Thursday, July 31, 2008

Frank Buck in the Movies #1 (From Eric Beheim)

Buck1, originally uploaded by bucklesw1.

In the fall of 1937, Frank Buck went to Hollywood to appear in JUNGLE MENACE, Columbia Pictures’ first serial. Compared to Republic’s first serial DARKEST AFRICA, JUNGLE MENACE was an elaborate production with a large cast and (for a serial) a fairly intelligent script. (The producers might have been targeting it at an audience that included adults as well as children.) The action takes place in the fictional province of Seemang, located “where the Bay of Bengal meets the dangerous jungle.” The plot has to do with river pirates who are trying to take over a rubber plantation owned by Charlotte Henry. The leader of the pirates is seemingly upright citizen Robert Banning, played by distinguished character actor Richard Tucker. His headquarters is a swanky nightclub run by Duncan Renaldo (best remembered as TV’s Cisco Kid.”) Most of the serial involves efforts by the local police to infiltrate the gang, or attempts by gang members to double cross their leader and/or each other. Frank Buck plays a wild animal trapper named Frank Hardy who becomes involved in helping the authorities bring the pirates to justice. (Always the astute businessman, Buck chose not to appear under his own name as Clyde Beatty had done in DARKEST AFRICA and THE LOST JUNGLE.) Recognizing that Buck was not an action hero like Clyde Beatty, the scriptwriters gave him surprisingly little to do until the final chapters, when he undertakes to recapture a cargo of wild animals that had escaped during a typhoon. Seen today, the serial’s greatest appeal comes from the appearances of many familiar character actors from Hollywood’s “golden era.”