Friday, December 16, 2011

Greta Granstedt & The Devil Horse

Greta Granstedt, the blond leading lady of the Mascot serial The Devil Horse, was a late substitute for Harry Carey’s usual costar, the difficult and demanding Edwina Booth. Purportedly from Malmoe, Sweden but in reality from Northern California, Granstedt (1907-1987) had made headlines when at 14 she shot and critically injured a wayward boyfriend in a jealous rage. The judge sentenced her to “leave Mountain View, CA, and never return,” after which she, naturally, drifted to Hollywood. Her subsequent screen career, however, never amounted to much, although she is quite good in a small role in Street Scene(1931) and later achieved some success on Broadway. The Devil Horse was the actress’ only chapter play.

The Devil Horse (Mascot, 1932)
A gang of bandits attempts to capture the Devil Horse, the leader of a herd of wild stallions who has once been a famous racehorse. Reared, Tarzan like, by the Devil Horse after his father’s murder, young Frankie Darro comes to the aid of Norton Roberts (Harry Carey), whose brother, a forest ranger, has been killed by the very same outlaws.

The Devil Horse opens with one of the more disturbing scenes in serialdom, the killing of a man in front of his 5-year-old son. The kid grows up in the wild to become Frankie Darro who swings through the trees like a pint-sized Tarzan. The comparison stops right there, though; this "jungle boy" is not raised by apes but by a former racehorse, and his skills as a boy rider include a spectacular jump on horseback into a river or lake.

Although it comes with the famous "William Tell Overture," Devil Horse is no Lone Ranger, however, but a clumsily told and acted story of a boy, a wild horse, and Harry Carey. The latter, unlike nearly everybody else in the cast, adds a bit of acting punch to the otherwise dull proceedings, which Mascot would recycle in its final chapter play, the far better Adventures of Rex and Rinty (1935). Frankie Darro, the studio's resident enfant terrible, mainly grunts and groans, and the brother-sister act of Barrie O'Daniels (a future Broadway director) and Greta Granstedt provides eminent proof of why they never amounted to much in Hollywood. Maybe the chief faults lie with Otto Brower, not one of the more enterprising of Hollywood helmsmen, but the writers equally failed to come up with anything of much interest. Everybody rides around endlessly chasing each other and the murky photography (and this is not just a matter of the condition of existing prints) doesn't help decipher what is actually going on. All in all, one of Mascot's weakest efforts, perhaps even the weakest.

About the production
According to his autobiography, stuntman extraordinaire Yakima Canutt headed a skeleton crew that did not include leading man Harry Carey (who wanted too much money) on a location trip to Arizona. Which is where Canutt himself devised one of the more spectacular stunts in serial history where Carey's character attempts to mount the bucking Apache (chapter 1) "This stunt was rough," Canutt would write,

“I rigged a strong strap around the horse's neck so that I could hang on to either ear. Then, with three cameras set and ready to shoot, we put a blindfold over [Apache's] eyes …. The horse stood for a second or two, then, as he started to rear, I swung my body under his neck and hooked my spurs over the top of his withers. He reared high and spun around trying to strike me with his front hoofs, but, because of the position I was in, he could only hit me with the forward part of his front legs.”

Despite his precautions, Canutt was knocked unconscious as the animal was thrown off balance and ended up in the hospital. As a result, many stunts in The Devil Horse fell instead to Richard Talmadge, another legendary Hollywood daredevil who would later star in his own chapter play, Universal's Pirate Treasure (1934; see an earlier post). This serial was originally intended for Rex, the original "wild" stallion of HalRoach's 1926 The Devil Horse (title is the only connection), but when his owner's monetary demands proved too high, Levine obtained Apache from stunt-rider Tracy Layne.

Filming locations:
Newhall, Beale’s Cut, Kernville, Phoenix, Arizona.

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