Captive Girl (1950)

Captive Girl (1950)‘Speak or you die! Where is she-devil?’

Jungle Jim is recruited by the local authorities to find a mysterious white girl who has been seen in a remote part of the jungle. Allegedly, she is accompanied by a tiger and has been terrorising the witchdoctor of a local tribe, whose young chief is returning home after being educated in America.

It’s Tarzan vs. Flash Gordon as Johnny Weismuller faces off against Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe in a ferocious fight to the death in a sweltering Jungle Hell where life is cheap and production values are even cheaper. Yes, it’s another trip to the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanical Gardens for the fourth in the ‘Jungle Jim’ series from legendary skinflint producer Sam Katzman, and, for anyone who has seen one of these pictures, this one holds no surprises whatsoever.

As usual, we begin with the story; a five minute exposition scene that tells us all that we need to know, and allows us to turn off our brains for the next 73 minutes. Our villain is evil witchdoctor Hakim (John Dehner from Staten Island) who is hunting jungle girl Anita Lhoest (from California) because she may have witnessed him murdering a couple of explorers many years earlier who may have been her parents. No prizes for guessing if that’s all true or not. Returning tribal chief Mahala (Rick Vallin from modern day Ukraine) is travelling into the jungle so he can turn his people from superstition to enlightenment. Weismuller is recruited to escort him back and to find the girl. Dastardly treasure hunter Crabbe is also in the area looking for the Lagoon of the Dead where Dehner has been sacrificing his victims.

So it’s business as usual with Weismuller accompanied on his journey by black bird Caw Caw and cute little dog Skipper, whose continued survival in the jungle is seriously impressive. We also get what seems to be an unofficial introduction to chimpanzee Tamba, who turns up from somewhere after a while and Weismuller calls by name. Although Lhoest has been evading everyone for years apparently, in the best Edgar Rice Burroughs tradition Weismuller finds her in less than ten minutes. Along the way, he gets to wrestle a crocodile again, although he keeps his shirt on this time around. But it is a nice echo of his Tarzan heyday.

Director William Berke had nine other pictures released the same year, including two more in this series; ‘Mark of the Gorilla’ (1950) and ‘Pygmy lsland’ (1950). ln fact, he ended up directing almost half of the 16 of Jungle Jim’s adventures. In a way, Crabbe’s presence in the picture is a pleasing one; as he’d already battled Weismuller in the big man’s only non-Jungle role, the bayou melodrama ‘Swamp Fire’ (1946). Also Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim were the only two significant creations of comic book artist Alex Raymond.

Captive Girl (1950)

‘What have I told you before about bringing back dead explorers?’

Rather strangely, we get the same repeated shot of Lhoest on a clifftop several times (no complaints from me, mind you) but she gets little screen time otherwise, most of which she spends skipping through the jungle. She doesn’t get all that much dialogue either, although what she has she handles well enough. I did wonder where she was getting her makeup done, though! These jungle girls always seem to be able to find a beauty parlour somewhere. On the debit side, both Dehner and Vallin play in blackface, something that would be rightly unacceptable now and must have looked pretty silly to audiences, even back in the more naive days of 1950.

Like Weismuller and Crabbe, Lhoest was a swimming champion who had beaten out a young Marilyn Monroe for the part of Daisy Mae in a big budget movie of ‘Lil Abner’. But that film was never made and this remains her only appearance on the silver screen. She certainly had the looks, with a dazzling smile and lively eyes, and filled out a two-piece tiger skin number in a very fetching way. But she preferred to devote her life to animal welfare, rather than acting.

At 73 minutes, this is actually one of the longest films of the series and boy, do those extra minutes drag. One of the dullest of Jim’s exploits and a seriously boring experience.

Jungle Jim (1948)

Jungle Jim (1948)‘You expected a man. People always do. l find it extremely annoying.’

Jungle Jim arranges a safari for a female scientist who is searching for a lost temple deep in the jungle and a tribe that may possess a cure for infant polio. Matters are complicated by a wandering photographer and the younger sister of Jim’s Head Man.

