Sunday, November 6, 2011

Daun Kennedy & The Royal Mounted Rides Again (Universal, 1945)

A typical starlet with typical starlet assignments, Seattle's Daun Kennedy (1922-2002) was picked by a producer to appear on screen two hours after having reported for duty as a studio messenger. Or at least that was what her publicity stated at one time. The name of the producer varied but most agreed that it was Allan Dwan. Then came the following wire:

GETS FILM ROLE THROUGH FRIEND'S TIP—Thanks to a former co-worker at the Boeing Aircraft plant in Seattle, Daun Kennedy has-a new film contract. The friend wrote Producer Walter Wanger to investigate her screen possibilities and he gave Miss Kennedy, who has had several previous minor roles in Hollywood, a part in [Salome, Where She Danced, 1944].—AP WIREPHOTO.

In 1945, Daun was expected to marry agent John Lindsey, “as soon as his divorce is final.” By that time she was firmly established at Universal and co-starring in The Royal Mounted Rides Again. Two years later, another serial in which she appeared, this time the medieval Son of the Guardsman, (1946) was going the rounds and Columbia Pictures' publicity men got really creative, stating, presumably without blushing even a little bit, that she would wear a costume “similar to that worn by an ancestor.” “Daun,” it was explained, “is a descendant of Mary Queen of Scots.” Perhaps from embarrassment, but maybe not, Daun Kennedy left films shortly thereafter.

Daun pretending to be a boy. With Charlie King (who quickly sees through the ruse) in Son of the Guardsman.

The Royal Mounted Rides Again

There are just too darn many characters in Universal's 15-chapter The Royal Mounted Rides Again, an unnecessarily murky example of the Canadian wilderness sub-genre, and they mostly get in each others way. To quote an exasperated Joseph Crehan in the serial: "It's about time we learn where everybody stands. There's a connection between Grail and the raiders, between Bucket and Grail, between Grail and Taggart and Decker …" And so on and so forth. There are some very good actors trapped here – Crehan, Milburn Stone, Robert Armstrong, Addison Richards and, especially, Universal regular Paul E. Burns – solid supporting players who could always be counted on to deliver the goods. They do that in Royal Mounted as well but are soundly defeated at almost every turn by a muddled script, slipshod special effects and Universal’s 1940s reliance on explanatory dialogue instead of recap scrolls or voice-over narration. Thus we are treated to endless scenes of Sgt. Nelson (Crehan) and Wayne Decker (Bill Kennedy) or Frenchy (George Dolenz) telling each other plot points they ought to know by now. Bill Kennedy (no relation to Daun) is not a total waste as the heroic Mountie but he is certainly far from memorable, and George Dolenz adds little more than a faux French accent to the standard sidekick role. As the heroine, Daun Kennedy speaks her lines with conviction if not much finesse and emerges as bland as her leading man. In fact, the serial's most notable presence, visually at least, is Rondo Hatton, Universal's much-ballyhooed "Human Monster," but he, too, is wasted in a gimmicky role that promises far more than it delivers. (At one point, Burns, the serial's true comedy relief, finally forces a reaction from Hatton's Bull Andrews and is moved to exclaim: "Oh hello Bull, I never knowed if you were alive or dead.") Then there is Helen Bennett (see a later post) as Dilly Cox, apparently a retired schoolmarm who operates a fortune-telling establishment under the name of Madame Mysterioso. Why is never made quite clear and the character's sole purpose seems to be discussing plot points with June (Daun Kennedy), Bucket (Burns) or Lode McKenzie (Tom Fadden). When all is said and done, quite a lot of the "action" in Royal Mounted takes place off the screen and is only mentioned in dialogue – strange for a serial – and the result is as unmemorable a chapter play as they come.

A leading man here perhaps by default (see explanation below), Ohio-born Bill Kennedy (1908-1997) was almost too ordinary to become a fully fledged star. His voice was his calling card and he did become a wel-known radio and later television announcer. In his later years, Kennedy hosted a movie show on CKLW, a television station broadcasting from Windsor, Ontario but widely seen in the Detroit, MI, area.

