Saturday Breakfast Serial 012 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 12: The Invisible Trail

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)

I’m gonna get out of the way pretty quickly here this morning so that we can get right on to the final chapter of The Crimson Ghost.

Just a quick reminder that I’m still taking nominations for the next serial that will run in this spot beginning next week, and probably will be until Thursday or so. Right now, the top contenders appear to be The Shadow of the Eagle (1932), King of the Rocket Men (1949), Zorro Rides Again (1937), Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1947), Tiger Woman (1944), The Miracle Rider (1935), Terry and the Pirates (1940), Blackhawk (1952), or Ghost of Zorro (1949). I’m also considering running one of the silent foreign serials that I discussed earlier, Les Vampires (1915).

Obviously, though, as I noted above, I still haven’t made a decision, and I welcome any other nominations or votes on which to feature next. Just let me know what you folks would like to see either in the comments below, or over on the Durnmoose Movie Musings Facebook page.

Okay, let’s get on with the show -here’s  Chapter 12 of The Crimson Ghost: “The Invisible Trail”

Next time: ?

Saturday Breakfast Serial 011 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 11: Double Murder

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

So far, as we’ve been looking back at the history of movie serials, we’ve stayed pretty strictly in the silent era. because, of course, that’s where they were born. Now, however, it’s time to begin to make the transition to the sound era, with a serial that contained at least a partial soundtrack. Tarzan the Tiger.

First released by Universal Studios in 1929, Tarzan the Tiger was a follow-up to their 1928 release of Tarzan the Mighty. Both serials featured Frank Merrill as Tarzan and Natalie Kingston as an incredibly sexy and sensual Lady Jane (as a matter of fact, she even appears topless during a swimming hole scene in chapter 8). At least loosely based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, the serial sees Lord Greystoke retuning to the Jungle in order to retrieve the legendary jewels of Opar, which he needs to secure his title.

What makes Tarzan the Mighty most interesting for our purposes, however, is the fact that the serial was actually released in two versions, one completely silent, the other with at least a partial soundtrack. No, there is still no dialogue on the soundtrack – that was still conveyed through intertitle cards – but it does contain music and sound effects.

And remarkably, among those sound effects is the first recorded instance of the “Tarzan Yell”.

No, that yell really doesn’t sound anything like the iconic one that would first appear in the Johnny Weismuller starring Tarzan the Ape Man, but it is a Tarzan yell nonetheless.

Speaking of yelling, now that we’ve reached the penultimate chapter of The Crimson Ghost, I bet there’s going to be some yelling going on in it, too. Let’s see, shall we?

Next time: The final chapter of The Crimson Ghost: “The Invisible Trail” and more movie serial history. Oh, and by the way, I am taking nominations for the next serial to feature in this spot once we finish The Crimson Ghost, so feel free to nominate one of your favorites – or one you haven’t seen but would like to – in the comments below.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 010 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 10: The Trap That Failed

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

A few weeks ago in this space I wrote about Louis Feuillade‘s Fantomas. (You can find that post here.) Today I want to take a look at his next, and probably most famous and best renowned serial, Les Vampires, which debuted in 1915.

Now, before you get the wrong idea, I’ll just go ahead and let the cat out of the bag. There are no actual vampires in this serial. Instead, The Vampires are a rather bizarre French criminal organization. They are an offshoot of an extremely violent type of French gangster known as Apaches, apparently so named because they were well known for their extremely violent methods (there is, for instance, a beheading in the first episode), which was said to resemble the violent tendencies of the Native American tribe for which they are named.

The Vampires are led by a mysterious figure known as The Grand Vampire, and his second in command is actually a woman who goes by the anagrammatic name of Irma Vep. They are being investigated and perused by a reporter for the newspaper The French Chronicle, Philipe Guérande.

vamp1As I’ve noted before, many of these early serials were not really the formulaic episodic cliffhanger type of serial that we normally associate with the label today, and this is especially true of Les Vampires. Though it was released as 10 separate episodes of varying length (the shortest, episode 2, runs only about 15 minutes, while others run anywhere from 30 minutes to a full hour), when taken together, they actually form a quite cohesive seven hour long movie, and in fact, Les Vampires is often listed not as much as a serial, but as one of the longest movies ever made.