At the age of 44, Johnny Weismuller’s reign as the ‘King of the Jungle’ seemed to be over when he was let go by MGM after ‘Tarzan and the Mermaids’ (1948). But it was back to Africa (or the LA Botanical Gardens) almost immediately as his option was picked up by Columbia Studios, who starred him in a series of 16 pictures as ‘Jungle Jim’. This was essentially a less energetic version of the same character, he simply swapped his loincloth for a safari suit and traded in Cheetah for cute puppy Skipper and pet crow Caw Caw. Unfortunately, there was one major change; a tremendous dip in budget and production values, courtesy of notorious tightwad Sam Katzman.

Given the reduced circumstances, there is a lot less ambition on show than even the later MGM films possessed, and it’s evident right from this first film. Weismuller finds a dying native in the interior who is in possession of a golden vial covered in unknown hieroglyphics. Analysis of the contents brings lady scientist Virginia Grey, who is convinced of its miraculous medicinal properties. Weismuller takes her on safari to search for the legendary ‘lost temple’ that seems its likely source.

The plot is explained within the first five minutes, never develops any further, but was good enough to be used for most of the later entries in the series as well! Just how many ‘lost tribes’, ‘lost temples’ and ‘lost cities’ were there in the jungle just waiting for Weismuller to find? Lots, obviously. Strangely enough, there were always some diamonds/emeralds/gold or hidden art treasures lying about as well. And a gang of villainous white men intent on getting their hands on them.

Jungle Jim (1948)

‘Are we there yet?’

But there a couple of slight differences from the later films. For a start, there’s a lot more wildlife stock footage. We get an elephant stampede, lots of monkeys, prowling lions, the whole bit. This is a tell-tale sign of a cheap movie, of course, but its absence in the later films is curious. Was it actually cost-effective not to use library film as inserts? Hard to believe, but then it’s equally difficult to imagine Katzman passing up the chance of saving a few bucks here and there.

The other wrinkle is a half-baked romantic interest for Weismuller in the person of Head Man’s daughter, Zia (Lita Baron). Sure, it never develops beyond some mild flirtation on her part, but it’s something completely absent from subsequent productions.  The overall gender politics are just as tiresome as you’d expect with regard to Grey’s hard-ass scientist.  She starts off all business, of course, intent on proving herself as good as a man, but it’s not long before she’s screaming at a crocodile, falling down a slope, getting trapped by a tree root and being saved by Weismuller. It’s also good to see that a serious scientist always packs her bathing costume when going on safari, even if it leads to an encounter with a strange, tentacled beastie and another inevitable intervention by our muscle bound hero. Luckily, handsome George Reeves is lounging about taking a few holiday snaps, so there’s no obligation on Weismuller to get all gooey and romantic over her.

Grey was an actress who played second lead and supporting roles in some far bigger productions, notably ‘Another Thin Man’ (1939), ‘All That Heaven Allows’ (1955) and Samuel Fuller’s ‘The Naked Kiss’ (1964). Reeves became world famous as TV ‘Superman’ before his mysterious death in 1959. Baron’s exotic looks and dance moves got her roles of different ethnicities in pictures like ‘Bomba On Panther lsland’ (1949), ‘Savage Drums’ (1951) and ‘The Treasure of Pancho Villa’ (1955). She was actually Spanish.

The closing scene strongly suggests that our surviving heroes would return for future adventures, but in the end it was only Weismuller who came back. Along with Skipper and Caw Caw of course. But perhaps the others were well out of it. After all, it takes our heroes almost an hour of wandering about before they find the ‘lost temple’ and, by then, there’s very little of the picture left!

Rather a dull trip into the jungle of b-movies.

Mark of the Gorilla (1950)

Mark of the Gorilla (1950)‘There’s nothing cuter than a baby panther…before they get teeth.’

