Friday, November 18, 2011
Jane Adams (Lost City of the Jungle & Batman and Robin)
Pasadena Playhouse student and Harry Conover model Jane “Poni” Adams (she never knew why Conover nicknamed her “Poni,” incidentally) actually became one of Universal's “monsters” when she appeared as a lovely but doomed hunchback in House of Dracula (1945). It was only her second film after signing with the studio – she had lost the lead to Yvonne de Carlo as the awful Salome, Where She Danced (1945) and instead played one of her handmaidens – and she went on to “grace” the hideous The Brute Man (1946), a so-called “horror movie” so bad Universal sold it outright to bottom-feeder company PRC. While at Universal, she was Russell Hayden's nominal leading lady in the studio's penultimate serial, Lost City of the Jungle, but rather more importantly, the screen's very first Vicki Vale in Columbia's Batman and Robin. As we have seen in a previous post, the girl in the original 1943 Batman serial, played by Shirley Patterson, was the niece of a newspaperman and not good old Vicki. Jane Adams (born in San Antonio, TX in 1921) was much better served by the five Westerns she did opposite Kirby Grant (she later did three with Johnny Mack Brown and one with Jimmy Wakely, all at Monogram) but eventually packed it all in in favor of her marriage to Major-General Tom Turnage. The Turnages (she was widowed in 2000) resided for years in Rancho Mirage, CA.
Lost City of the Jungle (Universal, 1946)
British character actor Lionel Atwill, in his final performance, appears as a war-monger attempting to get rich from others' misfortune in this 13 chapter Universal serial. Sir Eric Hazarias (Atwill) is searching the mountains of the Himalayas for Metorium 245, the only known antidote to the Bomb, which he then plan to sell to the highest bidder. The infamous megalomaniac is opposed by United Peace Foundation investigator Rod Stanton (Russell Hayden); archeologist Dr. Elmore (John Eldredge and his daughter Marjorie (Jane Adams); and local guide, Tal Shen (Keye Luke). But to everyone's surprise it is suddenly revealed that "the power in back of Sir Eric" is none other than his secretary, the even more nefarious Malborn (John Mylong). The reason for this sudden change of direction was the tragic fact that Atwill was suffering from bronchial cancer (he died April 22, 1946). Bits of dialogue filmed earlier were inserted throughout the 13 chapters and actor George Sorel doubled Atwill in several scenes, the villain's trademark Panama hat pulled well down over his face. In yet another economy move, The Lost City of the Jungle used stock footage from Columbia's earlier Lost Horizon, the 1943 Maria Montez vehicle White Savage, and even Leni Riefenstahl's legendary White Hell of Pitz Palu.
Lost City of the Jungle, regrettably, is a holy mess and hardly the "avalanche of titanic thrills in the most dangerous spot on earth" that its advertising promised. Lionel Atwill's sudden death naturally handicapped Universal somewhat, but the cost-conscious studio was not about to forfeit already filmed scenes nor Atwill's pull at the box office. The results are mostly ludicrous and the repeated use of grainy stock shots of a tired and worried-looking Sir Eric downright sad. Although Atwill manages to deliver his usual solid performance under what must have been extremely difficult circumstances, his double, George Sorel, seems rather an ill choice. Slightly less corpulent and visibly much younger, Sorel's disguise won't fool anyone. Leading lady Jane Adams, the only Universal contract player in the cast, later professed to have had "a wonderful time" filming Lost City of the Jungle, but the serial bears the imprint of having been put together in great haste and under trying circumstances.
(This review of Lost City originally appeared with my byline on www.allmovie.com.)
Batman & Robin (Columbia, 1949)
It's been almost six years since Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson last fought the powers of evil in Gotham City and the latter, now played by curly-haired, zoot-suited Johnny Duncan, is no longer a young teenager but a 26-year-old who should perhaps not prance about in tights in broad daylight. Time has not been kind to Batman's costume, either, which now looks like something his mother made him for Halloween. And that darn cape just keeps getting in the way of an honest brawl, doesn't it? In other words, Batman and Robin has gone from Rudolph Flotow to Sam Katzman, and the only reason the serial doesn't look quite as cheap as it could have is the availability of standing sets at Columbia.
Is Batman and Robin as bad as its reputation, then? Well, frankly no. True, Johnny Duncan looks more like a juvenile delinquent than someone known as the Boy Wonder, and it doesn’t help that he is occasionally doubled by balding and middle-aged stuntman Wally West. True, this is the only serial in memory where a henchman takes time out from a getaway to stop and have a smoke (chapters 3 and 5; see Allan Ray below) And true, there is once again no Batmobile per se and the Mercury Coupe convertible Batman and Robin use instead is parked in plain sight in front of Bruce Wayne's mansion, ahem nice surburban home, from whence our two caped crusaders blithely emerge fully costumed in the middle of the day! And so on and so forth. But the characters retain their childlike charm, the writers took the title serious and gave Robin an equal opportunity to shine, the action is fast and furious (if a bit clumsy at times), and the solution contains a mildly surprising twist. So what if Robert Lowery’s Batman has something of a beer gut (Johnny Duncan claims to have helped put a girdle on his leading man every morning but at times said garment must have slipped), and that the fights hardly suggest athletic prowess? It is all in good fun.
Duncan once told a radio audience that filming the serial took three months. The actor is certainly mistaken, but it may have felt like three months. “There was fifteen chapters,” he told host Peter Canavese, “and we had three crews working—three units working – and we shot about, oh, fifty to fifty-five set ups a day. I know on the main crew we did. And the only stunt doubles I had was [sic] for long shots like a train. You know, I had a double on that, but the other stuff, why Bob and I usually did all of our own stuff.” Jane Adams, meanwhile, spoke of her leading man with authors Boyd Magers and Michael Fitzgerald: “Robert Lowery also went to the Pasadena Playhouse, so it was easy to work with him. He was one of my friends there. We really didn’t have time doing a serial to socialize.”
The now demolished George Lewis home(as the Wayne Mansion), Benedict Canyon Drive, Iverson Ranch, Bronson Canyon.
Cliffhanger cheat ("Annie Wilkes Hall of Shame" nominee)
Batman and Robin’s Chapter 2, “Tunnel of Terror,” concludes with Batman battling three henchmen on the top of a train speeding toward a tunnel. But the takeout in chapter 3 has The Wizard stopping the engine by remote control and a solitary Batman gets off to take up the battle with the same three henchmen on the ground. Not much Terror in this Tunnel!
… and their fellas: Allan Ray
Allan Ray is one of those “names” that pop up in literally hundreds of films and television episodes in the 1940s and 1950s, a fleeting presence as “dancer,” “radio operator,” “pilot,” “reporter,” “bellhop,” and “gas station attendant.” In fact, Allan Ray appeared in films and on television well into the 1970s. He finally fell victim to complete typecasting in Harlow (1965), the posh Carroll Baker version, where he is listed as “man at Central Casting.” Ray turns up in chapter 5 of Batman and Robin as Mac Lacey, one of about only two or three instances in his long career where his character actually comes complete with a full name. The redoubtable Mr. Lacey is one of arch villain The Wizard's boneheaded henchmen and has an occasion late in the chapter to deliver a punch straight to Batman's face. “That hurt,” replies a completely unperturbed Batman, after which the caped crusader pummels the poor sap right out of the show.
For more information about Jane Adams, I refer you to Boyd Magers & Michael Fitzgerald: “Westerns Women” (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1999) and Gregory William Mank: “Women in Horror Films, 1940s” (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1999).