Saturday, March 4, 2023

DC Comics Movie Serials of the Forties Part Two

Movie serials were a part of most Saturday matinees at movie theatres in the Forties. The Forties were also concurrent with the Golden Age of Comic Books, so that many comic book characters were adapted to movie serials. By 1947 the interrelated companies that would become the modern day DC Comics (National Allied Publications; Detective Comics, Inc.; and All-American Publications) had already had two serials based on their characters: The Batman (1944) and Hop Harrigan (1946). By the end of the decade there would be several more movie serials based on DC Comics characters, including their most popular, Superman.

It was in the late Forties that DC Comics as we now know it would come into being. It was on September 30 1946 that National Allied Publications, Detective Comics, and All-American Publications were merged to form National Comics Publications. In 1961 the company was renamed National Periodical Publications. It was in 1977 that the company would finally be named "DC Comics," the name by which National Allied Publications, Detective Comics, and All-American Publications, and afterwards National Periodical Publications, had been known informally since the Golden Age.

DC Comics' next movie serial would be based on a character not particularly well known today. The Vigilante was a Western-themed superhero who had first appeared in Action Comics no. 42 (November 1941). The Vigilante was Greg Sanders, a country singer on radio known as "the Prairie Troubadour." After his father was killed, Greg Sanders became The Vigilante, dressed in Western garb with a bandana over his mouth to conceal his identity. He later picked up a sidekick, Stuff the Chinatown Kid, who was one of the few Asian American characters to appear regularly in comic books during the Golden Age (and also one of the few who was not a stereotype).

The Vigilante (1947) was the second movie serial based on a DC Comics character to be produced by Sam Katzman. Ralph Byrd, now best known for playing Dick Tracy, was cast as Greg Sanders/The Vigilante. If the casting sounds unusual today, it must be considered that Ralph Byrd began his career as a song and dance man, so he could do his own singing as Greg Sanders. Strangely enough, in the serial Stuff was not a Chinese American teenager. He was played by George Offerman Jr., a white actor who was around 30 at the time. The plot of The Vigilante found the hero trying to prevent the villain known only as X-1 and his gang from getting their hands on a cursed string of red pearls.

The Vigilante was somewhat popular for a character in a backup feature in Action Comics and would actually outlast the Golden Age of Comic Books. After his first appearance he appeared in every single issue of Action Comics until issue no. 198, November 1954. This was only a little less than two years before the Silver Age of Comic Books began with the first appearance of the Barry Allen version of The Flash in Showcase no. 4 (October 1956).

The next DC Comics character to be featured in a movie serial would be the one that started it all and their most popular character at the time. It was in 1943 that Paramount Pictures discontinued their highly successful series of Superman cartoons because of their sheer cost (each one averaged around $30,000).  As a result the screen rights to Superman once more became available. They were bought by Sam Katzman. While Sam Katzman would sign a contract with Columbia Pictures to make serials in 1945, he offered Superman to other studios before Columbia.

He first offered the project to Universal, who had been winding down their production of serials and would entirely stop producing them in 1946. Universal then turned him down. He then approached Republic Pictures, who also turned him down. The reason they gave him was that it would be impossible to portray a superhuman character such as Superman who could fly. It seems likely that this was a mere excuse, as Republic Pictures had produced The Adventures of Captain Marvel in 1941 (in which Captain Marvel flew) and would produce King of the Rocket Men in 1949 (which featured a character who flew). It seems more likely that Republic Pictures resented DC Comics having named them in the lawsuit alleging Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel infringed upon Superman. Even if this was not the case, it must be pointed out that most of Republic Pictures' serials after 1946 were based on original material rather than licensed characters. It was after being turned down by both Universal and Republic that Sam Katzman finally took Superman to Columbia.

Of course, casting Superman was of major importance. Several actors were considered for the role, Buster Crabbe, who had played the roles of Tarzan, Buck Rogers, and, most famously, Flash Gordon. Buster Crabbe turned the role down as he felt he had already been typecast in roles of comic strip heroes. Sam Katzman found his actor to play Superman while he was looking through photographs of actors with whom he had worked in the past. Mr. Katzman had previously worked with Kirk Alyn on the movies Little Miss Broadway (1947) and Sweet Genevieve (1947).

