Category Archives: 1945

Top 15 Charlie Chan Films

 

There are a few movie detective series that are a lot of fun to watch over the years. The Falcon, The Saint, Mr. Moto, Mr. Wong, Bulldog Drummond, The Thin Man, and Philo Vance all come to mind as great series. But the most popular would have to be the Charlie Chan series. Charlie Chan was a Honolulu Detective of Chinese descent, created by author Earl Derr Biggers. He originally conceived of the benevolent and heroic Chan as an alternative to Yellow Peril stereotypes and villains like Dr. Fu Manchu. Interestingly enough, when Hollywood started making movies on the Detective, he never stayed in Honolulu, as his investigations usually took him all over the world, dragging one of his many sons with him.

The films started in the late 1920’s but were not popular at first. Many people think it was because Charlie Chan was played by Asian actors and just didn’t catch with American audiences, but I think it’s a lot more simple than that, I think they weren’t given a proper chance as those Charlie Chan’s were only barely in the first 3 films. They all appeared late in the films, or only in several scenes or just coming in at the very end. So, I think that would be the main reason. Regardless, Charlie Chan didn’t take off until several years later for the first time when Swedish actor Warner Oland played him in Charlie Chan Carries On in 1931. It’s the first movie to include his name in the title and featured him as the main character. He became a huge hit and the studios never went back to casting the proper Asian actor for the role after that, attributing some or all of the success to the fact that the actor was Caucasian. It is however, one of the major contributions to turning OFF modern day audiences to what is otherwise a fantastic and fun series.

There were over 48 Charlie Chan movies in the series, not to mention several made in other languages. Warner Oland started playing Charlie Chan for 16 movies and then he died unexpectedly and Sydney Toler took over the role for 22 movies and then Roland Winters finished the role for 6 movies.

Here are my Top 15 Charlie Chan films:

15.  Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)Charlie Chan at the Circus

While visiting the circus with his family, Charlie is recruited by the big top’s co-owner to investigate threatening letters that he’s received.

This one has a lot of great elements with Warner Oland playing Chan and Keye Luke (my favorite) playing number 1 son. One of the only times you’ll see the entire Chan family together in the series. This one also features the actor J. Carrol Naish who would appear in other popular mysteries at the time (Mr. Moto and Bulldog Drummond) with Think Fast, Mr. Moto, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back and Bulldog Drummond in Africa. He would also go on to play Charlie Chan himself in the 1957 TV Series, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, which would go on for 39 episodes. I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s great.

14.  Charlie Chan in Rio (1941)charlie-chan-i-rio-(1941)

On the trail of a singer who killed the man she loved in Honolulu, Charlie finds her stabbed to death when he ultimately catches up to her in Rio.

With Sydney Toler as Chan and number 2 son played by the excellent, Victor Sen Yung, this one is one of the first ones I ever saw. I became hooked immediately. Interestingly enough, one of the characters mentions Bulldog Drummond two times in this movie. It’s the actress Mary Ann Hughes, who would play a character a couple of times on the Thin Man TV Show years later. Also interesting is that a director early on in the series, Hamilton McFadden, who directed The Black Camel, Charlie Chan Carries On, Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case and co-direct Charlie Chan in Paris, acts as a character in this film.

13.  Dead Men Tell (1941)Dead Men Tell

A treasure map in four pieces, the ghost of a hanged pirate, a talking parrot, and a ship full of red herrings complicate Charlie’s search for a murderer on board a docked ship.

Directed by Harry Lachman, who would direct 5 of the movies from the series and my favorite director, as all 5 of his movies made my list!  The last 3 I just mentioned and 2 more to come. He was a former illustrator, painter, set designer and then director, so his design aesthetic was top notch. His artworks can be seen in such museums as Spain’s Prado and the Luxembourg Museum. George Reeves, who played Superman on TV was also in this film. He was shot to death a few years later, I write about it in a blog here>>>

12.  Charlie Chan in Reno (1939)Charlie Chan in Reno

Mary Whitman, an old friend of Charlie’s in Reno for a divorce, finds herself accused of murdering the woman her husband planned to marry after the decree became final.