On his way to a game preserve, Jungle Jim receives a message from the warden. Only he finds it on a dead man. A few moments later, he rescues a mysterious woman from a rock-throwing gorilla. The warden is desperately ill with a strange fever and the combination of these unusual circumstances arouses Jim’s suspicions.

The third entry in Columbia’s ‘Jungle Jim’ series might be expected to possess greater quality than later entries in the series, but, for the most part, the standard was even throughout. After all, the 16 films were made over a fairly short period (eight years) and star Johnny Weismuller and producer Sam Katzman were ever present. It was true ‘production line’ formula entertainment with screenwriter Caroll Young a veteran of MGM’s ‘Tarzan’ series and director William Berke, who delivered the first in the series and the ever-so slightly similar ‘Zamba the Gorilla’ (1949).

The film opens with a five-minute montage of wildlife library footage, apparently solely to give actor Holmes Herbert the opportunity to explain how hunting works. In case the audience needed some clarification. Then we hit the trail with Jim and his first encounter with shady lady Suzanne Dalbert and that remarkably bad-tempered gorilla. Johnny persuades it to cease and desist by throwing a knife into its arm, quite a shot considering the distance involved! Johnny’s quite puzzled by the whole thing as ‘this is not gorilla country.’ Arriving at the warden’s HQ, he finds his old friend (Selmer Jackson) bedridden and delirious, his daughter (Trudy Marshall) anxious and worried, and a dodgy medico (Onslow Stevens, slumming it) in charge of the case. Natives are being constantly harassed by a couple of gorillas, which is strange, as ‘this is not gorilla country.’

The mystery isn’t allowed to perplex the audience for too long. Almost straightaway, we find that these pesky apes are actually Nazis in gorilla costumes! They are trying to keep the locals away as they recover gold hidden in the hills by the retreating German army at the end of World War ll. It’s a truly brilliant piece of camouflage actually, because, as may have already been mentioned, ‘this is not gorilla country.’ Johnny is assisted by cute dog Skipper (who doesn’t do very much) and tropical bird, Caw-Caw who doesn’t do very much either but makes a lot of noise doing it. Johnny wrestles with a leopard and a lion, exhibiting a good deal more animation than the animals involved and has everything wrapped up neatly in 70 minutes or so.

Mark of the Gorilla (1950)

Johnny was about to lose another game of hide and seek…

This is an entirely forgettable entry in the series; beyond the central conceit of the villain’s ridiculous plan, there’s nothing vaguely memorable about the script, performances or execution. Sadly, it’s not nearly as atrocious as 11th entry ‘Killer Ape’ (1951) or as halfway entertaining as supremely silly ‘Jungle Moon Men’ (1955), the penultimate film in the franchise.

 

And ‘franchise’ is an entirely appropriate word, because this is ‘bottom line’ filmmaking at its most basic. Get the product off the conveyor belt as quickly, cheaply and efficiently as possible, ensuring it ticks all the boxes for its target audience. Two other ‘Jungle Jim’ features made it into theatres before the end of the year: ‘Captive Girl’ (1950), again directed by Berke and co-starring another ex-Tarzan, Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe, and ‘Pygmy Island’ (1950), also directed by Berke! Given these were Sam Katzman productions, it’s probable they were all shot at the same time ‘back to back.’ After all, why spend a dollar when you can avoid it?

As the credits rolled, l couldn’t help being worried about Skipper though. He doesn’t appear in the later films in the series. lt’s hard to believe that a cute little dog has a very long life expectancy in the depths of the African jungle.

Bomba and the Hidden City (1950)

Bomba and the Hidden City (1950)‘Man try to catch Bomba. Man throw knife.’

An American photographer on assignment in the African jungle mounts an expedition to find a white jungle boy and bring him back to civilisation. The local Emir is also interested in finding the lad, but for far less altruistic reasons…

lf there ever was an actor who was a greater victim of typecasting than Johnny Sheffield, l would be hard pressed to name them. With only one bit part behind him, the 8 year old landed one of the title roles in ‘Tarzan Finds A Son’ (1939), the other featured player being Johnny Weismuller, of course. The picture was a runaway success and, after juvenile roles in 5 other films came and went, Sheffield returned to the series and barely left the jungle again for the remainder of his 21 film career.