Unfortunately, DC Comics was not particularly thrilled with the casting of Kirk Alyn in the beginning. At his first meeting concerning the role, Mr. Alyn walked in wearing a moustache and a goatee he had grown for a part in a period piece (probably the 1948 version of The Three Musketeers, in which he had a bit part). Fortunately, Sam Katzman and Kirk Alyn were able to win the comic book company over. As Kirk Alyn told them of his facial hair, "It shaves off, you know."

Noel Neill was cast in the role of Lois Lane, after having appeared in Sam Katzman's Teenagers series at Monogram and the serial Brick Bradford (1947) at Columbia. Pierre Watkin, who had also appeared in the serial Brick Bradford, was cast as Daily Planet editor Perry White and Tommy Bond, a veteran of "Our Gang" shorts, was cast as Jimmy Olsen. The serial was directed by Spencer Gordon Bennett and Thomas Carr. Spencer Gordon Bennett had directed several serials at Columbia and would go onto direct the second Batman serial, The New Adventures of Batman and Robin (1949). Thomas Carr had also directed several serials for Columbia and would later move into television. Among the episodes of TV shows he directed were episodes of The Adventures of Superman.

Of course, one hurdle to be overcome for Superman (1948) was portraying Superman in flight. The special effects crew attempted this by suspending Kirk Alyn from wires (which were supposed to be opaque) in front of a rear projection screen of moving clouds. Unfortunately, the wires were visible in rushes, and as a result Sam Katzman fired the entire special effects crew. The scenes of Superman flying were then animated, which was probably was not particularly convincing even in the 1940s.

Regardless, Superman (1948) proved to be a smash hit. Cinemas that had never shown a serial even booked it. Ultimately it became the highest grossing serial of all time. Its success may have also single-handedly revived serial production. For much of the Forties, serials were in decline. It was for that reason that Universal stopped producing serials in 1946. In 1947 Republic Pictures produced only three serials; in 1949, after the success of Superman at Columbia, it produced almost twice as many. Serials would continue to be produced until the release of the last serial, Blazing the Overland Trail, by Columbia in 1956.

The next serial based upon a DC Comics character would be based on another character from Action Comics. Congo Bill first appeared in More Fun Comics (June 1940). The character moved to Action Comics the following year, It is pretty obvious the character was inspired by Alex Raymond's comic strip Jungle Jim, with Congo Bill an adventurer living in Africa. In Congo Bill (1948), Bill must find an heiress missing in Africa. Like Hop Harrigan and Superman (1948), it was produced by Sam Katzman for Columbia.

Congo Bill was played by Don McGuire. By the time of Congo Bill (1948) he had appeared in the films Humoresque (1946) and Possessed (1947). He would later go into screenwriting, writing the screenplay for Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) and creating the sitcom Hennesey. The missing heiress was played by Cleo Moore, who would become one of the many blonde bombshells of the Fifties. Like Superman (1948) before it, Congo Bill was directed by Spencer Gordon Bennett and Thomas Carr.

It was following Congo Bill that another serial featuring Batman and Robin was finally released. The New Adventures of Batman and Robin (1949) was produced by Sam Katzman and directed by Spencer Gordon Bennett. It featured two new actors in the roles of the Dynamic Duo. Robert Lowery was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He had appeared in such films as The Mark of Zorro (1940) and The Mummy's Ghost (1944). He would later be a regular on the TV series Circus Boy, now best remembered for starring future Monkee Micky Dolenz. Robin was played by Johnny Duncan, who had appeared in various "East End Kids" and "Bowery Boys" movies. He was 26 years old when he played Robin, and perhaps a bit old to be playing the Boy Wonder. Eric Wilton played Alfred.

