Saturday, February 28, 2009

G-Men Never Forget (1948) – Chapter 1: Death Rides the Torrent

As the familiar Republic eagle is shown spreading his wings, we know that our exciting twelve-chapter cliffhanger, G-Men Never Forget (1948) is about to begin!
It is night, outside a large penitentiary. As we hear sirens and whistles in the background, we witness a stocky man jumping down from the surrounding wall and making a break for it. He is secure in the knowledge that even though the guards are packing machine guns, they apparently can’t hit the broadside of a barn. He finds a car waiting for him in a nearby wooded area and gets in…but during this daring escape, another man is wounded and left behind.

The car speeds along for a while and then, stopping by a suburban tract house, the individual gets out into a second car, which also speeds away. For the first time, we learn that the escapee is Vic Murkland (Roy Barcroft), notorious racketeer. He instructs the man at the wheel to drive to “Doc” Benson’s sanitarium.

The scene shifts to a sanitarium run by Robert “Doc” Benson (Stanley Price), a fellow miscreant of Murkland’s who, along with his sidekick Slater (Jack O’Shea), greet Murkland warmly upon his arrival:

MURKLAND: Hiya, Benson...good to see ya...
BENSON: I'm certainly glad to see you, Murkland...

He must owe him money.

MURKLAND (to the other man): Hiya, Slater...
SLATER: Welcome home, Chief...everything worked according to plan, huh?
MURKLAND (taking off his coat): Not quite...Duke got shot just as he was makin' a dive for the car...
BENSON: Killed?
MURKLAND: I don't know...I'll have somebody find out...

Yeah, look into that, will you, Slater?

BENSON: Certainly seems like old times to have you back with us, Vic...
MURKLAND: Yeah, and it's gonna be like old times, Doc...if you still think you can do that plastic surgery job...
BENSON (chuckling): I've done tougher ones than that...look here... (He presents Murkland with some photographs) Take a look at those...it's Police Commissioner Cameron...
(Murkland studies the photographs)
MURKLAND: So you think you can make me look like this guy, huh?
BENSON: So much like him his own mother couldn't tell the difference...

That's not much of a challenge...his mother passed away three years ago...

MURKLAND: That's good enough for me...
BENSON: But it's not just good enough for you to look like Cameron...you've got to be Cameron...

So in addition to going under the knife, Murkland will also have to study under Lee Strasberg. The scene then shifts to the office of the real Commissioner Cameron, who, along with his lackey Hayden (Doug Aylesworth), welcomes Special FBI Agent Ted O'Hara (Clayton Moore) inside with a hearty handclasp.

O'HARA: Is there any further information on Murkland's present whereabouts?
CAMERON: No, I'm afraid not...he either has a very good disguise or a very good hideout...
O'HARA: He's not the type to stay in hiding for long...your men have a good description of him...and here's something you might add to it...Murkland has the habit of chewing the end of wooden matches and tossing them away...
CAMERON: Make a note of that, Hayden...
O'HARA: I think we can pick up Murkland through Duke Graham as soon as he's well enough to be moved... (Pause) Oh, uh...incidentally, I'd like the assistance of your best woman detective...
CAMERON: Certainly... (Via intercom) Send in Detective Sergeant Blake, please...

What the heck is going on here? Is Cameron really a commissioner or some sort of pimp? Why does that horndog O'Hara need assistance from a female detect...well, maybe I'd be better off not asking that question...into the office walks Francis Blake (Ramsay Ames):

BLAKE: Where do I fit in, Mr. O'Hara?
O'HARA: How'd you like to be my wife?

Blimey—he doesn't waste any time, does he?

BLAKE (after staring at Cameron with a puzzled look): We haven't known each other very long...what inducements have you to offer?

There's a line you don't hear much nowadays...

O'HARA: The capturing of Vic Murkland...
BLAKE: You've won yourself a wife, Mr. O'Hara...

I never realized it could be that damn easy. O'Hara tells "the missus" that the key to rounding up Murkland is through his henchman-on-the-mend, Graham (Drew Allen), who'll be in the prison hospital for two weeks...O'Hara, undercover as a goon, is in the same room with Graham when Blake, in full moll regalia, drops in for a visit and begins acting all lovey-dovey, reminding him that their ten-year-old child’s birthday will be celebrated that evening. Blake also shows off her new hairdo, and as O’Hara admires it he pulls out what looks like to be a big honkin’ knife from her coiffure, seconds before the guard tells Blake to amscray usterbay. Graham, despite his lack of a GED, has looked over the situation and decides to play the only hand he’s got:

GRAHAM: So...a wise guy, huh?
O'HARA: What's eatin' you?
GRAHAM: Gotta kid ten years old, have ya? After telling me you've only been married for two years...
O'HARA: So what?
GRAHAM: So there ain't no kid...and there ain't no party...and you're planning to leave here at ten tonight...well. I’m goin' along...
O'HARA: Ah, g'wan...you're crazy...
GRAHAM: Crazy like a fox...either I go along or you stay...and that swell doll of yours does a stretch for slipping you the knife...
O'HARA: I ain't made no plans for two of us, Duke...
GRAHAM: Well, you can start makin' 'em right now...

Blake lets Cameron know that Graham has taken the bait, and the Commissioner gets into a taxicab, giving the driver an address. But wait! He should have waited for the next hack to come along, because the driver has released a lever flooding the backseat with sleeping gas...making the Commish...very...sleepy... Back at "Doc" Benson's, he's just removed the bandages from Murkland's face to reveal...an exact double for Cameron! He hands Murkland Cameron's photo and a mirror:

BENSON: Take a look...if you're not Police Commissioner Cameron, I'm the Queen of Sheba!
MURKLAND: Swell job, Doc...you're an artist!
BENSON: Yeah...that's what the judge said when he sent me up the river...