Another interesting thing to note is that the early advertising for the serial actually was done with more than a touch of mystery and ballyhoo. Before the first episode’s release, Paris was plastered with the poster above (the questions translate as “Who? What? When? Where…?”), and many of the morning newspapers throughout France ran the following poem:

Des nuits sans lune ils sont les Rois, les ténèbres sont leur empire. Portant la mort, semant l’effroi. Voici le vol noir des Vampires. Gorgés de sang, visqueux et lourds. Ils vont, les sinistres Vampires aux grandes ailes de velours non pas vers le Mal… Vers le Pire!

which translates as

Of the moonless nights they are kings, darkness is their kingdom. Carrying death and sowing terror, the dark Vampires fly with great suede wings, ready not only to do evil… but to do even worse!

vamp2Finally, before we move on, I should note that French actress Musidora, who portrays the character of Irma Vep casts an incredibly striking and quite sexy figure throughout the serial, especially when she is clad in the black bodysuit which became the character’s trademark. There is even a 1996 film directed by Olivier Assayas entitled Irma Vep which portrays an attempt to remake Les Vampires and stars Maggie Cheung.

Les Vampires has been released on home video a number of times, most recently as a two disk Blu-ray set from Kino International. You can also find all ten episodes on YouTube, and I highly recommend seeking it out.

Okay, time for us to move on. We’re up to Chapter 10 of The Crimson Ghost, which means after this there’s only two more chapters to go, and things are quickly heating up toward the climax.

Next time: Chapter 11 of The Crimson Ghost: “Double Murder” and more movie serial history.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 009 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 9: Blazing Fury

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

Thanks to the Christmas holiday, things have been pretty quiet here on the blog, (especially since I decided to just let the whole Sony/Interview thing play out on it’s own and not get embroiled in it here) and that will likely continue until after the first of the year.

However, I didn’t want you guys who have been faithfully following the hunt for the Crimson Ghost to miss out on this week’s adventure, so without further ado, here’s chapter 9:

 

Next time: Chapter 10 of The Crimson Ghost: “The Trap That Failed” and we’ll get back to more history of the movie serials then, too.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 008 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 8: The Slave Collar

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Since today’s episode is largely devoted to catching up those who came in late, it seems like this might be a good time to take a break from our ongoing look at the history of serials in general, and focus instead upon The Crimson Ghost itself.

Republic Pictures was established in 1935 when the founder and president of the film processing laboratory Consolidated Film Industries, Herbert J. Yates, pressured six of the smaller “Poverty Row” movie companies which all owed him substantial amounts of money (the companies were Monogram Pictures, Mascot Pictures, Liberty Pictures, Majestic Pictures, Chesterfield Pictures and Invincible Pictures) to consolidate under his leadership and the Republic banner. Mascot Pictures had been making serials since the 1920s, and had establiished a name for itself doing so, so it seemed only natural that Republic would allow them to continue in that vein. Beginning with 1936’s Darkest Africa and concluding with King of the Carnival in 1955, a total of 66 serials were produced by Republic.

Production on The Crimson Ghost began on March 28, 1946, and concluded on April 24th. Obviously, these serials were designed to be quick shoots! The budget was set at $137,912, but it’s actual final cost was $161,174, marking it as Republic’s most expensive serial of the year.

the crimson-ghost-1946The Crimson Ghost was produced by Ronald Davidson, written by Albert DeMond, Basil Dickey, Jesse Duffy, and Sol Shor and was directed by Fred C. Brannon and William Witney.