First, there were seven more appearances as the adopted child of the King of the Jungle and his mate, Jane. He couldn’t be their natural offspring, of course, because they weren’t married (gasp!) By the time of the final entry in the series, the surprisingly interesting ‘Tarzan and the Mermaids’ (1948), Sheffield’s character was, according to the screenplay, ‘away at school’. In reality, he was deemed too old at 17 to play the role and had been let go by the studio. But cut-price Monogram disagreed with the MGM execs, and stepped in to star Sheffield in a series of 12 films as, you guessed it, Bomba the Jungle Boy.

This entry was the fourth in the series, although I think it’s unlikely they need to be watched in sequential order. Here we find Sheffield tangling with Paul Guilfoyle and Charles La Torre as the local Emir and his murderous sidekick, whose political machinations are about as generic as it gets, which is a shame as they are the driving force behind the story. There is also a fairly dumb subplot about a wounded Bomba being cared for by local beauty Zita (Sue England), who, you’ll not be surprised to hear, is also the focus of Guilfoyle’s less than honourable intentions. For someone who has allegedly spent her whole life living in a jungle village, our heroine is unbelievably hopeless. She can’t swim, she’s afraid of the dark, doesn’t want to get muddy and gets trapped when her dress catches on a plant. Oh dear.

As this was a production from legendary cheapskate Sam Katzman, obviously there’s not a lot of budget flying about, although this was apparently the first of the series to be filmed outdoors. Some of the process shots of Sheffield swinging through the trees lack a certain authenticity (snigger), but, having said that, there is less recourse to the local film library for wildlife shots than might be expected. Matters finally come to a head with a tremendously unconvincing skirmish in a storeroom after Bomba is captured and severely beaten. But there’s no need to worry, folks! His bare back is completely unmarked in the next scene!

Bomba and the Hidden City (1950)

‘What is it now?’

Like the rest of the series, this effort was directed by Ford Beebe, a veteran of movie serials. He also wrote this one and about half the rest of the series. The character was based on popular books by Roy Rockwood, published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. That they bear a passing resemblance to something by Edgar Rice Burroughs seems a reasonable assumption, and Rockwood wasn’t even a real person, being an alias for a stable of staff writers.

The only good news here is that the cast are competent, if hardly inspired, and do their best to prop up Sheffield, who seems to have difficulty in summoning a huge amount of interest in the proceedings. He even manages to look wooden when he’s not delivering dialogue which is quite an achievement. Guilfoyle was actually a distinguished character actor with appearances in John Ford’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ (1940) and Cagney’s hit picture ‘White Heat’ (1948) among his numerous credits. Supporting actor Smoki Whitfield was a fixture in the ‘Bomba’ series and thankfully escapes the usual eye-rolling, comedy schtick regularly imposed on black actors at that time.

But probably the biggest disappointment here comes from the film’s title. The so-called ‘Hidden City’ isn’t hidden at all! Everyone knows about it, and it’s just a run of the mill, local settlement with a handful of buildings and a gate. Oh, Mr Katzman, how could you?!

The Fastest Guitar Alive (1967)

The Fastest Guitar Alive (1967)‘In case you’re interested, I can kill you with this and play your funeral march at the same time.’

Confederate spies steal a gold shipment from the San Francisco Mint in the closing days of the American Civil War. They use a travelling medicine show as cover and operate out of notorious local saloon the ‘Barbary Coast’ where one of their number entertains the customers with his guitar and unique vocal style.

Producer Sam Katzman was not famous in Hollywood for his films so much as his ‘cash conscious’ approach to the medium. Beginning his career in the 1930s with ‘poverty row’ studios like Monogram, his prodigious output included movie serials, Westerns, Jungle pictures and several 1940s horrors with a declining Bela Lugosi. This lightweight tale of music, stolen gold and the Old West was originally intended as a vehicle for Elvis Presley, but the King passed so Katzman went to a somewhat unlikely Plan ‘B’: Roy Orbison.

