Saturday, June 27, 2009

G-Men Never Forget – Chapter 12: Exposed

OUR STORY SO FAR: Since the last write-up on this serial occurred one month ago, Ivan G. Shreve, Jr., mastermind of the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear blog, was hoping he could abandon this project and no one would notice. But Shreve underestimated loyal reader John H., who sent him an e-mail reminding him he still had the final chapter to dissect, and so our villain had little recourse but to comply with John’s request.

As for the actual serial itself, the last time we dropped in on Special Agent Ted O’Hara (Clayton Moore), he was in hot pursuit of Vic Murkland (Roy Barcroft), notorious baddie who has held an entire town in the grip of fear by posing (thanks to plastic surgery) as kindly Police Commissioner Angus Cameron in order for his criminal activities to go unnoticed. Murkland is holding O’Hara’s female sidekick, Sergeant Frances Blake (Ramsay Ames) hostage but has decided that she’s served out her usefulness and has left her unconscious behind the wheel of his getaway car…which is just now taking a header off that oh-so-familiar Republic serial cliff…


Just when it looks as if Sergeant Blake is going to end up a crispy critter when Murkland’s escape car leaps off a cliff and explodes upon impact, her stunt double manages to jump from the vehicle in an incredibly unexpected turn of events…and I use that phrase with as much sarcasm as I can muster. As Ted comes to her rescue, and does the gentlemanly thing by helping her to her feet, the screen soon becomes filled with blaring newspaper headlines trumpeting: “SEARCH ON FOR CROOKED OFFICER” and “POLICE COMMISSONER EXPOSED”. A third headline screams “CAMERON ALLIED WITH MURKLAND,” which means, of course, that O’Hara still hasn’t figured out that Murkland and Cameron are one and the same. (This is not to say, of course, that there is no Cameron—he’s just spending some time “resting” at the sanitarium run by kindly old “Doc” Benson [Stanley Price].) Meanwhile, Murkland and Benson are in the sanitarium’s “receiving area” when Murkland’s flunky Duke Graham (Drew Allen) enters with a late-breaking bulletin:

GRAHAM: There’s a roadblock on…police barricades…there’s no way out of town…railway and bus stations are guarded, the airports…
MURKLAND (interrupting): You weren’t trying to run out on us, were ya?
GRAHAM: No, but we’ve all got to leave town and I thought…
MURKLAND: Suppose you shut up and let me do the thinking around here…

Dukie, this might not be the proper time or place to say this…but maybe you ought to seriously consider getting into another line of work. I hear Sonic’s hiring…

MURKLAND: You don’t think I went into this without a plan, do ya?

If that question is directed at me, the answer is “yes.”

MURKLAND: You know why I’ve been keeping Cameron alive?
GRAHAM: Sure I do, but if the law finds him…
MURKLAND: They’ll find him, all right…they’ll find his charred body in the burned ruins of this joint! He’ll be identified as the wanted commissioner, and the hunt will be over and we’ll move to new hunting grounds…

And you thought that Murkland was just grasping at straws for one last desperate bid at freedom. There’s only one small drawback to this plan: all of Murkland’s ready cash is tucked away in…wait for it…Cameron’s office closet—and the thought of going into what is clearly a trap causes Graham to not only wet himself but spill some sodium pentothal on the sleeve of his suit. Murkland is able to convince the feeble-minded Duke that it will be a cinch to get the loot (“I’m not expecting anyone to come back to the office so it won’t be guarded”) and tells him to take along his flunky Slocum (Dale Van Sickel…again) to do the job. (Sure, they’ve done this so many times, and the plans go hopelessly awry at the last minute…but this time it’s bound to work!)

The bells of the town clock begin to peal at 10:00pm, and we find the two henchmen entering the office and looking for the secret compartment that Murkland has stashed the money in. But surprise! The ever resourceful if slightly thick-as-a-plank O’Hara found the money that morning, and he’s been waiting patiently for someone to break into the office to go scrounging for it. The guns start a-blazing, and O’Hara and Duke shoot it out when Slocum is fortunate to make a hasty retreat. Outside the office, Francis is curiously putting in some overtime when she hears shooting inside; she opens the door to find Duke pointing a pistol straight at her…but he’s felled by a shot from Ted, who pronounces: “That’s the end of Duke Graham.” Ted then tells Frances he’ll arrange for the coroner to have the dear, departed Duke’s clothing sent to his place (clearly you can see where this is going) and instructs to contact the phone company for a record of all phone calls made from this office (something I would have thought had been taken care of a good while ago, but then the serial would have been about four chapters long).