Since the main mystery of the serial is the identity of the Crimson Ghost himself, the ghost was actually played onscreen not by one of the featured actors, but by stuntman Bud Geary. The studio also took the somewhat extra-ordinary step of using a number of different actors to supply the voice, but interestingly, they never used the voice of the actor who, when it came time for the villain’s final unmasking, was revealed to be the face of the ghost. (And no, I’m not going to reveal who that is here, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

The serial seems to have been a hit in its day, and went on to be condensed into a 100 minute TV film in 1966 (the original running time for the 12 chapters was a total of 187 minutes. It was also condensed into a six-episode television serial in the early 60s with each episode basically combining two of the serial’s episodes so they could run in a 30 minute time slot.

Okay, enough talking about it, let’s get on with this week’s episode:

Next time: Chapter 9 of The Crimson Ghost: “Blazing Fury” and more serial history.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 007 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 7: Electrocution

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

It’s funny sometimes how we as Americans can be so eager to and expert at exporting our pop culture characters to other countries, and yet can still be so insular and resistant to exploring what those countries might have to offer us along the same lines. Case in point: Fantomas.

Created in 1911 by French writers Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, Fantomas is one of the most popular characters in the history of French crime fiction, yet is almost completely unknown here in the U.S. He is a thief and a serial killer, and is always on the run from, and always manages to outsmart, his police couterpart Juve. He is a master of disguise, very rarely showing his true face, and he often appears in the guise of the person he has just killed, taking on their full persona and living their lives for quite a long period of time.  Fantomas appears in a series of 43 novels spanning the years from 1911 to 1963 – most of them written as pulp novels similar to later creations such as Doc Savage or The Shadow – which were released monthly during the years 1911-1913. Over the years, there have been many different Fantomas films and television shows, the most recent being a series of four 90-minute television episodes produced in 1980 and starring Helmut Berger. There’s even supposedly a new movie currently in production which is to be directed by Christophe Gans.

fant1And yet, despite the fact that he is the type of anti-hero that could prove quite popular with U.S. audiences, the character is almost completely unknown in America, except among silent or foreign film enthusiasts.

So how does all of this fit in with our ongoing look at the history of serials? The answer to that is quite easy, actually, as the character’s first film appearance was in a series of five serial films which were released in France during the years 1913-1914. These films, each running somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half in length, represent a sort of transition between the stand-alone film serials we have recently explored and the more traditional cliffhanger type serial that we traditionally associate with the term. For example, while the first film tells what could be considered a stand-alone story, ending with Fantomas making a dramatic escape from police custody and Juve swearing to track him down at any cost, the second one has a more dramatic ending, with Fantomas blowing up the a manor house with Juve and Jérôme Fandor (who is a journalist and basically Watson to Juve’s Holmes) trapped inside and the audience left wondering if and how the pair survived. Each film also begins with a recap of what has gone before, thus again distinguishing itself from those film series in which each movie could be watched in whatever order the viewer came across them.

fant2In all, the serial is quite entertaining (I should note that it is available for viewing in its entirety on Netflix with the first episode here), and it is largely considered a silent classic for good reason.

One final note before we move on to today’s chapter of The Crimson Ghost: I should mention that there was a 20 episode American Fantomas serial made in 1920 and directed by Edward Sedgwick which might have brought the character some recognition in this country, however none of the episodes have survived, and it is unfortunately now considered completely lost.

Okay, I suppose it’s time once again to move on from the past and return to the present – well, the “present” of 1946 anyway – and see what happens in Chapter 7 of The Crimson Ghost.

Next time: Chapter 8 of The Crimson Ghost: “The Slave Collar” and more serial history.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 006 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 6: Mystery Of The Mountain

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4, 5)

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday here in America, I’m going to take today off and skip this week’s serial history and just let you plunge right in to chapter six of The Crimson Ghost.

I will, however, give you a heads up, and let you know that next week I’ll be writing about one of the most popular characters of the French silent serials, and indeed of all French crime fiction in general, Fantomas. Actually, a large part of my plan for the day is to watch the original five-part serial based on the character which was produced in 1913 and 1914. Each chapter runs roughly an hour, and they are all available for streaming on Netflix, with the first part here.