Kane Richmond has a nice part in this one, he was an actor/stuntman known for the Spy Smasher series a few years later. I talk about him and the stunts in a blog post here>>> He would do 3 Charlie Chan films, and yes they all just happen to be on my list. When the series does some thing right, they do have a tendency to try and duplicate what makes them so good, hence the reason why several people work on multiples in the series. Ricardo Cortez is of note as well. He was the first one to star as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon years before Humphrey Bogart made the part his own. He also appeared in Mr. Moto’s Last Warning and 2 Charlie Chan films. Also in this are Morgan Conway (Dick Tracy in two RKO films in the mid-1940’s) and Robert Lowery (Batman in the Columbia serial The Adventures of Batman and Robin in 1948).

11.  Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)charlie-chan-at-the-opera

A dangerous amnesiac escapes from an asylum, hides in the opera house, and is suspected of getting revenge on those who tried to murder him 13 years ago.

Warner Oland and Keye Luke are at it again, this time with Boris Karloff and William Demarest added in for good measure. Stage manager Maurice Cass vows that the opera will go on “even if Frankenstein walks in!” Audiences were well aware that this in-joke referred to star Boris Karloff, who was in the theater at the time. The unique billing listed Warner Oland vs. Boris Karloff above the title. Karloff had turned down the title role in Werewolf of London (1935), which would have pitted him against his current co-star, Warner Oland, who is also in that movie. The Werewolf part was ultimately played by Henry Hull. Boris Karloff is also unique in that he also played an Asian Detective later, that of Mr Wong in 4 mysteries in 1939-1940 (The Mystery of Mr. Wong, Mr. Wong in Chinatown, The Fatal Hour and Doomed to Die).  All of these are excellent films in their own right.

You’d recognize William Demarest best for his role of Uncle Charley in My Three Sons (1965-1972).

10.  Castle in the Desert (1942)charlie-chan-in-castle-in-the-desert-poster

Charlie Chan investigates apparent poisonings at a mystery mansion in the Mojave Desert.

Back to Toler and Victor Sen Yung for this movie. To talk about Victor Sen Yung for a second, he would come into the series after Warner Oland died and after Keye Luke left as number 1 son…Victor came on board as #2 son and would reprise his role a total of 17 more times.  Goes on to portray the cook Hop SIng on the TV Show Bonanza for 109 episodes. He really was an accomplished Cantonese cook and penned the book “Great Wok Cookbook” in 1974.

9.  Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)charlie-chan-at-the-race-track

When a friend of Charlie’s is found kicked to death by his own race horse on board a Honolulu-bound liner, the detective discovers foul play and uncovers an international gambling ring.

Now Keye Luke as Number 1 son was also an accomplished artist. He did several production drawings for the Charlie Chan movie series. Some of his work is still in Hollywood’s Graumann’s Chinese Theater (the garden fairytale setting murals on the interior of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Chinese Theater massive auditorium ceiling). He specialized in murals. Examples of his work can also be seen in the films The Shanghai Gesture (1941) and Macao (1952).

The only time that number 1 son Keye Luke and number 2 son Victor Sen Yung would be together on screen was in The Feathered Serpent (Roland Winter as Charlie Chan). Almost 40 years after he played Lee Chan to the Charlie Chans of Warner Oland and Roland Winters, he took a turn at playing Charlie Chan himself, providing his voice in the Hanna-Barbera animated CBS-TV series The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan (1972). Among those who provided the voices of his children were Jodie Foster and Robert Ito.motogambleluke

Interesting to note that there is another film that is not a Charlie Chan film where Keye Luke plays number 1 son Lee Chan again and that is in 1938’s Mr. Moto’s Gamble (1938) opposite Peter Lorre, which was intended as a Chan picture, before Oland’s absence forced the studio to hurriedly rewrite the script as a Moto feature.

Another interesting note, he had the distinction of being the only Asian actor to play a lead Asian detective in the 1930/1940s era. He played Mr. Wong in Phantom of Chinatown (1940) for Monogram. It was the final film in the Mr. Wong Detective series and he took over the role from none other than Boris Karloff, who I mentioned in Charlie Chan at the Opera.

8.  Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)Murder cruise

Charlie tries to discover the identity of a strangler who strikes multiple times on a cruise ship bound from Honolulu to California.