The New Adventures of Batman and Robin (1949) would feature the first appearances on the big screen of both Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne's long time girlfriend Vicki Vale. Commissioner Gordon had been a part of the Batman mythos since the very beginning, appearing in the very first Batman story in Detective Comics no. 27 (May 1939). In the serial he was played by Lyle Talbot, who had been signed to Warner Bros. in the 1930s and had served on the first board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild. He had already appeared in a serial based on a DC Comics serial, The Vigilante (1946). Vicki Vale had been introduced in Batman no. 49 (October 1948) and would continue to appear regularly in the Batman titles until 1964 before being revived in the modern era. In the serial she was played by Jane Adams, who had appeared in House of Dracula (1945) and several B-Westerns. Her last appearance on screen would be in another DC Comics project, the episode ""Ghost Wolf" of The Adventures of Superman.

In The New Adventures of Batman and Robin (1949), the Dynamic Duo face off against The Wizard, a villain with an electrical device that can control cars. Like The Batman (1944), The New Adventures of Batman and Robin (1949) was produced very cheaply. If anything the costumes in The New Adventures of Batman and Robin are even worse than those in The Batman (1944). The bat ears on Batman's costume more resemble devil's horns than bat ears. This time around Batman drives a 1949 Mercury rather than the Batmobile. The serial also features several continuity errors. The most blaring error is perhaps Batman pulling a full sized oxy-acetylene torch that could not possible fit in his utility belt.

The New Adventure of Batman and Robin (1949) would be followed by the final serial to be based on a DC Comics character. Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) was the sequel to Superman (1949). Kirk Alyn, Noel Neill, Tommy Bond, and Pierre Watkin all returned in their roles as Superman/Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White. The serial marks the first live-action appearance of Superman's archenemy Lex Luthor. Luthor was played by Lyle Talbot, making Mr. Talbot both the first actor to play Commissioner Gordon and the first actor to play Lex Luthor in live-action films. In Atom Man vs. Superman (1950), Lex Luthor in the guise of Atom Man plagues Metropolis with a number of deadly devices.

Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) did improve upon the effects of Superman flying. Kirk Alyn was simply filmed standing in front of a cyclorama with his arms extended,  and a wind machine and smoke pot offscreen above him. The camera was turned on its side. It was an improvement over the animated flying sequences of the first serial. Like the rest of the serials based on DC Comics characters, Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) suffered from a low budget. A scene in which Clark Kent changes into Superman in a storeroom is reused several times. The serial also made a good deal of use of stock footage from Columbia's vaults.

Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) would be the last movie serial based on a DC Comics character. With the advent of television, movie serials declined in popularity as the Fifties progressed. Republic Pictures stopped making serials in 1955. Columbia stopped making them in 1956. Of course, Superman would remain in the public eye outside of comic books. In 1951, the year following the release of Atom Man vs. Superman (1950), the feature film Superman vs. the Mole Men (1951), starring George Reeves as Superman, was released. In 1952 the television series The Adventures of Superman, also starring George Reeves, debuted. The Adventures of Superman would owe something to the Superman serials. Phyllis Coates played Lois Lane in the first season, but could not return for the second season due to prior commitments. Noel Neill, who had played Lois in the two serials, then took over the role on the TV series.

The serials based on DC Comics characters would see the first live action iterations of  Superman and Batman, and provided exposure for some lesser known DC Comics characters as well. As to why some of DC Comics' other popular characters were not adapted into movie serials, much of the reason may have been special effects. The Flash and Green Lantern were among DC Comics' five most popular characters, but their powers were impossible for 1940s special effects to accomplish. Indeed, in 1990 the TV series The Flash cost $1 million an episode, simply because of producing the illusion of The Flash moving at superspeed. It is curious that Wonder Woman, DC Comics' third most popular character during the Golden Age, was never even considered for a movie serial. It certainly wasn't because there weren't serials centred on women. Tiger Woman (1944), Zorro's Black Whip (1944),  Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945), and several others featured women as their protagonists.