A decade into his singing career, the Big O’s popularity was in a state of decline, his material out of step with the latest musical trends. Hoping for a change in fortune, he signed a 5 picture deal with MGM studios, and this underwhelming release was the first result. It was both and critical and commercial failure and Orbison never acted again.

So what went wrong? Well, for once, the blame can’t be laid at Katzman’s door. Sure, the film’s certainly no epic, but the budgetary constraints aren’t too obvious, even though the woeful lack of action at the climax robs the story of any final dramatic punch. The problem is that the film fails to find a consistent tone under the direction of Michael D Moore, probably because the final script was an attempt to rewrite what was originally a serious drama as a candy floss concoction of soppy romance, pop songs and comedy.

Given Orbison’s total lack of experience as an actor, he’s double teamed here with TV veteran, the young and handsome Sammy Jackson. It’s a wise move. Orbison isn’t terrible in front of the camera but he’s no natural either, and it’s frightening to think how things might have turned out if he’d had to carry the picture on his own. What really doesn’t help, however, is that events play out in a thoroughly predictable manner, with our heroes doing their duty for the South whilst getting plenty of another kind of action with the Chestnut Sisters (Maggie Pierce and Joan Freeman), dancers who are part of their robbery scheme. Orbison sings half a dozen songs (the best parts of the film), appears without his trademark shades and has a guitar that (unconvincingly) doubles as a gun!

Director Moore started out as an actor in silent cinema, graduating via the Art Department, to become one of Hollywood’s most respected Second Unit and Assistant Directors. He fulfilled those roles on many big hits, including ‘War of the Worlds’ (1953), Cecil B DeMille’s ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956), the Oscar-winning ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ (1969), John Huston’s ‘The Man WhoWould Be King’ (1975), ‘unofficial’ James Bond flick ‘Never Say Never Again’ (1983) and the first three Indiana Jones films! It’s a very long, and seriously impressive, list. Unfortunately, his efforts at calling the shots himself were less-than stellar, being limited to some TV work and just half a dozen films, the most famous being one of Elvis Presley’s dreariest vehicles ‘Paradise: Hawaiian Style’ (1966).

Heroine Freeman also had royal connections, acting opposite the King in ‘Roustabout’ (1964), before turning up 20 years later in ‘Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’ (1984)! Her dancing partner Pierce may be familiar to Vincent Price fans from Roger Corman’s ‘Tales of Terror’ (1962) and she also starred in notoriously awful 1960’s sitcom ‘My Mother The Car.’ Further down the cast, we find Lyle Betteger and John Doucette, both familiar faces from countless TV Westerns in the 1960s, with Betteger then reporting for duty on many network cop shows in the following decade.

Writer Robert E Kent scripted musicals, crime programmers, Westerns, ‘Zombies On Broadway’ (1945) with Bela Lugosi, a couple of early 1960s Vincent Price vehicles and episodes of TV’s ‘Wild Wild West.’ But his biggest successes came with Katzman in the 1950s when the duo hit pay dirt with ‘Rock Around The Clock’ (1956), ‘Don’t Knock The Rock’ (1956), ‘Twist Around The Clock’ (1961) and ‘Don’t Knock The Twist’ (1961)!

If all the assembled talent here seem a little second-rate, then sadly that is reflected in the final product. lts not a disaster by any means but, without the presence of The Big O, it would likely be long forgotten now. As it is, it’s a curiosity for his fans, rather than anything else.