This is the last of the Chan films directed by Eugene Forde, and I think his best, even though his others are very good ones in the series as well. Number 2 son Victor Sen Yung and Number 3 son Laynie Tom Jr. (just to clairify, I’m numbering the sons based on their appearances and popularity in the series, their numbers are not official, it just makes it easy to identify them) appear together in this one as well as Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938), Sydney Toler’s 1st Chan movie.  Lionel Atwill is a standout in this film, and he also appeared in another Chan film, Charlie Chan in Panama (look at number 5 on this list) and he also appeared in Mr Moto Takes a Vacation (1939) and as Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942) and as Dr. Mortimer in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939).

7.  Charlie Chan Carries On / Eran Trece (1931)Eran-Trece-Opening-Credit

Charlie steps in to solve the murder of a wealthy American found dead in a London hotel. Settings include London, Nice, San Remo, Honolulu and Hong Kong.

I should be up front and mention that Charlie Chan Carries On is considered a LOST FILM, but the screenplay is still out there and Fox filmed a Spanish-language version of this film, using many of the same sets, using a Spanish-speaking cast, and was released under the title Eran Trece (There Were Thirteen). This used many of the same pieces of stock footage as the English-language version and the script was expanded somewhat based on the English-language script. This Spanish-language version is available as a bonus feature on the DVD release of Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935), which is where I saw the film.  Eran Trece stars Manuel Arbo as Charlie Chan. Interestingly enough, they did the same thing that year with Dracula (1931) and he was in the Spanish version of that film as well.  Both of the Spanish versions of these films are mentioned to be far superior than their English counterparts…Manuel Arbo as Charlie Chan

This is the only Spanish-language film in the entire original Chan series and the only one that doesn’t feature Warner Oland as Charlie Chan. There were no other foreign-language Charlie Chan films made by Hollywood after this one because, shortly after this movie came out, a method of putting sound on the actual film was developed, and so voice dubbing became more practical.

6.  Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940)Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum

An escaped convicted murderer hides out at a New York wax museum where he hopes to get plastic surgery, which will help him revenge himself on Charlie Chan.

John Francis Larkin would probably be my favorite of all the screenwriters that have written a Chan films over the years, as he has written 5 of the films on this list! He has this one, Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum, then Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, Charlie Chan in Panama, Dead Men Tell and Castle in the Desert. He comes up with some of the most unusual plots throughout the series and always has a great locale.

5.  Charlie Chan in Panama (1940)Charlie Chan in Panama

Inspector Chan investigates a group of travelers, one of whom is a saboteur.

Again, this one has a lot of the elements I love; Toler, Luke, Richmond, Atwill– all the people I mentioned before and they throw Jean Rogers into the mix.  She is most immediately known for being Dale Arden in two of the better Flash Gordon serials and had a nice role in Ace Drummond.

4.  Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937)charlie-chan-on-broadway-1937

Returning from European exile where she avoided testifying against her criminal associates, a former singer with a tell-all diary is murdered to ensure her silence.

When photographer Joan Wendell (Joan Marsh) first walks into the newspaper building, a man at a desk says “you just think you can”. That man is horror icon Lon Chaney Jr, in an un-credited cameo. Also, of interest to filmmakers, an early example of product placement, a bottle of Bayer aspirin is shown on a table.harold-huber-Mr-Motos-Gamble

A notable entry in this one is character actor Harold Huber, who pops up in several mystery movie series at the time including 4 Charlie Chan movies; Charlie Chan on Broadway, City in Darkness, Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo and Charlie Chan in Rio.  He also appears in the first The Thin Man movie as well as 2 Mr. Moto films with Mr Moto’s Gamble and The Mysterious Mr. Moto. Although, he never plays the same character twice in any of his movies. He’s great, and he also played Hercule Poirot and Dr. Fun Manchu on the radio!

3.  Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939)charlie-chan-at-treasure-island

Charlie’s investigation of a phony psychic during the 1939 World Exposition on San Francisco’s Treasure Island leads him to expose a suicide as murder.

