Saturday, March 14, 2009

G-Men Never Forget (1948) – Chapter 3: Code Six Four Five

OUR STORY SO FAR: Evildoer Vic Murkland (Roy Barcroft) has escaped from prison and returned to his lucrative former career as a criminal mastermind, with plans to resurrect an insurance racket that will make him the envy of any investor out to make a quick buck with some lame Ponzi scheme. (Seriously, this guy has a finger in every pie…including lemonade stands and Girl Scout cookies.) His success depends on a little nip-and-tuck performed upon him by the dubious plastic surgeon Robert “Doc” Benson (Stanley Price)—who has given Murkland a celebrity makeover so as to be a dead ringer for Police Commissioner Angus Cameron…Murkland’s even got the voice and mannerisms down to a T! (This is easily explained by the fact that the same actor plays both roles…so pretend you don’t notice.)

Special Agent Ted O’Hara (Clayton Moore) has been assigned to recapture Murkland and though it is known throughout the length and longth of these United States that O’Hara led the fight for law and order in the early West, he’s been completely fooled by Murkland’s deception—as has his assistant, Francis Blake (Ramsay Ames), who’s in this serial for those people who don’t like Clayton Moore. When we last checked in on our hero O’Hara, he had confronted two members of the arson gang responsible for the destruction of numerous buildings in the city and fought them to a standstill. In other words, he’s lying unconscious in the back of an out-of-control truck that’s about to meet head-on with an electrical transformer…

Thanks to some judicious editing by Cliff Bell, Sr. and Sam Starr (they’re the ones responsible for the cheat cliffhangers in this opus) in Chapter 2, the surprise that Ted O’Hara jumped out of the truck just in the nick of time was not spoiled for us in this chapter. It does come as bit of a shock for Murkland, however—in his guise as Commissioner Cameron, he gets an early morning briefing from his pencil-pushing lackey, Det. Hayden (Doug Aylesworth):
HAYDEN: O’Hara called, just a few minutes ago…
MURKLAND: Yes?
HAYDEN: He got to the bottom of that sabotage racket…
MURKLAND: You mean the G.I. housing project?
HAYDEN: That’s right, sir…
MURKLAND (without enthusiasm): Glad to hear that…any details?
HAYDEN: No—but he said he’d report in later…and that he and Sergeant Blake are on their way over to Cook’s to get some data on that truck driver and his helper…
MURKLAND: Very good…
HAYDEN: Oh, by the way…that 645 shipment goes today…
MURKLAND: 645?
HAYDEN: Say…this Murkland business is really getting you down, isn’t it? That’s the Cook payroll shipment, for which you made the arrangements…

Grab him, Hayden! He’s just let his guard down! It’s not Cameron, it’s Vic Murkland! Get to a phone! Get some help! Get…oh, what’s the use…face it, pal…you’re always going to be just another faceless bureaucrat trapped behind a desk…idiot
MURKLAND: Oh, of course, Hayden…I almost forgot…thanks for reminding me, I’ll take care of it…
HAYDEN: Very well, sir…

As Hayden continues on in his blissful ignorance, Murkland ponders the weight of his words (“645,” he mutters to himself…although those are really numbers rather than words) and then reaches ominously for the phone. Truth be told, I kind of like how the writers of this serial don’t subject us to an unnecessary rehash and instead just have the camera fade out as Murkland makes his call. (Then again, these subsequent chapters are only thirteen minutes long—they gotta trim the fat somewhere.)
Meanwhile, Agent O’Hara is having a chinwag with R.L. Cook (Edmund Cobb), the big bidness tycoon that Murkland and his racketeers have been trying to shake down:
O’HARA: So, obviously, the lumber was treated with pyroxene en route to the building site…
COOK: Amazing…
O’HARA: With extra guards put on the trucks, Mr. Cook, you won’t have any more interference with your G.I. home construction…
COOK: Feels good to know that Murkland will be off my neck for a while
(The door opens, and Sergeant Francis Blake enters the room…)
BLAKE (handing O’Hara some papers) Here are the personnel cards on those two men…Parker was the driver, and his helper was Brent…
O’HARA: Hmm…only on the job two weeks…
COOK: A little sketchy…
O’HARA: …but it could cut a wedge in the Murkland gang…
COOK: A deep one, I hope…
O’HARA: That depends on what we can find out from these...
COOK: Good luck…
O’HARA (to Francis): It’ll save time if you check on Brent…
FRANCIS: A pleasure…
O’HARA: …and we’ll meet back at my place after I comb through Parker’s apartment…

"In addition to combing my hair." Ted…you hound! I know what you’re up to…soft lights…music…a bottle of wine…some Cheerios…you’ll sweep that gal off her feet before this chapter play is over, I’m betting. But enough of the foreplay—the scene now switches to Benson’s Sanitarium, where kindly old Doc Benson has just finished administering a little drug to force Commissioner Cameron to spill the beans about “645.” Meanwhile, the faux Cameron (Murkland) drops in for some cakes and tea:
MURKLAND: How is he, okay?
BENSON: Sure…
MURKLAND (after an awkward pause): Well, let’s have it!
GRAHAM: The Doc sure made him talk…
MURKLAND What’s this 645?
BENSON: The night payroll of the Cook shipyards…
GRAHAM: Big stuff…that 645 is code for the time the payroll leaves Cook’s office…
MURKLAND: Hunh…and the Commissioner’s office selects the guard…
GRAHAM: Better yet…the job is handled by just a single plainclothes man…so that he won’t attract any attention
MURKLAND: Good deal…that ought to make it a cinch for you to knock over by yourself