The Phantom (1943)

The_Phantom_(1943)‘Can the seventh key be lost forever? Will Tartar take out his wrath on Diana? Don’t miss ‘Fangs of the Beast’ the next smashing episode of…’

A masked figure known only as ‘The Phantom’ has kept the peace between warring African tribes for generations, the role passing from father to son. But the harmony of the jungle is put in danger by a group of enemy agents and a university professor, whose safari is looking for the legendary lost city of Zolos…

Two-fisted movie serial action coming out of the Columbia studios and the depths of the Hollywood Hills…sorry, the African Jungle. Captain Marvel is about to go on safari with Dr Zarkov but finds that some jolly rotten enemy agents have sliced up his dad, who happens to be the legendary Phantom. Forced into his father’s onesie and mask, he battles quicksand, crocodiles, tigers (in Africa!), and local scumbag Singapore Slim and his rent-a-goons. He’s also up against the minions of deeply uninteresting enemy spy Kenneth MacDonald, who wants to build an airbase in the jungle for no doubt deeply unsound strategic and ideological reasons. It’s quite a full dance card for star Tom Tyler, but with superhero experience already under his belt from his days as the marvellous Captain in India, it’s no problemo!

This is typical rollicking serial action with the requisite number of last ditch escapes, gunfights, fisticuffs and a flavour of the exotic. The pace never lets up, and the story manages to avoid the repetition of events and McGuffins which dragged down most of its contemporaries. However, there are a couple of flaws which compromise the excitement and level of enjoyment. The main one is MacDonald’s villain, who is probably the most colourless in movie serial history, and a complete non-entity from beginning to end. Added to that is the damp squib of a climax, with the final couple of chapters failing to deliver any significant thrills or spectacle. On the bright side, we do get Frank Shannon from the original ‘Flash Gordon’ (1936) as the Professor, and Tyler pops into town on several occasions to do some undercover work. His choice of disguise? Sunglasses, a hat and a trench coat. Why these clothes are even available in the African Jungle is a mystery, let alone the fact that no-one bats an eyelid in his direction!

The original comic book character debuted in 1936 and was created by Lee Falk for King Features. Tyler was a good fit for the role as he bore a fairly close physical resemblance to the original illustrations, although sidekick Devil (Ace the Wonder Dog) did not, being a German Shepherd instead of a wolf. But no matter, he’s a pretty cool canine anyway, saving our hero’s bacon on more than one occasion. Ace was originally the RKO Studio’s answer to Rin Tin Tin, but came to Columbia from Republic Studios instead, who were synonymous with B-movie Westerns and Serials. Five years after his appearance here, he was still at Columbia, appearing in the title role of ‘The Adventures of Rusty‘ (1948), the first in a series of 8 films. Sadly for him, the role was immediately recast, and he didn’t appear in any of the sequels, finishing his career with Monogram and bottom of the barrel studio, PRC. It was even worse for Tyler, however, who never appeared in a significant role again, being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis shortly after production. He died penniless at the age of 50 in 1954.

The Phantom (1943)

🎵Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it, Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it🎶

Columbia began filming ‘Return of the Phantom’ as a sequel in 1955 with legendary ‘cash conscious’ producer Sam Katzman in charge. Unfortunately, it came to light after filming began that the studio’s rights to the character had expired, and, not surprisingly, negotiations between King Features and Katzman did not go well. But Katzman was not to be beaten! He simply cut down on the stock footage he was using from ‘The Phantom’ (1943) replacing it with old content from other serials, and had leading man John Hart put some riding britches on over the original costume and a flying helmet on his head. The result was ‘The Adventures of Captain Africa’ (1955) and movie history was made. But not in a good way.

Despite its faults, the original serial is still probably the most successful take on the ‘Phantom’ character. Subsequent attempts to turn him into box-office gold have all failed, the most notable being the big-budget movie of 1996 starring Billy Zane. But, given the current Holywood obsession with superheroes, there’s probably another try already in the works…

Bruce Gentry: Daredevil of the Skies (1949)

Bruce_Gentry_(1949)‘Are the mysterious discs to fly again? For the answers see ‘The Flying Disc’ – Chapter 7 of ‘Bruce Gentry’ at this theatre next week!’

Bruce Gentry’s plane is almost wrecked by a badly animated flying disc. Super-villain The Recorder has kidnapped a top scientist to work on his saucers, which he plans to use in his takeover of America on behalf of ’a certain foreign power.’