Cesar Romero appears in this one!  He’s a very well known actor, but if you need me to jog your memory just think of The Joker from the Batman TV Show. The Treasure Island referred to in the title is a man-made island in San Francisco Bay that was built in 1936 & 1937 in anticipation of it hosting the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 & 1940. After the fair closed the U.S. Navy used the site for many years. Since the 1980’s the site has been used by many film & television production companies with aircraft hangars 2 & 3 converted to sound stages. I love the atmosphere of this entry.

2. Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)Charlie-Chan-at-the-Olympics-Laynie Tom Jr

When a strategically important new aerial guidance system is stolen, Charlie traces it to the Berlin Olympics, where he has to battle spies and enemy agents to retrieve it.

The only time that Number 1 son Keye Luke and Number 3 son, Laynie Tom Jr. would appear together, making it so that all 3 of the main sons worked together at least 1 time each throughout the series.

This one is very interesting as the Olympics in the movie is in Germany, during the Nazi reign. The film features actual footage from the 1936 Berlin Olympics. There is also a scene where Charlie crosses the Atlantic in the Hindenburg. Stock footage of the dirigible Hindenburg was retouched, frame by frame, to blot out the swastikas emblazoned on the airship’s tail.

1  Murder Over New York (1940)Murder-Over-New-York-Charlie-Chan

When Charlie’s old friend from Scotland Yard is murdered when they attend a police convention in New York, Chan picks up the case he was working on.

This one is written by Lester Ziffren, who wrote only 4 Charlie Chan movies and yes, as expected, all 4 made it on my list. Like I said, I seem to like certain elements in the series. He also wrote Charlie Chan in Rio, Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise, and Charlie Chan in Panama.  Before he wrote screenplays, he was reporter for United Press. Was among the first journalists to report the start of the Spanish Civil War. He sent a coded message past Spanish censors to break the news of the Spanish Civil War to the rest of the world; after leaving Spain just ahead of the troops of Francisco Franco, Ziffren went to Hollywood where he got a job writing movie screenplays through the influence of his new bride’s uncle, Sol M. Wurtzel.

Now, you are probably wondering why I left out Mantan Moreland, a very notable character actor who appeared as Birmingham Brown in 15 Charlie Chan films. Just to set some history: Birmingham Brown is a character from the Monogram Pictures entries of the Charlie Chan series of films introduced between 1944 and 1949. He was a combination chauffeur, side-kick, and trusted assistant. Oftentimes jittery, sometimes bug-eyed, and always superstitious, Birmingham Brown was forever warning the members of the Chan clan to stay away from an obviously dangerous case or situation. The character was brilliantly portrayed by the creative, comedic actor Mantan Moreland.charlie-chan-service-secret

Now with that said, none of those 15 movies made my list, so I wasn’t able to talk directly about him, but he’s such a standout in the series, I thought he should at least be mentioned in the blog. He’s very good, but at times, I thought those films just got to be a little too silly for my taste and I prefer the earlier entries. He plays especially well with Victor Sen Yung, although, so they are still fun to watch.

Another great actor from the series that hasn’t gotten a mention yet is the awesome Benson Fong. I’ve loved him as an actor over the years and he appears technically as Number 4 son, even though he would be older than Laynie Tom Jr., but is Number 4 on appearance in the series. He appears in 7 Charlie Chan films, only 6 of them as a Chan clan member, as in Charlie Chan at the Opera, he only appears as an extra in the background. You can see a picture of Benson Fong in the picture I posted from Charlie Chan in the Secret Service.

The Thin Man and Dashiell Hammett

 

The Thin Man” was never meant to be a series of films, let’s get that straight right up front. The title doesn’t make reference to Nick or Nora Charles, the two main characters in the series, it makes reference to the murder victim in the first film.  The successful pairing of Myrna Loy and William Powell and the incredible characters they play are what influenced the creation of a mystery series moving forward, with the Thin Man moniker connecting the films together, even though he never appears in the series again.