As to why some lesser known DC Comics characters were adapted into movie serials, it must be pointed out that in each case they belong to genres that were well-established in serials. Hop Harrigan was yet another heroic aviator to appear on the big screen. Although a superhero whose adventures took place in the present day, The Vigilante was firmly rooted in the Western genre. Of course, Congo Bill firmly belonged in the genre of jungle adventure. Here it must be pointed out that at least two of these characters (The Vigilante and Congo Bill) were featured in Action Comics. I have to wonder that when Sam Katzman was researching Superman, he  fell upon The Vigilante and Congo Bill and thought that they would make for good movie serials.

Sadly, the serials based on DC Comics characters are not well respected by connoisseurs of movie serials. All of them were produced at Columbia Pictures, who were not known for spending a lot of money on their serials or even assuring that they would be very high in quality. While Sam Katzman would seem to be an improvement over Larry Darmour Productions (who produced the 1944 serial The Batman), he was still more interested in making movie serials cheaply than he was in making movie serials that were good. Indeed, in The Great Movie Serials, Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut observe of Mr. Katzman, "He seemed to get the best characters--including Superman and Batman--and do the worst with them."

Regardless of the quality of the serials based on DC Comics characters, they would have a lasting impact. It is arguable that the two Batman serials, along with his appearances on the radio show The Adventures of Superman, guaranteed Batman's continued popularity, allowing him to become one of the few comic book characters to be published contiuously since the Golden Age. The Batman (1943) introduced the Batcave and may been responsible for the creation of Alfred (at the very least, it changed his appearance). It was a screening of The Batman (1943) at the Playboy Theatre in 1965 that led to a re-release of the serial under the title An Evening with Batman and Robin that summer. This in turn led to the 1966 TV series Batman starring Adam West and Burt Ward.

 Batman may not have been the only character impacted by the serials based on DC comic book characters. If The Vigilante lasted until 1954, outlasting many more popular comic book characters, it seems possible that it was partly due to the 1947 serial. It even seems possible that it was the success of the Superman serials that led to the TV series The Adventures of Superman. After all, the serials proved that the Man of Steel could be a success in live action. The serials based on DC Comics characters may not have been very good, but they certainly had a lasting influence.

Friday, March 3, 2023

DC Comics Movie Serials of the Forties Part One

While superhero movies have dominated the box office for the past decade, there was a time when superheroes were largely absent from the big screen. From the Fifties to the Eighties, there were few superhero movies made. This was not the case with the Forties, when  movie serials were a part of the typical Saturday morning matinee. Comic books of the era (known as the Golden Age of Comic Books) provided fodder for many movie serials. As might be expected some of these movie serials were based on characters published by the companies that would become DC Comics. They published many of the most popular comic book characters during the era, including Superman and Batman.

As to DC Comics, it emerged from three interrelated companies: National Allied Publications; Detective Comics, Inc.; and All-American Publications. The three companies shared owners in common and all three bore the "DC" bullet on their covers (hence the then informal name "DC Comics"). A good deal of cross-promotion took pace among the companies. Characters from all three companies appeared as members of the Justice Society of America in All-American Publications' title All-Star Comics. The three companies would be merged in 1946, creating a new company called National Comics Publications and still later National Periodical Publications and finally, in 1977, DC Comics.

It was what would become DC Comics that kicked off the Golden Age of Comics, not to mention the superhero craze of the Forties, with the publication of Action Comics no. 1, cover dated June 1938, featuring the first appearance of Superman. Superman would prove to be phenomenally popular in the late Thirties into the Forties. While he would be the first comic book superhero to ever appear on the big screen, he would not be the first comic book superhero to appear in a movie serial. It was not long after Superman's first appearance that Republic Pictures optioned the rights for a Superman serial. The serial never came into being as Detective Comics, Inc. demanded more creative control over the production than Republic Pictures was willing to cede. Republic Pictures ultimately used what would have been the script for the Superman serial for the serial  Mysterious Dr. Satan (1940), simply changing the names and particulars of the characters.