About the production

Part of the reason for the sad state of affairs in The Royal Mounted Rides Again can no doubt be explained by a terrible accident that took place on the very first day of filming when actor Addison Randall (aka Jack Randall, see picture right) was killed in a riding mishap. Exactly what role Randall were to have portrayed has been debated for years but supporting player Joe Haworth told writers Tom and Jim Goldrup that he had been moved from another production for the exact purpose of replacing the former B-Western star. Yet according to Bill Kennedy (as told to Randall's biographer Merrill T. McCord), Randall's role was rewritten and divided between William Haade and two other

What exactly did happen to Jack Randall on July 16, 1945, the first day of filming The Royal Mounted Rides Again at the Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley, California? Bit player William Haade, who claimed to have been present but apparently wasn't, told Randall's brother, former serial star Robert Livingston, that Jack suffered a fatal a heart attack while filming "running inserts" on horseback. "He was dead before hitting the ground," Haade reassured a devastated Livingston. Others insisted that Randall was killed after slamming head first into a tree while attempting to retrieve either his hat or a piece of paper. But Bill Kennedy, who was definitely present that morning, begged to differ. In a series of letters, Kennedy told McCord of the difficulties filming the so-called running-insert chases to be used throughout the serial, on a steep and winding trail. How tricky it had been for relatively untrained horsemen like Randall, George Dolenz and Kennedy himself to keep a horse "at a certain ratio to the three-camera insert truck. "If your horse gets ahead or drops behind the camera range, it would have to be done over again."

"We were all apprehensive," Kennedy remembered, especially Randall who had not been on horseback since his starring series of Monogram Westerns ended in 1940. "So Jack started his run in exact juxtaposition to the camera truck," Kennedy related to writer McCord.

“On the very first take everything went well – except about a half-mile into the scene, Jack's hat blew off. Jack lost his hat as it lightly brushed a tree limb, otherwise the run was okay. After much discussion (they could cut away from the missing hat) the director decided to do the whole insert run again. Starting over, Jack looked superb as he raced the horse through the spectacular run – but unfortunately Jack got too far in front of the cameras in one area and literally rode out of the scene. So came the third scene (or take) – and now Jack was visibly upset – and his horse appeared jumpy as a result of the two long runs. Lew Collins was the director and he noticed Jack's edginess and suggested a cup of coffee. So Jack dismounted and came over to where we were all gathered. So naturally we all encouraged Jack that the next run would be sensational. So the bell rang and off went Jack on the third take – everything was beautiful – Jack looked magnificent on his horse – right up to the very end of the run – he got through all the spectacular handicaps – a huge boulder, a creek – this turn – that turn – and successfully ducked that giant tree limb that had knocked his hat off – and now he was clear – the final straight run ended into four trees standing in a row. As he was barreling down the line of finish a piece of paper blew across the path [and] Jack's horse spooked violently – veering unexpectedly to the left – literally catapulting Jack to the right – and his skull smashed into a tree trunk.” (The specific group of trees where the tragic accident occurred can be seen in chapter 12.)

Handsome, man-about-town Jack Randall, 39, was killed instantly. "We heard a terrible 'clump' sound," said Kennedy. "It was a terrible squashy sound. I knew he was dead from the fearful sound" – and filming was discontinued for the rest of that fateful day. But there was little time to mourn and the cameras rolled again the following morning. Of Royal Mounted's cast and crew, only producer Morgan Cox attended Randall's funeral at Beverly Hills' All Saints Episcopal Church on July 19.

Perhaps due to the quick reshuffling after Jack Randall's tragic death on the first day of filming, Royal Mounted was released with supporting player/comedic sidekick George Dolenz earning top-billing, the strangest serial billing since villainous William Forrest found himself star-billed in Republic's The Masked Marvel (1943). Dolenz (1908-1963), who hailed from the eastern Italian city of Trieste, could and would play a host of different ethnic characters in a Hollywood career that began in 1941 and included the endless dithering by producer Howard Hughes with the Corsican melodrama Vendetta. Dolenz co-starred with Hughes discovery Faith Domergue in this turgid revenge drama promised to be "another Gone With the Wind" but finally released to a dismal reception in 1950. George Dolenz (né Jure Dolenc and of Slovenian heritage) became the father of Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees fame.

For more on Jack Randall and The Royal Mounted Rides Again please see Merrill T. McCord's "Brothers of the West: The Lives and Films of Robert Livingston and Jack Randall" (Bethesda, MD: Alhambra Publishers, 2003), in my opinion perhaps the finest publication about B-Westerns and serials next to Jack Mathis' Republic Pictures books.

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