The Thin Man was originally the creation of author Dashiell Hammett, one of my all time favorites…so much so that I named one of my dogs after him. It was published first in the magazine Redbook in December 1933 and then came out in book form a month later. Now, he wrote just the one novel for the Thin Man, but submitted script drafts for 2 of the screenplays that followed for After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man and later in 2012 these two screenplays were turned into novellas for the book Return of the Thin Man. I thoroughly enjoyed his original 5 published novels, his screenplays as well as these later works published by his estate.Dashiell Hammett

MGM loved the writing of Dashiell Hammett as well and went instantly into production on the movie as soon as the book was released and hired W.S. Van Dyke to direct and William Powell and Myrna Loy as the married detectives Nick and Nora Charles. Now a lot of the popularity of the series has to do with the pairing of these two actors who went on to do 14 films together with the The Thin Man series being only 6 of them, but I would like to add that it was another real married couple that has a lot to do with the popularity of the series and they never get the credit that is due them.  It is the writers Albert Hackett and wife Francis Goodrich who would write and rewrite the first 3 movies and arguable the best of the series. They were wonderful writers in their own right and would go on to write the classics; It’s A Wonderful Life, the 2 Father Of The Bride movies, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and of course, won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama for The Diary Of Anne Frank. The Hacketts were one of the most successful screenwriting partnerships in Hollywood history. From the time they got married in 1931, until their retirement in 1962, they turned out in excess of 30 scripts, mostly comedies and musicals.Hackett and Goodrich

Director W. S. Van Dyke (One-Take Woody) was given 3 weeks to shoot the film and he surprised everyone by bringing it in under budget and in only 12 days! It was a major hit at the box office and brought in 6 times it’s budget when it was released originally to theaters. I posted before about the film The Prizefighter and the Lady, which was directed by W.S. Van Dyke and starred Myrna Loy. He also directed Loy and William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama and because of the success of The Thin Man would direct them in 4 of the sequels. William Powell spoke of how much he loved working with Myrna Loy because of her naturalness, her professionalism, and her lack of any kind of “diva” temperament. “When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angles, and microphones. We weren’t acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony,” he said. “Myrna, unlike some actresses who think only of themselves, has the happy faculty of being able to listen while the other fellow says his lines. She has the give and take of acting that brings out the best.” W.S. Van Dyke paid attention to William Powell and Myrna Loy’s easy banter between takes and their obvious enjoyment of each other’s company and worked it into the movie. The director often encouraged and incorporated improvisation and off-the-cuff details into the picture.Powell, William (After the Thin Man)

Although the “Thin Man” of the title was the murdered man, Clyde Wynant, fans of the picture and the subsequent series began to refer to the Nick Charles character as “The Thin Man,” and all subsequent films included “The Thin Man” in their titles.  After the Thin Man (1936) was the second film in the series and reunited the 2 leads with their director and added James Stewart to the cast. Though William Powell and Myrna Loy were very close friends off-screen, their only romantic moments together occurred on-screen. The public, however, was determined to have them married in private life as well. When the two stars showed up in San Francisco (where most of this film was shot) at the St. Francis, the hotel management proudly showed “Mr. and Mrs. Powell” to their deluxe suite. This was an especially uncomfortable moment as Jean Harlow, who was engaged to Powell, was with them, and the couple had not made a public statement about their relationship. Harlow saved the day by insisting on sharing the suite with Loy: “That mix-up brought me one of my most cherished friendships,” Loy said in “Being and Becoming”, her autobiography. “You would have thought Jean and I were in boarding school we had so much fun. We’d stay up half the night talking and sipping gin, sometimes laughing, sometimes discussing more serious things.” Meanwhile, Powell got the hotel’s one remaining room – a far humbler accommodation downstairs.after-the-thin-man-herald-02-large

The next film was Another Thin Man (1939), and again featured the same writers, director and lead actors Loy and Powell. Two tragedies befell William Powell before the making of this film: the unexpected death of his fiancé Jean Harlow, and a difficult battle with colon cancer that required colon bypass surgery and new radiation treatments. Production of this “Thin Man” movie was delayed as a result, but Powell and Loy were given a standing ovation when he finally returned to join her on the set for filming.  Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) followed a few years later without the writers Hammet, Hackett and Goodrich.   Living up to his nickname, One-Take Woody, W.S. Van Dyke filmed this one in just 2 weeks.shadow-of-the-thin-man-print-ad-03-large