Back at the sanitarium, Benson begins to worry about the fact that Duke hasn’t gotten back, and Murkland reassures “Doc” everything is fine. It is, in fact, Slocum who gets in touch with the two men via Ma Bell:

SLOCUM: O’Hara trapped us…the money’s gone and they’ve got Duke…
BENSON: All right…go into hiding, but do not come here…
(Benson hangs up the phone, and then proceeds to stare at Murkland.)
MURKLAND: Bring Cameron in here…

Murkland throws a chewed-on matchstick to the floor (music sting)…meanwhile, Frances has arrived at Ted’s bachelor digs and he’s got the Junior Mr. Wizard Chemistry Set out again, analyzing the peculiar stain on Graham’s clothing:

O’HARA: Hello, Sarge…

Look, I don’t know how these two will end up when this thing comes to an end, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts that little pet name for her is one of the first things that will go.

O’HARA: What did you find out?
BLAKE: Here’s a list of phone calls from Cameron’s office…most of them went to the Chief of Police…
O’HARA: Naturally…
BLAKE: …and after that, the D.A…
O’HARA: Mm-hmm…and then the mayor…
BLAKE: No…after the D.A., most of them went to Benson’s Sanitarium
O’HARA: I know where it is…and it clicks!

Probably the doors…the hinges could sure use some WD-40.

O’HARA: The sleeve of Duke Graham’s coat shows an indication of sodium pentothal…a drug they use in the treatment of mental patients

“As for this other stain…well, it’s clearly urine…”

BLAKE: Then maybe the sanitarium is Murkland’s hideout!
O’HARA: That’s just what we’re going to find out, Sarge…

So, it’s off to the sanitarium—where at this time, Commissioner Cameron is being brought into the receiving area at gunpoint by Benson. He’s instructed by the medico to put on his clothes:

CAMERON: Well—what is this, Murkland? Lost your nerve?
MURKLAND: Do as you’re told! Unless you want a shot in the back

Cameron gets dressed, and his “personal effects” are handed to him by Benson.

CAMERON: What’s the idea, Murkland? Don’t tell me O’Hara’s finally caught up to you…
MURKLAND: Not with me…but he did find out that Commissioner Cameron is working with Murkland…there’s a manhunt on for the Commissioner…and they’re going to find him…dead!

Cameron lunges at Murkland, who knocks his adversary to the floor…Cameron then receives a nice blow to the head courtesy of Benson, who hits him with a sugared-glass bottle. The two men decide to stash Cameron in his room, start the fire and…adios, muchachos! The blaze is going full guns, and Murkland and Benson are ready to get the hell out of Dodge when…wouldn’t ya know it, O’Hara and Blake pull up. (Don’t you hate people who drop in without calling first?) Murkland orders Benson to stall our heroes and “see if you can get rid of ‘em.”

O’HARA: Where have you got Commissioner Cameron?
BENSON: Commissioner Cameron? What would he be doing here? I just read that he was in trouble, but…
BLAKE: Then why did he telephone here all the time?
BENSON: Telephone?
O’HARA: That’s right, Benson…
BENSON: Oh, yes…uh…he had a niece who was a patient of mine for quite sometime…he used to make inquiries about her daily…

O’Hara isn’t buying this balloon juice (though in Benson’s defense, it’s kinda hard to come up with a good lie when there’s a fire raging behind the door of your office) and finding Murkland’s matchsticks on the floor isn’t selling the story either. In a flash, Murkland emerges through the door and starts throwing punches at Ted while Frances gets to tangle with the soft-as-a-grape Benson. Benson makes a feeble attempt to head for the hills, but Frances is on his tail—and the donnybrook between Murkland and Ted gets pretty spirited until Murkland knocks out Ted with another sugared-glass bottle. He’s about to administer the coup de Gracie when Cameron emerges from his cell and plugs his look-alike with lead:

CAMERON: You saved my life, O’Hara…glad I was able to reciprocate by killing Murkland…
O’HARA (more than a bit confused): Murkland? Well, then…who…?