In the meantime, Superman would find his way to the big screen by way of Paramount Pictures and Fleischer Studios Noting the popularity of Superman, Paramount Pictures approached Max and Dave Fleischer about producing a series of Superman cartoons. Not eager to do Superman cartoons, they quoted Paramount the then astronomical sum (for theatrical cartoons anyway) of $100,000 for the series. To their shock, Paramount accepted. Fleischer Studios then produced and Paramount Pictures distributed a highly successful series of Superman animated shorts. As to Republic Pictures, in 1941 they once more made an attempt at a Superman serial. The project was even announced in a promotional book for movie distributors, Republic Pictures Advance Serial Promotion Book, that year, complete with drawings of proposed scenes for the serial. Unfortunately, it turned out Paramount Pictures had exclusive movie rights to Superman and so Republic Pictures could not make their proposed Superman serial.

Republic Pictures then turned to Fawcett Publications and their character Captain Marvel, whose sales rivalled that of the Man of Steel. This did not sit well with Detective Comics, Inc., who even named Republic Pictures alongside Fawcett Publications in their famous lawsuit alleging that Captain Marvel infringed on their copyright for Superman. Regardless, Captain Marvel would then become the first comic book superhero to appear in live-action.

Ultimately, despite being their most popular character, Superman would not be the first character from "DC Comics" that would be seen in a live-action film. Instead that honour would go to Batman. Batman first appeared in Detective Comics no. 27 (May 1939) and quickly became one of their most popular characters. He was joined by his sidekick, Robin, in Detective Comics no. 38 (April 1940). Given the character's popularity, it should have come as no surprise when Columbia Pictures licensed Batman for a movie serial. This may well have been unfortunate, as Columbia Pictures' serials were made on the cheap and not well known for their high quality. Since 1943 their serials were made by Larry Darmour Productions, which sought to make them as inexpensively as possible.

The Batman (1943) starred  Lewis Wilson as Batman (and his alter ego Bruce Wayne) and Douglas Croft as Robin (and his alter ego Dick Grayson). William Austen played Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred. Shirley Patterson played Batman's love interest, Linda Page. Although forgotten today, Linda Page had originated in the comic books, appearing from 1941 to 1943. For whatever reason, Commissioner Gordon did not appear in the serial, although the character of Police Captain Arnold (Charles C. Wilson) largely played the same role. It was directed by Lambert Hillyer, who had previously directed the Universal horror movies The Invisible Ray (1936) and Dracula's Daughter (1936).

Today The Batman is not highly regarded. Batman and Robin's costumes were poorly made and did not fit well. The Batmobile is nothing more than an ordinary Cadillac. There are several continuity errors throughout the serial.  In one fight scene Batman's cape is torn off, only to reappear back on the Caped Crusader moments later. Apparently its budget was so low that they could not afford to reshoot scenes even if a mistake was made.

Admittedly, some modern viewers might forgive The Batman its poor productions values, but they may not forgive the blatant racism in the serial. Made during World War II, wartime propaganda found its way into the serial, much of it racist in nature. The villain is a Japanese scientist and secret agent named Dr. Daka, played by J. Carrol Naish. Narration in the serial actually refers to the United States government as "wise" for interning Japanese Americans during the war. Phrases such as "shifty eyed Japs" and "Jap" devil actually appear in the serial. Even for the era, The Batman is xenophobic in the extreme. It seems likely that the filmmakers were to blame for the racism and propaganda in The Batman. Wartime propaganda played very little role in the comic books during World War II, with Batman and Robin continuing to battle supervillains and gangsters.

While The Batman was not a very poorly made (and by modern standards offensive) serial, it would have a lasting impact on the comic books. In his book Batman: the Complete History, Les Daniels writes that evidence suggests the character of Bruce Wayne's butler (and hence Batman's butler) Alfred was created for the movie serial and that Detective Comics, Inc. asked comic book writer Don Cameron to write Alfred into the comic books with Alfred's first comic book appearance in Batman no. 16 (April 1943). Even if Alfred wasn't created for the serial, the serial was certainly responsible for establishing Alfred's appearance ever since. Originally in the comic books Alfred was portly and clean shaven. Following the serial he was drawn more to conform with actor William Austen's appearance, slender and bearing a thin moustache.

While Alfred may or may not have been created for the movie serial. the Batcave most certainly was. In the beginning in the comic books there was only a hidden tunnel that led to a barn where the Batmobile was housed. In Batman no. 12 (August-September 1942) writer and Batman co-creator Bill Finger makes reference to secret underground hangars. It is in The Batman that the idea of an underground headquarters for Batman was introduced. Called "the Bat's Cave," it is first seen in the second chapter of the serial, also called "The Bat's Cave." It was then in Detective Comics no. 83 (January 1944) that the Batcave first appeared in comic books.

The next character published by the companies that would become DC Companies to be adapted to a movie serial is largely forgotten today. Hop Harrigan was an aviator hero of the sort popular during the Thirties and Forties. Hop Harrigan first appeared in All-American Comics no. 1 (April 1939). He was a heroic pilot who, with his friend Tank Tinker, runs the All-American Aviation Company. With the beginning of World War II, Hop became a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Although only a back-up feature in All-American Comics, Hop Harrigan proved popular. He eventually appeared in such titles as All-Flash, All-Star Comics, Comic Cavalcade, and Green Lantern. In 1942 Hop Harrigan received his own radio show on the Blue Network. With air adventure a popular genre for movie serials and Hop Harrigan a popular comic book character who was also the star of a popular radio show, it was perhaps natural that Columbia Pictures would license Hop Harrigan for a movie serial.

By the time that the movie serial Hop Harrigan was made, Larry Darmour Productions was no longer making Columbia's serials. It was in 1945 that legendary producer Sam Katzman signed a contract with Columbia Pictures to make serials and B-movies for the studio. Known as "Jungle Sam" due to the sheer number of jungle adventure movies he had made, Mr. Katzman was known for making movies with very little money that would make a whole lot of money at the box office.

Hop Harrigan (1946) starred William Blakewell in the title role, with Jennifer Holt playing Hop's girlfriend Gail Nolan. Sumner Getchell played Hop's firend Tank Tinker. It was directed by  Derwin Abrahams, who directed several B-Westerns in his career. The screenplay was by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton. Ande Lamb's first screenplay was Police Bullets in 1942 and he would continue to work up into the Seventies, writing scripts for such television shows as The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid. George H. Plympton's career went back to the Silent Era and over the years he worked on several serials. In fact, he would work on every remaining serial based on a DC Comics characters. He was nothing if not prolific.

The first chapter of Hop Harrigan was released on March 28 1946. Both the books The Great Movie Serials by Jim Harmon and Donald F. Blut and In the Nick of Time by Andrew C. Cline are fairly complimentary when it comes to the serial. Unfortunately, neither the serial nor the highly successful radio show would guarantee Hop Harrigan's survival. Hop Harrigan last appeared in All-American Comics no. 99 (July 1948) and has not been seen in DC Comics much since.

The late Forties would see yet more serials based on DC Comics characters. Indeed, it would only be two years after Hop Harrigan that Superman would finally be seen in live action.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

King Kong (1933) Turns 90

It was on this date in 1933 that King Kong opened at Radio City Music Hall and the RKO Roxy Theatre in New York City. The movie proved to be a smash hit. It grossed $89,931 in its first four days (the equivalent of $2,087,232.56 in 2023), a remarkable achievement when one considers the ticket prices ranged from 35 to 75 cents. King Kong opened in Baltimore on March 15 1933 and it would have its official premiere in Hollywood on March 23 1933 at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. It went into wide release on April 7 1933. It ultimately grossed  $1,856,000 in its initial release.

I wrote a detailed post on the 80th anniversary of King Kong ten years ago. You can read it here, "The 80th Anniversary of King Kong (1933)."

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Late Great Ricou Browning

Ricou Browning, best known for playing the Creature in the underwater scenes of Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and its two sequels, died yesterday, February 27 2023 at the age of 93. He also co-created the TV series Flipper and directed episodes of the show.

Ricou Browning was born on February 16 1930 in For Pierce, Florida. He attended Florida State University. He went to work for well known swimmer and promoter Newt Perry in water shows at Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida. It was in 1953 that he was asked to show Wakulla Springs, Florida to location scouts from Universal looking for locations to film the upcoming movie Creature from the Black Lagoon. They ultimately cast Ricou Browning to play the Creature when he was underwater (Ben Chapman played the Creature on land). It was the same year that he served as a stunt diver on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).

Ricou Browning played the Creature in two sequels, Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). He also guest starred on episodes of the TV shows Sea Hunt and Flipper, and played Dr. Buron in the movie Flipper's New Adventure (1964). He served as an underwater swimming double for Jerry Lewis on Don't Give Up the Ship (1959). He was a stunt coordinator on  The Heavenly Kid (1985), and Opposing Force (1986).

Ricou Browning also served as a director of underwater sequences on the movies Thunderball (1965), Daring Game (1968), Lady in Cement (1968), and The Aquarians (1970). He served as a second unit director on the movies Thunderball (1965), Around the World Under the Sea (1966), Island of the Lost (1967), Hello Down There (1969), Joe Panther (1976), Hot Stuff (1979), Caddyshack (1980), Nobody's Perfekt (1981), and Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach (1988).  He also served as a second unit director on the TV show The Aquanauts.

Ricou Browning wrote the story for the movie Flipper (1963) and as a result is considered a co-creator of the television show of the same name. On the show he served as an associate producer and directed several episodes. He also directed episodes of Gentle Ben, Primus, and Salty as well as the movies Salty (1973) and Mr. No Legs (1978). He was underwater photography supervisor on the TV show Sea Hunt and underwater photographer on the movie Island of the Lost (1967).

Ricou Browning will always be remembered as the Creature from the Black Lagoon. His remarkable ability to swim made him, not to mention his ability to hold his breath, made him very convincing in the role. Of course, he did much more than play the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He was responsible for the story for the film Flipper, which led to the popular TV series of the same name. And he served as a director of underwater scenes on various movies and TV shows, and a supervisor on yet others. His expertise when it came to filming underwater would prove invaluable on many productions. From Creature from the Black Lagoon to his other projects, Ricou Browning made important contributions to film and television history.

Monday, February 27, 2023

The Late Great Walter Mirisch

It is fully possible that Walter Mirisch produced more of my favourite movies than anyone else. Through the years he produced such classics as The Apartment (1960), The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), and In the Heat of the Night (1967). Aside from producing a large number of truly great films, he was also known as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. Walter Mirisch died at age 101 on February 24 2023.

Walter Mirisch was born on November 8 1921 in New York City. He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx and attended the Harvard Business School. He moved to Los Angeles in 1945 and soon found a job working for the general manager of Monogram Studios. It was there that he produced his first film, Fall Guy (1947). It was while he was at Monogram Studios that he conceived the "Bomba the Jungle Boy" series of movies, remembering the "Bomba the Jungle Boy" books he had read as a child. He was only 29 when he became the head of Allied Artists, the division at Monogram dedicated to producing more expensive, "A" pictures. In the late Forties Walter Mirisch produced such movies as I Wouldn't Want to Be in Your Shoes (1948), Bomba the Jungle Boy (1949), Bomba on Panther Island (1949), The Lost Volcano (1950), County Fair (1950), and Bomba and the Hidden City (1950).