The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) was next and absent was director W.S. Van Dyke.  A lot was changed due to the war, for example the heavy drinking in the film series was curtailed in this entry due to wartime liquor rationing and the film was delayed because Loy went to New York to marry car rental heir John Hertz Jr. and was busy working for the Red Cross war effort. 2 years after that came the last one in the series, The Song of the Thin Man (1947).  This one is fun due to the appearance of incredible character actor Keenan Wynn and little Dean Stockwell as Nick Charles Jr. Ten years later would come a delightful TV Show of The Thin Man (1957), starring Peter Lawford as Nick and Phyllis Kirk as Nora. I miss Powell and Loy to be sure, but the TV show is fun and has a great tone unique all to itself. I think it’s a worthy mention in the series. You also have to wonder if the series was an inspiration to Hart To Hart (1979) with Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers that came later.  I loved that show as well.the-thin-man-Kirk-Lawford

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None

 

This original novel by Agatha Christie has become the number 1 mystery novel of all time, selling over 100 million copies. Written first in 1939, it went on to become a smash hit.  It’s no wonder really that it’s had multiple versions and imitations of it on film over the years.

The main plot device of using the 10 figures to showcase each death has changed over time, with good reason. Originally Christie wrote them as well as the title as, “Ten Little Ni**ers” (I can’t even write it, it’s so offensive) and then to “Ten Little Indians” and then changed to “Soldiers”. The title that is retained most commonly at that point is the end of the nursery rhyme, “And Then There Were None“, which I think fits perfectly.And_Then_There_Were_None_1945

Now as for my favorite version of the film, it would still have to be Rene Clair’s version from 1945. Interestingly, enough it’s not based on the book but rather the play by Christie that was written a short time later and has a difference in that the two main protagonists Lombard and Claythorne are innocent and manage to survive the whole affair. In the book they were guilty and die like everyone else. This version is just fantastic, however, with a very strong cast and great dialogue. It’s in the public domain, and so it is difficult to get a hold of a quality copy.nine suspects - Ten Little Indians (1965)

The next version worth noting is the George Pollock version (1965), titled, “Ten Little Indians” and is fantastic in it’s own right.  I have to point out at this time the plot seemed to inspire a lot more films that are fantastic as well, my first being the very well written Neil Simon’s “Murder By Death” (1976).  He added a flair to the proceeding by making all the guests themselves world-famous detectives modeled after a slew of my favorite all time literary characters! Characters modeled after Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, Sam Spade, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple. The works of Earl Derr Biggers, Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett all in one movie is just too good to pass up!Murder+By+Death+Dinner+with+Truman+Capote

Another one that my brother and I just love is the movie made from the board game, “Clue” (1985). The game itself, ironically enough is also inspired by Agatha Christie’s book and originally featured 10 characters as well when it was first created in 1944. Anyway, the movie Clue is great fun and features one of the best comedic casts to ever be gathered for one film. The last one film to note is the most recent, “And Then There Were None” (2015). The most recent one is done by the BBC and is the only one to retain the original ending of killing Lombard and Claythorne.clue-blu-ray-still-550x285

Best of the Year List 1940-1949

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1940-1949 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1940:  The Mark of Zorro

Not only the second time for Zorro, but the second time for this exact title.  Different year, different actors…great stunts.  The fencing duel between Tyrone Powers and Basil Rathbone, choreographed by Fred Caverns is just about one of the finest ever put to celluloid. Mark of Zorro, The (1940)

1941: The Adventures of Captain Marvel

Dave Hardin Sharpe provided the fighting and the flying in this nifty action serial.  It’s also one of my all time favorite superheros…the original Captain Marvel!

Captain MArvel Lobby Card

1942:  Spy Smasher

It’s the era of the Movie Serial, and no-one did it better than this one!  It’s all out action and adventure with cliff-hangers galore! Carey Loftkin, Kane Richmond and Dave Hardin Sharpe combined to make Spy Smasher a fantastic hit!spyserial

1943:  The Masked Marvel

Another great action serial.  Tom Steele did so many stunts in this, he can even be found to be a bad guy chasing himself, as The Masked Marvel.marvel in danger

1944:  Ghost Guns

At this time there were some impressive cowgirls in the movies. Evelyn Finley was one of the toughest.  This was a B movie, but she’s worth the watch.Poster for the movie ghost guns with Evelyn Finley