Frances returns to the office with Benson handcuffed to a beat cop (I don’t think Doc will be doing any more nip ‘n’ tuck for a while), and she’s also accompanied by District Attorney MacLain (Frank O’Connor):

MacLAIN (to another cop flunky): Send in a fire alarm…what have you got, O’Hara?
O’HARA: I got Cameron…and Murkland…I’m not sure which is which!
CAMERON (stretching out his hand to MacLain for a hearty handclasp): How are you, MacLain? So Murkland even fooled the District Attorney…

Yeah, and don’t think MacLain’s opponent won’t remind folks of that come election time…

CAMERON: …Doctor Benson did a plastic surgery job on Murkland sometime ago, and he’s been holding down my office ever since…
MacLAIN (to the beat cop): All right, Al—take him away… (Philosophically) The most amazing case…
CAMERON: One that will be remembered by my department for a long time…
BLAKE: Right, Ted…G-Men never forget…
(Group laughter…and fade out.)

Epilogue
The plot of G-Men Never Forget (1948) may be an amazing case, but it’s certainly not an amazing serial. Many of the post-war Republics—while competently made and featuring far-superior production skills than their Columbia counterparts—have a mechanical feel to them, a sort-of paint-by-numbers approach that can be largely attributed to G-Men’s director, Fred C. Brannon. Brannon directed the majority of the cliffhanger product after William Witney graduated to Roy Rogers westerns (making some of the very best in that series) and John English hitched his wagon to Gene Autry’s. Brannon’s direction rarely reached any level beyond uninspired, and to call him a traffic cop would be heady praise indeed.

Brannon had a little assistance on this serial from Yakima Canutt, a legendary stuntman and second unit director whose previous directorial efforts at Republic included Manhunt of Mystery Island (1945) and Federal Operator 99 (1945) (both with Spencer Gordon Bennet) and later serials (in tandem with Brannon) included Dangers of the Canadian Mounted (1948) and Adventures of Frank and Jesse James (1948). With Canutt on board, you were guaranteed that at least the fight scenes would be first-rate (a definite plus in G-Men) but apart from that he didn’t leave much of a stamp—Mystery Island is probably the best of the bunch. (Though I think this gentleman might disagree.)

Another positive in G-Men is Roy Barcroft’s rare appearance as a good guy (as Cameron); when it came to serial villainy, very few actors could match Barcroft’s knack for pure dang-nasty evil…though it’s hard not to notice that the Murkland character gets more screen time, which is probably as it should be. The only other nice guy part I’ve seen Barcroft in (I’m sure there are many others) is a tiny role as “The Judge” in the 1969 Steve McQueen film The Reivers; most of the time the first moment you saw him onscreen you knew he’d be up to no good. (Among his highpoints of villainy: Captain Mephisto in Mystery Island [the actor often singled this out as his favorite], the titled bad guy of The Purple Monster Strikes [1945] and Hank Kilgore in Ghost of Zorro [1949].)

As for the other performers…they don’t fare so well. We all know Clayton Moore from the days of watching TV’s The Lone Ranger, and while that role fit the actor like a glove he had a tendency to be a bit of a stiff in other parts, particularly when he was assigned to be the hero. (That’s why I get a kick out of seeing Moore as the bad guy in serials like The Crimson Ghost [1946] and Radar Men from the Moon [1952]—at least it allowed him something different to do.) Ramsay Ames actually makes Moore look like a master thespian; the former dancer-singer was featured in only a few serials—including one of my favorite post-war Republics, The Black Widow (1947), and Columbia’s The Vigilante: Fighting Hero of the West (1947)—but for the most part found herself relegated to bit parts in B-pics and Westerns. (For some odd reason, I always remember with great fondness Ames’ turn in The Mummy's Ghost [1944], the penultimate (and daffiest) feature in the Universal “Mummy” series.)

I purchased my copy of G-Men from AC Comics, and was fortunate to procure it when it was part of a half-price sale…if you’re thinking about grabbing a copy you could probably locate it cheaper elsewhere. The AC Comics copy also contains Chapter Two of The Spider's Web (1938) as a bonus, a serial I discussed a good many years ago and is considered by many to be one of the best to emerge from the Columbia Studios fold.

2 comments:

John H said...

I just finished watching the final chapter after I read your review.
Thanks for putting the capper on this. I must say I agree with you on this serial. Republic serials from this time period are so in need of the Witney-English touch.
By the way, the Republic Sunset Carson western titled "Cherokee Flash" features Roy Barcroft in another of his rare "good guy" roles...playing the father of Carson.

Teacher'sDelight said...

Thank you for your post.

I got this movie as a gift for my father about 10 years ago. I had to special order it, so I paid full price.

He set it aside and didn't realize why I thought it was so cool, until I finally told him.

-S.D nee Murkland!