Anyway, for now let’s move on with chapter 6 of The Crimson Ghost and see how our hero escaped that fiery collision with the airplane, shall we?

Next time: Chapter 7 of The Crimson Ghost: “Electrocution”, and Fantomas. Be here!

Saturday Breakfast Serial 005 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 5: Flaming Death

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4)

So far we’ve been looking at the very early history of serials in America, but of course we weren’t the only country to realize the potential of continual stories presented  as a way to draw patrons back to the theater each week. One of the other early adopters of the form was, unsurprisingly, the French, who were producing their own movie serials at least as far back as 1908, which was the year that Nick Carter, le roi des détectives (Nick Carter, The King of Detectives) was released.

As his name implies, Nick Carter is actually an American invention, a master detective who first appeared in 1886 in a 13 part serial story in the magazine New York Weekly entitled “The Old Detective’s Pupil; or, The Mysterious Crime of Madison Square”. The story was written by Ormond G. Smith, the son of one of the founders of the publishing company Street & Smith.

Nick Carter posterCarter proved to be a popular enough character to get his own magazine (Nick Carter Weekly, which eventually became Detective Story Magazine), and later was revived as a pulp hero during the height of that genre’s popularity. He also got his own radio show during the Golden Age of Radio.

In 1908, the Nick Carter stories were also being published in France, so the E’clair studio chose him to feature in a six-part serial. Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset was tapped to direct, and Pierre Bressol starred as Carter. Like The Hazards of Helen, which I wrote about last time, whether you consider this to be an actual serial or just a series of short films could be a matter of preference, since each film stood on it’s own, though they were released every two weeks over a limited period of time, so for our purposes we’ll let the designation stand.

nc2The six episodes and their release dates were: Part 1: Le Guet-Apens (The Doctor’s Rescue) 8 September 1908; Part 2: L’Affaire des bijoux (The Jewel Affair). 22 September 1908; Part 3: Les Faux Monnayeurs (False Coiners), 6 October 1908; Part 4: Les Dévaliseurs de banque (The Bank Burglar), 20 October 1908; Part 5: Les Empreintes (The Imprints). 27 October 1908; and Part 6: Les Bandits en noir (The Bandits in Evening Dress), 15 November 1908.

The serial proved popular enough to garner two follow-ups: Nouveaux aventures de Nick Carter in 1909, and Zigomar contre Nick Carter in 1912.

I wonder how well Carter would have done escaping the poison gas that The Crimson Ghost had used to trap our hero last week? My guess is that he’d have done pretty well, but maybe we’d better  get on with Chapter 5 so we can see how he might have done it, hadn’t we?

Next time: Chapter 6 of The Crimson Ghost: “Mystery of the Mountain”, and more movie serial  history. Be here!

Saturday Breakfast Serial 004 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 4: The Laughing Skull

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3)

Last time we took a look at the earliest movie serial, 1912’s What Happened to Mary. This time, I’d like to spend a little time with what may be the longest serial. Or, it may not be, depending on your perspective.

From November 7, 1914 to February 24, 1917 the Kalem Company, a New York City based studio which was founded in 1907 by George Kleine, Samuel Long, and Frank J. Marion, released the 119 chapter movie series The Hazards of Helen.

The reason I say The Hazards of Helen may or nay not be the longest serial is that it depends on how you actually define a movie serial. It fits the description in the sense that each “chapter” lasted only 12 minutes, and they were released serially each Saturday. However, since there is no direct continuity between the different shorts (i.e., no cliffhangers – each short is self contained) and they can actually be watched singly or in any order, the argument has been made that it should be considered a film series as opposed to an actual serial.

220px-HazardsofHelen-NervesHowever you define it or decide to classify it, when you consider that the entire series is comprised of 119 shorts and totals out at almost 24 hours, it has to be considered quite an achievement.