1945:  Back To Bataan

We all know what a tough guy John Wayne was, especially in his later years.  It’s fun to see him hit the list for the first time with this entry, a great little war film.Back To Bataan

1946:  Detour To Danger

This one is just like a film I would have made in college; get a whole bunch of buddies together with a 16mm camera and go film some crazy fight scenes.  Harvey Parry and Richard Talmadge get all their stuntman cronies for this one and it’s a lot of fun.  Not great acting, but great fun.detour richard talmadge

1947:  The Perils of Pauline

Second time on the list, but the funny thing is, this one is a fictionalized account of the making of the first film. Polly Burson provides the stunts in this one and she would go on to some nifty westerns as she was a home-spun cowgirl in her own right.perils pauline

1948:  The Three Musketeers

Dave Hardin Sharpe makes the list for the 3rd time in one decade (is that a record?) along with Gene Kelly for their work in this film.  And WOW, what a supporting cast!Three Musketeers, The (1948)

1949:  Twelve O’Clock High

This has got to be the largest plane ever crashed by a real person on film and walked away from it.  Paul Mantz seemed to do it completely without flinching and as if it was as easy as parking a car.Twelve_O'Clock_High_crash_landing

For more info, find the book 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

John Wayne and Back to Bataan

 

When John Wayne first started acting in films, he didn’t do a lot of his own stunts.  As the years passed and he gained experience, he became friends with a lot of the stunt performers of the early days of film like Yakima Canutt and he started taking on a lot more of the stunts himself.  In Back to Bataan (1945), he decided to do ALL the stunts himself.back-to-bataan-

In the book, John Wayne: American, it states that during the filming, Edward Dmytryk, the director and Ben Barzman, the screenwriter, found out that Wayne refused to use a stunt double and together, they collaborated in writing scenes that they thought would make Wayne insist on a stunt double to do the painful scenes. In one scene, Wayne was required to be lifted in the air by leather harness to simulate being blown by an explosion, and in another scene, Wayne and Anthony Quinn had to enter an icy pond and remain underwater for a lengthy time, breathing through a reed. Wayne did the stunts, but as he drank a bracing whiskey told Barzman, “You better be goddamn sure we don’t find out this is something you dreamed up out of your little head as a parting gift”.Bataan 1945

As the script for the movie was being written, the battle for the Philippines was still being fought. The screenwriter was constantly updating the script based on the latest news from the front. The Raid at Cabanatuan and release of prisoners was also rapidly incorporated into the screenplay with scenes of a recreation of the 6th Ranger Battalion attacking the prison camp placed on the beginning of the film with appearances of recently-released prisoners added to the end of the film. The movie took one hundred and thirty days to shoot the picture, i.e. about one third of a year or four months.

Back To Bataan was directed by Edward Dmytryk for RKO Pictures.

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB):

History of film companies as defined by Wikipedia: RKO Pictures – RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Pictures is an American film production and distribution company. As RKO Radio Pictures Inc., it was one of the Big Five studios of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The business was formed after the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) theater chains and Joseph P. Kennedy’s Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) studio were brought together under the control of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in October 1928. RCA chief David Sarnoff engineered the merger to create a market for the company’s sound-on-film technology, RCA Photophone. By the mid-1940s, the studio was under the control of investor Floyd Odlum.

RKO has long been celebrated for its cycle of musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the mid-to-late 1930s. Actors Katharine Hepburn and, later, Robert Mitchum had their first major successes at the studio. Cary Grant was a mainstay for years. The work of producer Val Lewton’s low-budget horror unit and RKO’s many ventures into the field now known as film noir have been acclaimed, largely after the fact, by film critics and historians. The studio produced two of the most famous films in motion picture history: King Kong and Citizen Kane.

Maverick industrialist Howard Hughes took over RKO in 1948. After years of decline under his control, the studio was acquired by the General Tire and Rubber Company in 1955. The original RKO Pictures ceased production in 1957 and was effectively dissolved two years later. In 1981, broadcaster RKO General, the corporate heir, revived it as a production subsidiary, RKO Pictures Inc. In 1989, this business with its few remaining assets, the trademarks and remake rights to many classic RKO films, was sold to new owners, who now operate the small independent company RKO Pictures LLC.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM