Monday, November 14, 2011

Adele Jergens & Black Arrow

Leggy, bottle-blonde Adele Jergens (1917-2002) always looked as if she had been around the block a few times; in other words, she was the quintessential tough broad and not necessarily the one with a heart of gold. She claimed to have been in the "Follies" but she most certainly was voted "The Fairest of the Fair" during the 1939 New York World's Fair before joining the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. Columbia Pictures signed her to a contract in 1944, nicknamed her "The Eyeful" and launched her in their patented brand of lowbrow escapist fare. Surprisingly sedate in real life and not at all like the floozies she did so well on screen, Adele blithely accepted to play Marilyn Monroe's mother in Ladies of the Chorus (1948), despite the fact that she was Marilyn’s senior by only nine years. By then, of course, the bloom was already off the rose, and her role as "Cameo McQueen" in MGM's Technicolor remake of Show Boat was so severely cut that it ended up as a silent bit. Happily married since 1949 to fellow B-Movie actor Glenn Langan (The Amazing Colossal Man), she seemed not to have cared all that much about her career and continued instead to add her vibrant presence to lower-case potboilers such as The Miami Story (1954) and The Day the World Ended (1956). Modern movie fans may not remember Adele Jergens but her films pop up on cable stations on occasion and are often more watchable today than many a dreary classic.

Black Arrow (Columbia, 1944)

"Fifteen chapters of slip shod production and direction by Lew Landers, who could do better. It's as if he's saying, 'Let's get this crap in the can.'" The harsh judgment comes from Boyd Magers of Western Clippings, one of the most astute commentators on B-Westerns and serials, and Boyd is right on the money. Black Arrow is indeed slip shod, with paint-by-numbers cliffhangers and especially wooden leads that include the very contemporary Adele Jergens, who is clearly out of her element in the Great Outdoors.

Yet despite that, the serial does have a few compensations, and chief among them is Kenneth McDonald's suave villainy. McDonald, well cast as greedy carpetbagger Jake Jackson, is smooth as silk when surrounded by the good folks of Big Mesa, only to turn downright viperous when plotting with his henchmen. No one did this type of two-faced villainy better. Then there is Charles Middleton as a wise Indian agent, a surprise, no doubt, to everyone who has followed the redoubtable Mr. Middleton's long career in skullduggery. Even as far into the serial as chapter 3, you kind of expect Middleton to turn right around and side with McDonald, but the reformed reprobate remains on the side of righteousness for the duration and Middleton visibly delights in the transformation.

In addition to the good performances by the supporting cast, and despite the worst wigs this side of Republic's Jungle Girl (1941), the serial depicts the Dinee, i.e. Navajos, with certain respect and not as the usual "red devil Injuns." They live in hogans and not tents, for one thing, and the tradition of sand painting is briefly mentioned in the opening chapter. But as a whole, Black Arrow is one of those Columbia chapter plays that comes and goes, long on sound and fury – no one did more sound effects than the studio that also produced the Three Stooges – but very little substance.

About the production

Adhering to a longstanding tradition of casting unknowns as serial leads, customary for all three serial studios, male Columbia starlet Robert Scott (1921-2006) played the title role in Black Arrow. The Colorado native actually enjoyed a long career that included television, not as Robert Scott but under the moniker of Mark Roberts.

Uncredited appearances

Best known for portraying Mexican sidekick Pancho in the 1944-1946 Monogram Cisco Kid series, the same character name, as in Black Arrow, Martin Garralaga was in fact of Norwegian descent. He worked in films until 1969. Playing Ma Prescott in chapters 5-6, Marin Sais acted in films as early as 1910 and in the mid-1910s became the star of several popular series, including The Girl from Frisco (1915) and The American Girl (1917). Divorced from B-Western star Jack Hoxie, Sais portrayed mostly pioneer women in the sound era, notably The Duchess in the 1949 Red Ryder series with Jim Bannon.

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