It was in 1957 that Walter Mirisch founded the Mirisch Company with his brothers Marvin and Harold Mirisch. The Mirisch Company would be responsible for producing some of the greatest films of all time, including Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), The Magnificent Seven (1960), West Side Story (1961), The Great Escape (1963), The Pink Panther (1963), In the Heat of the Night (1967), and yet others. They also released the series of "Pink Panther" theatrical shorts made by DePaite-Freleng Enterprises. In the Fifties Walter Mirisch produced the films The Lion Hunters (1951), Cavalry Scout (1951), Elephant Stampede (1951), Flight to Mars (1951), Fort Osage (1952), Rodeo  (1952), Wild Stallion (1952), African Treasure (1952), The Rose Bowl Story (1952), Flat Top (1952), Bomba and the Jungle Girl (1952), Hiawatha (1952), Safari Drums (1953), The Maze (1953), Fighter Attack (1953), The Golden Idol (1954), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), Killer Leopard (1954), The Human Jungle (1955), The Big Combo (1955), Seven Angry Men (1955), An Annapolis Story (1955), The Dark Avenger (1955), Lord of the Jungle (1955), Wichita (1955), The Phenix City Story (1955), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), World Without End (1956), Crime in the Streets (1956), The First Texan (!956), Hold Back the Night (1956), Friendly Persuasion (1956), The Undead (1957), The Oklahoman (1957), The Tall Stranger (1957), Fort Massacre (1958), Man of the West (1958), The Man in the Net (1959), The Gunfight in Dodge City (1959), The Horse Soldiers (1959), Cast a Long Shadow (1959), and The Magnificent Seven (1960). He and his brothers produced the short lived TV Western series Wichita Town, inspired by the 1955 movie Wichita, in conjunction with star Joel McCrea.

In the Sixties Walter Mirisch produced the films West Side Story (1961), The Children's Hour (1961), Follow That Dream (1962), Kid Galahad (1962), Two for the Seasaw (1962), The Great Escape (1963), Toys in the Attic (1963), The Pink Panther (1963), 633 Squadron (1964), A Shot in the Dark (1964), The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming (1966), Hawaii (1966), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967), In the Heat of the Night (1967), Fitzwilly (1967), The Party (1968), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Sinful Davey (1969), Some Kind of Nut (1969), Halls of Anger (1970), The Landlord (1970), The Hawaiians (1970), and They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970).

In the Seventies Walter Mirisch produced the movies The Organization (1971), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Scorpio (1973), The Spikes Gang (1974), Mr. Majestyk (1974), Midway (1976), Gray Lady Down (1978), Same Time, Next Year (1978), The Prisoner of Zenda (1979), and Dracula (1979). He was the executive producer on the TV movie High Midnight.

In the Eighties Walter Mirisch produced the feature film Romantic Comey (1983) and the TV movie Desperado. In the Nineties he served as an executive producer on the TV movies Trouble Shooters-Trapped Beneath the Earth and A Case for Life. In the Teens he served as an executive producer on the TV movie Bridal Wave and the feature films The Magnificent Seven (2016) and The Pink Panther (2022).

Walter Mirisch served as president of the Producers Guild of America for three terms, and  President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for four terms. He was a  a trustee of the Motion Picture and Television Fund.

Few producers had a track record as good as Walter Mirisch and his brothers. Many of the films often rank in lists of the greatest films ever made. Even a list of the directors with whom Walter Mirisch worked is impressive: Billy Wilder, Blake Edwards, Norman Jewison, and others. Indeed, The Mirisch Company boasted three Academy Awards for Best Picture, received for The Apartment (1960), West Side Story (1961), and In the Heat of the Night (1967). Walter Mirisch certainly had an eye for good material that was also guaranteed to do well at the box office. What is more, he was not afraid to take chances. He encountered resistance from financiers regarding In the Heat of the Night, who worried it would not play in the South. What is more, Walter Mirisch was always supportive of filmmakers. It is little wonder why so many legendary directors worked with him.

Walter Mirisch was not only a great producer, but he was also a true gentleman in a profession not known for gentlemen. Elmore Leonard dedicated his novel satirizing the film industry to Walter Mirisch, " of the good guys." Steven Speilberg referred to Mr. Mirisch as "..both a gentleman and an ardent advocate of good films." Walter Mirisch attended the TCM Classic Film Festival multiple times, and those who met him have all commented on just how very nice he was. Walter Mirisch was a giant in the world of film production. He was also one of the nicest people in the industry.