Sunday, November 13, 2011
King of the Forest Rangers (Republic, 1946)
You certainly didn't need to be well versed in Shakespeare, Ibsen or Strindberg to star in an action serial. In fact, several rank amateurs did quite well as chapter play heroes, including gridiron and other sport stars, big game hunters, and aviators. Larry Thompson (see illustration at right), the hero in King of the Forest Rangers, is clearly not an experienced actor and almost certainly chosen solely for his resemblance to ace stuntman Dale Van Sickel. This is just fine. We don't demand much more from a serial protagonist that he, or she, can speak their lines with a modicum of conviction and refrain from bumping into the furniture when not specifically engaged in a brawl. But when it comes to the Boss Villain, we may reasonably demand more than what we get here.
Stuart Hamblen is just as amateurish as Thompson, if not even more so, and that is a big problem in a genre that usually employed the likes of Charles Middleton, Eduardo Ciannelli, Henry Brandon, Roy Barcroft and other natural scene-stealers to perform the dastardly deeds. Known as a country & western singer and songwriter (and a 1952 third party presidential candidate on a prohibition ticket), Hamblen is as wooden as they come and not even his chief lieutenant, the experienced Anthony Warde, can quite make up for such deficiency. Mr. Hamblen's presence as the lead villain is especially galling considering that a much more appropriate candidate, Republic veteran LeRoy Mason, is wasted in a nothing-part as a gambler.
Too bad; except for that single miscalculation in casting Forest Rangers is otherwise a perfectly adequate example of a latter-day Republic serial with generally unobtrusively inserted stock footage from earlier Northwoods melodramas and the customary fine work by the stuntmen. And it has that dreaded pulp shredder imperiling lovely Helen Talbot in chapter 9!
About the production
It had become the norm by 1946 for Republic stuntmen such as Tom Steele and Dale Van Sickel to play more than one henchman in each serial, sometimes up to four or five. King of the Forest Rangers took the practice to the extreme by also having one actor, Scott Elliott (aka Robert Neil), play no less than four different rangers. This way, the serial could live up to its title without the extra expenditure of hiring four actors to play the parts.
Blonde and voluptuous (“the most stacked of all the girls at Republic,” says Peggy Stewart), Kansas-born Helen Talbot (1924-2010) suffered quite a few indignities in her two serials, including nearly getting herself incinerated and placed before a whirling airplane propeller in Federal Operator 99 (1945). She was the girl on the pulp shredder conveyor belt in Forest Rangers and appeared in three Westerns with then-boyfriend Don “Red” Barry before packing it all in to marry someone else. Talbot, a discovery of choreographer Don Loper, began her screen life as a Goldwyn Girl and was under contract to Republic from September 10, 1943 to January 6, 1946.
Uncredited appearances department
Rex Lease, the star of such serials as Mystery Pilot (1926), The Sign of the Wolf (1931) and Custer's Last Stand (1936), plays a ranger and is awarded a couple of lines in Forest Rangers. Lease, whose stardom waned in the 1930s due to alcoholism, was a special favorite of Republic president Herbert Yates who secured him employment in all four of the studio’s 1946 serial releases.