s, Crash sold one of his ape costumes, and it’s Hollywood bartender Steve Calvert who appears here. The two even starred together in ‘Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla’ (1952). But even if he didn’t appear in front of the camera, Corrigan was still involved in this production. Some of it was shot on location at his ranch!

This conveyor belt effort was produced by no-budget ‘auteur’ Sam Katzman, and directed by William Berke, who delivered another half dozen in the series. The writer was Carrol Young, who has a total of 20 film credits. There were five Tarzan pictures, seven with Jungle Jim and one starring Bomba, the Jungle Boy. Even one of his other seven pictures was ‘The Jungle’ (1952), with Rod Cameron and Marie Winsor!

Formulaic stuff then, but at least the ‘pygmy island’ is different from all the numerous lost cities Jim tripped over in the course of the series. Or it would be if it ever appeared. All of the action takes place in the jungle instead. Not an island in sight!

Loose In London (1953)

Loose In London (1953)‘Tally ho! Tally ho! After the gallant fox! Yoikes! After the little beggar, by gad!’

A badly ill English nobleman summons his relatives to his side so he can decide how to divide his wealth when he dies. One invite goes to a young man in New York, who brings his friends across the pond to visit the ancestral home of his forefathers. However, on the first night, he gets a frosty reception from the English upper classes and he is attacked by the ghost of the family executioner… . .

Sidney Kingsley’s play ‘Dead End’ about a group of kids growing up in the poor part of New York City was a massive hit on Broadway after opening in 1935. When Hollywood film director William Wyler set about casting a film adaptation, he was unable to find the correct talent locally and so hired half a dozen of the original theatrical cast, including Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall, signing them to two year contracts. However, by all accounts, the boys misbehaved so badly on set that their contracts were immediately sold on to Warner Brothers.

There they made 6 films as the ‘Dead End Kids’, including the classic ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’ (1938) opposite James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. More hi-jinks on set led to them being loaned out to Universal as the ‘Little Tough Guys’ and eventually their contracts were sold on (again!), this time to Monogram where they became ‘The East Side Kids.’ A series of low-budget programmers followed, under the guidance of everyone’s favourite penny-pincher producer Sam Katzman. These include two features with horror icon Bela Lugosi: ‘Spooks Run Wild’ (1941) and ‘Ghosts On The Loose’ (1943), which also showcased the acting talents of a teenage Ava Gardner! When Katzman refused Gorcey’s request for a pay rise (surprise, surprise!), the actor quit and the series ended.

Forming their own film company, Gorcey and Hall rebranded themselves as ‘The Bowery Boys’ despite being in their mid to late 20’s by that time. A staggering 48 films followed in the space of the next 12 years! Many ‘kids’ had come and gone over the years, of course, and the ‘Boys’ also had a revolving door approach to gang recruitment. By 1953, it was Leo’s brother David and Bennie Bartlett making up the numbers, both engaged in the important duty of standing at the back and propping up the scenery.

This entry finds our heroes involved in a typical ‘old dark house’ mystery firmly set in Merrie Old England, although they first have to negotiate an Atlantic crossing enlivened by accidental stowaway Louie, played by Leo’and David’s father, Bernard Gorcey. On arrival, they stop for an extensive sightseeing tour of Olde London Towne, provided courtesy of the local film library, a couple of cheap sets and some dodgy back projection. Arrival at the home of the Earl of Walsingham (Walter Kingsford), finds Hall making an immediate hit with the old man, but unpopular with his grasping relatives.

Yes, it’s the tired old ‘fish out of water‘ plot-line, but, to be fair to Hall, he does play it for all its’ worth. His clowning is good natured and enthusiastic but possibly may prove a little too much for some tastes! The only real wit and invention on display is some of Gorcey’s word play, which boasts a level of smarts the rest of the project doesn’t even approach. Both story development and jokes surprise only in their sheer predictability, with every time-worn cliché and pratfall trotted out for inspection. There isn’t even any real effort with the mystery either, as we know from the get go that the haunting is just the other relative’s device to try and get Hall out of the way.

Loose In London (1953)

‘Gadzooks! Forsooth! Yadda, yadda, yadda…’

Still, at least we are spared any awful mangling of the English accent as the vast majority of the supporting cast are British ex-pats working in Hollywood. It’s a harmless enough film really, but is nothing more than a bottom of the bill entry knocked out on the cheap in the quickest time possible. No real effort made to do anything but the obvious, and a British audience in particular may find the reinforcement of national stereotypes rather tiresome.

Just for the record; very few of us have ever been fox hunting and most of us hate the whole idea. In fact, it’s illegal here now; not that it’s actually stopped happening or anyone who does it ever gets arrested or prosecuted. We drink more coffee than tea, it doesn’t rain all the time, we have perfectly good teeth (in a World Health Organisation report in 2015, the UK rated considerably higher for dental hygiene than the US for example) and very few of us live in ancestral halls that come complete with dungeons, suits of armour and a guillotine. Also quite a lot of us really don’t like the Royal Family. Mainly because they get a lot of our tax money which would be much better spent on public services, and more than one of the extended membership employs various tax avoidance schemes so they don’t have to pay a penny back into the country’s treasury themselves.

More tea, vicar?