The Hazards of Helen was based on a novel written by John Russell Corvell and a play by Denman Thompson. It was adapted for the screen by W. Scott Darling. The first 48 episodes were directed by J.P. McGowan and the rest were directed by James Davis.

Over the course of the series, the character of Helen was portrayed by four different actresses. The original Helen was actress Helen Holmes who played the character for the first 26 episodes, except for number 18 in which Anna Q. Nilsson replace Holmes due to illness. Episodes 27-49 starred Elsie McLeod and then Rose Wenger Gibson took over the role and starred until the end of the series.

The series appears to have been quite action packed, calling for Helen to do things such as leaping off the roof of a building, roaring around a sharp mountain curve behind the wheel of a speeding car, or jumping onto a moving train from a car or a galloping horse while chasing train robbers.

Unfortunately, it appears that most of the episodes have been lost to time, but some of them do survive and are available in various places, including YouTube and the Internet Archive.

Obviously, The Crimson Ghost doesn’t have anywhere near the number of chapters that The Hazards of Helen did, which is good for our purposes, or else we’d be waiting forever – or at least for over two years – to find out who’s behind that skull mask. Instead we’ve only got 12 chapters to watch before we go to something different, so what say we move on to chapter 4?

Next time: Chapter 5 of The Crimson Ghost: “Flaming Death”, and more movie serial  history. Be here!

Saturday Breakfast Serial 003 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 3: The Fatal Sacrifice

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (You can find Chapter One here and chapter two here. )

Last week I spent some time talking about movie serials and how they fit into the movie-going experience back in the day. Today, I want to begin a look back at the origins of the movie serial itself.

Though we usually think of the movie serial as a product of the 1930s and ’40s and that is certainly the time when their popularity was at its height, the format actually goes back much earlier than that, almost back to the very beginning of film itself, or at least to the early days of movie theaters being a regular part of peoples’ lives.

Indeed, the first true movie serial appeared in the year 1912, and was entitled What Happened To Mary.Interestingly, however, the idea for the serial began not as a film series, but as a magazine serial.

Serial stories in magazines were certainly nothing new at the time. As a matter of fact, not only were serials designed as such for magazines a regular part of these publications, but many classic novels were also initially published in serial format in magazines before being collected into book form.

However, in 1912 the editor of The Ladies World magazine, Charles Dwyer had a new idea: why not, in conjunction with the publication of their latest serial What Happened to Mary, produce a series of short films which could be run in theaters each month, dramatizing the story as it would appear in the magazine? Thus, they could reach two different audiences, and hopefully draw readers to the magazine that might not otherwise pick it up. Yep, What Happened to Mary was not only the first movie serial, it’s a great early example of what we now call “cross-platform marketing”.

whtmThus Dwyer approached Horace G Plimpton,, then manager of Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope Company, who quickly agreed to participate in the project. Dwyer then wrote a screenplay for each installment, and Charles Brabin was selected to direct the twelve segments, each of which ran approximately 10-12 minutes, and both the magazine serial and the first chapter of the movie serial, entitled “The Escape from Bondage” made their debut in June of 1912. The serial starred Mary Fuller as Mary, Marc McDermott as Lieutenant Straker, Charles Ogle as Richard Craig, Mary’s Uncle, and Herbert Yost as Henry, Craig’s Son.

In addition to the movie tie-in, a contest was also run with the serial offering a $100 prize to the person who could, in 300 words or less, come closest to correctly guessing the events of the next chapter. The contest was won by Lucy Proctor of Armstrong, California  who guessed that Mary would be rescued by a young man in his car.

Of course, that’s not what happens to save Duncan Richards, the hero of our currently-ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost, from walking into The Death Ray, but I think it’s about time we find out what does, don’t you? Okay, then, without further ado, here’s chapter 3.

Next time: Chapter 4 of The Crimson Ghost: “The Laughing Skull”, and more movie serial  history. Be here!