He's even got the Judge's endorsement printed on his business cards, so it clearly meant a lot to him. Benson and Murkland are interrupted by the arrival of a henchman and the real Cameron, who's wearing a blindfold and has his arms tied behind his back:

CAMERON: What is this place?
BENSON: This is a rest home for the mentally afflicted...I'm the physician in charge...
CAMERON: Don't be a fool...I'm Police Commissioner Cameron...

Commish...meet Her Majesty, the Queen of Sheba...

BENSON: Yes, I know, I know...you think you're the Police Commissioner...but you're suffering under a very serious derangement... (Points to Murkland on gurney) Police Commissioner Cameron is seated there...
CAMERON: Who is this man?
MURKLAND: You heard what he said...I'm the police commissioner...
CAMERON (after a slight pause): Vic Murkland...

Maybe having Charles Boyer do the “gaslighting” would have been a better idea but it sounds to me like Benson needs to get another endorsement, if Cameron is able to see through Murkland's masquerade. Well, in all actuality it's more Murkland's match-chewing habit that calls him out rather than any superb detective work on Cameron's part. Suffice it to say, Murkland starts gloating to the Commish than all the years he's spent in the jernt has given him time to study Cameron's voice, mannerisms, etc. (I'm guessing they didn't have a free-weights room) and that he'll most assuredly be able to fool a flat-footed Fed like Ted O'Hara.

We are then taken to the outside of the Prison Hospital (yes, there is a sign that denotes it as such) where O'Hara and Graham are about to make a break for it. O'Hara overpowers an orderly and changes into his uniform, then instructs Graham to get into a laundry hamper. O'Hara loads the hamper onto a truck and smoothly drives out the front gate. The two men then meet up with phony moll Blake, who pretends to be miffed because Graham has dealt himself in on the escape. She only brought duds for one person (Graham will have to wear a raincoat that's in the back seat) and lends Graham her "rod": "See that I get it back." She then gets into the laundry truck and tells her "hubby" and his pal that from now on they're on their own.

By now, Murkland has usurped Cameron's identity and is ensconced in the Commissioner's office, seated at a desk and pretending to read important papers. He receives a phone call from Blake, who informs him that the plan worked "slick as a whistle." After their conversation, Murkland makes a phone call of his own...
Arriving at a garage hideout, Graham brings O'Hara inside and introduces him to a thug named Kelsey (Ken Terrell):

GRAHAM: Hello, Kelsey...phone the Chief I'm coming in with a new recruit...
KELSEY: New recruit, eh? You got Ted O'Hara, Federal agent...he framed you to bring him to Murkland...
GRAHAM (whirling around in O'Hara's direction): Don't shoot...this double-crossing rat is my meat!

He tries to fire at O'Hara...but since he got the roscoe from the disguised Francis Blake, the chambers are all empty. O'Hara tips over a balsa wood desk in Kelsey's direction and the first official fight of the serial is on! O’Hara manages to shoot and kill Kelsey in the melee (and I think we know how painful that can be), but Graham has rabbit in his blood and has run out of the building in an effort to escape the long arm of the law. O'Hara takes after him, but to no avail...Graham has made it to the safety of Benson's sanitarium:

GRAHAM: ...and if that female cop hadn't handed me an unloaded rod, we'd a-finished O'Hara right there and then... (Graham's attention is diverted to the arrival of Murkland in his guise of Cameron) Who is this?
MURKLAND (grinning): Police Commissioner Cameron...
GRAHAM: Murkland! You've got everything...his voice...his walk...
MURKLAND: Yeah, and lucky for all of us I have...if I hadn't been in the Commissioner's office last night...
GRAHAM: Well, how was I to know it was a frame-up?
MURKLAND: Never mind the alibis...another bonehead play like that and we'll all land in the clink...now, listen...

Murkland outlines a scheme to start a protection insurance racket, and the first target is R.J. Cook Enterprises—a company currently completing construction of a tunnel that, by terms of the contract, has to be completed in time for its grand opening at noon the next day. Graham is assigned to shake down Cook (Edmund Cobb) for protection money, prompting the president to phone Cameron (Murkland in disguise) about Graham's visit. In describing Graham, O'Hara's suspicions are raised to the point where he's positive that Graham is responsible--and he's present when the goon calls Cook, ordering him to leave $20,000 near the sight of the tunnel or Murkland and Company will blow things up real good. The next day, O'Hara arrives at the drop and, subduing a Murkland henchman, steals his motorcycle and hauls ass toward the tunnel to prevent the detonation.

O'Hara, now inside the tunnel, attempts to contact the authorities with the emergency phone, but he's too late...another henchman has set off the charges. O'Hara looks up at the tunnel ceiling to see a large crack with water beginning to spill from it at a rapid rate.

Mounting his motorcycle, he cannot help but think that this is all starting to resemble a climactic scene from a better Republic serial, Daredevils of the Red Circle (1939)...

Next Saturday, Chapter Two: 100.000 Volts!

3 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Ah, another serial report. It's been a while, hasn't it?

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Yes, it has. Got a couple in the mail the other day and figured I'd have a go.

Cullen Gallagher said...

What a hoot! That was some excellent commentary. Looking forward to the next installment. I'll be sure to put a link on my blog so as not to miss it.

-Cullen
www.pulpserenade.blogspot.com