Um…I don’t like to mention this, seeing that Graham (Drew Allen) is up for a pay raise with his performance review and all, but his recent work of late hasn’t quite measured up to what we generally expect of henchmen at Murkland Enterprises…
MURKLAND: You send those guys over to Parker’s apartment?
GRAHAM: Yeah…O’Hara won’t find a thing when he gets there…

We are then taken to a shabby apartment, where two thugs (David Sharpe, George Magrill) are rifling through Mr. Parker’s personal effects—unaware that our man O’Hara has arrived on the scene. When Ted pulls a gun on one of them (he’s starting a nice little blaze in the wastebasket), he’s jumped from behind and the balsa wood smashing melee begins. (And since ace stuntman Sharpe is in on it, you can bet it’ll be dan-dan-dandy—particularly when he smashes a bit of crockery over Moore’s cranium and the daring and resourceful Masked Rider of the Plains falls to the ground like a sack of potatoes.)
TRENT: Say, you know who this guy is?
STALEY (rubbing his jaw): If he was a little heavier, he could be Joe Louis

TRENT
: It’s O’Hara…special agent
STALEY: Ooooh…the big guy

The two men truss O’Hara up like a roped calf with the cord from the window shades and Trent decides to contact Murkland personally to let him know they’ve captured “the big guy.” He leaves Staley in charge and exits the apartment while O’Hara furiously attempts to free himself from his bonds. To add insult to injury, Staley goes to the kitchen and makes himself a big honkin’ salami sandwich…and doesn’t even offer his guest a thing. (Miss Manners will be hearing of this in the morning, I assure you.)
Hours later, Cook is carefully counting out the payroll in his office as his secretary watches, and when that task is completed he instructs her to have the messenger sign the receipt. A dissolve then shows the messenger leaving the building, where he is hit from behind by Duke Graham, claiming the bag of cash for Murkland and the evil for which he stands. A car pulls up and Duke gets inside (the messenger, who’s finally gotten to his feet, fires a gun in the direction of the departing vehicle but to no avail), bestowing upon yours truly a generous helping of egg on my face (I honestly thought he’d end up screwing the pooch on this one).
Back at the apartment, O’Hara has finally managed to free himself—and he rolls across the floor to where Staley is seated, who’s just lit up another Lucky Strike (it’s light-up time) and is now going to have to snuff it for the duration of another scuffle. (And it’s really not much of a scuffle at that; O’Hara decks him with one punch.) O’Hara makes tracks…but not before making certain he’s got his hat. (It’s important to accessorize.)
Another dissolve shows O’Hara speeding along in the direction of a used car lot run by a lowlife (Eddie Acuff) named “Fiddler,” whose name was dropped by Staley in the conversation between he and Trent when deciding what should be done about O’Hara. Fortunately, Francis has gotten a jump on her partner, as she interrogates the salesman about his association with Brent:
FIDDLER: Brent?
BLAKE: His landlady says he used to work here…
FIDDLER (thinking): Brent…ah, that no-good character…yeah, he used to work here…about two months ago, he walked off the job…and you know what…?
BLAKE: Never mind the details…do you know where he went? Or anything else about him?
FIDDLER: Well, I’ll tell ya… (A car can be heard pulling up) Wait a minute…here comes a guy who knows the dope on him…
(The car comes to a stop, and a passenger gets out. When the car speeds off, the passenger is revealed to be Duke Graham…)
BLAKE (walking over to Duke with her gun drawn): This is a pleasant surprise…
(It’s a surprise, all right…but not too pleasant for Francis—she’s hit from behind by Fiddler…)
FIDDLER: I’m glad you showed up in time…this copper was asking a lot of questions about Brent…
GRAHAM: Anything else?
FIDDLER: No…
GRAHAM: Good…
FIDDLER: What’re we gonna do with her?
GRAHAM (thinking for a moment): Help me get her into that truck…
FIDDLER: Right!

The two men drag Francis’ lovely carcass into the back of the truck but in the distance, our main man O’Hara is speeding towards the car lot. He arrives just as the truck is driving off and, spotting Graham at the wheel begins pursuit. In the ensuing chase, both men fire back-and-forth at one another and the noise brings Frances to…but when O’Hara hits one of the truck’s tires, Duke decides it’s time to bail out—and Frances, unable to open the back doors, appears to have headed off a cliff to her doom…
Next Saturday, Chapter Four: Shipyard Saboteurs!

2 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I wonder how many serial chapters end with that exact scene. Dozens? Hundreds?

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

All part of the benefits of stock footage, Mr. C. I don't think many movies would exist today without this innovation.