Post World War II, the movie serial was in serious decline; major studios were suffering economically and many were shutting down their ‘B’ picture units, which had flooded the market with cheap and cheerful second features during the war years. Budgets were slashed, and although serials continued to be made until the late 1950s, they never clawed back the ground surrendered by cheap and tatty efforts like Bruce Gentry’s sole outing on the silver screen. In all probability they could not have survived the advent of television anyway.

The Columbia studios were a little late to the party, only forming their ‘serial unit’ in 1938. They stumbled through their first few projects but gained success quickly with popular adventures such as ‘The Spider’s Web’ (1938) and ‘Mandrake the Magician’ (1939). Separately hiring serial veterans George H Plympton (writer) and Spencer Gordon Bennet (director) proved a good long-term move, as coupled with ‘money conscious’ producer Sam Katzman, they collaborated on many a chapterplay through the 1940s and early 50s, usually with a good level of box office success. Unfortunately, none of them were able to make much of the weary, warmed over elements here, even with the addition of flying saucers, which were all over the news after the famous 1947 sighting by Kenneth Arnold and the Roswell incident.

Our hero is ruggedly handsome hotshot pilot Bruce Gentry, whose close encounter with a UFO brings him onto the radar of Hugh Prosser, head of the Radcliffe Insurance Company. Rather bizarrely, the U.S. government have entrusted the investigation of these saucery goings on to him and he’s keen on recruiting Gentry to lead the investigation (especially as he doesn’t seem to have any other staff apart from a sexy Secretary). He uses her as bait to entice Gentry, and it works, despite the fact that she wears the same outfit throughout most of the 15 chapters. The actress who plays her is sadly uncredited, heroine duties passing to bland cowgirl Judy Clark instead. She’s a blonde New Yorker, and seems a strange choice to be playing someone called Juanita, but perhaps there was a late casting change!

On the other side of the fence, we have our super-badass The Recorder, so called because he only communicates via reel-to-reel tape recordings. This is not very exciting, of course, even when they are played by top henchman Tristram Coffin, who was an old hand at this kind of thing and actually turned hero as ‘King of the Rocket Men’ (1949).

Bruce_Gentry_(1949)

‘I hate to ask, but is Juanita your real name?’

The secret lair is also somewhat less than impressive, consisting of two rooms in a cave filled with old radio parts. We never see the flying discs on the ground (wonder why?), and the plot is just the usual round of fisticuffs and car chases as Gentry tries to stop various McGuffins falling into the hands of the Recorder’s small gang of hat wearing thugs. Interior scenes seem at a premium, with less than half a dozen sets used, and the villainous horde often congregating in a car park!

It’s all bottom of the barrel stuff; even the rights to the character probably acquired on the cheap as the comic strip concerned was only syndicated in a handful of newspapers.

Star Tom Neal is best remembered these days for his leading turn in classic, no budget noir ‘Detour’ (1945), and brings an easy charisma to the title role here. But he never made it to the big leagues, his career derailed by his real life exploits. An amateur boxer with more than 25 first round knockouts to his name, Neal was just as ready to use his fists outside the ring. In 1951 he got into an argument with ‘A’ list actor Franchot Tone over starlet (and well-known party girl) Barbara Payton. Tone ended up in hospital with some serious injuries, including a brain concussion, but still recovered sufficiently to wed Payton a few weeks later. Hollywood might have forgiven Neal that, but not the fact that he and Payton ran off together barely two months after the wedding. The couple were blackballed by the establishment and split up 3 years later after a volatile, and violent, relationship. Payton sank into alcoholism, prostitution and premature death, but Neal reinvented himself as a successful landscape gardener! Unfortunately, he was in trouble again in 1965 when his third wife turned up with a bullet hole in the back of the head. The prosecution pushed for the death penalty, but Neal eventually served just 6 years for  involuntary manslaughter. He died of a heart attack less than a year after being released.

Neal’s life was a long way from the heroic, clean cut world of Bruce Gentry, but would make a far more interesting film.