Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lucille Lund & Pirate Treasure

Although onscreen for mere minutes in The Black Cat, Universal's arguably most perverse thriller, starlet Lucille Lund, a sexy Rapunzel with long blonde tresses and a feline gait, managed to make an indelible impression as not only Boris Karloff's bride-to-be but also his stepdaughte. It was really a dual role; Lund also portrayed the girl's beautifully preserved dead mother (and Bela Lugosi's wife), vertically entombed in a glass casket. The role, short as it was, brought Lund a well-earned 1934 WAMPAS Baby Star nod, the last year this honor was bestowed upon various starlets. Despite the award, however, the actress' career with Universal failed to blossom. According to Lund, she had refused the amorous advances of production head Carl Laemmle Jr. and her Universal contract was not renewed.

The winner of Universal's "most beautiful and talented woman student on the American campus" contest while she was attending Northwestern, Lund made her screen debut in Saturday's Millions (1933), a football comedy. Unfortunately, Lund had to rebuff Laemmle's advances from the outset, which didn't sit well with the studio front office, and she soon found herself battling Walter Miller, Al Ferguson, and various wildlife fauna in Pirate Treasure (1934), a typical back-lot action serial. Lund's subsequent film, The Black Cat, must have felt like adding insult to injury. Director Edgar G. Ulmer proved a tyrant and a sadist, and once left Lund hanging in her glass casket while the company went off to lunch. After that debacle, leaving Universal probably came as a relief. The remainder of Lucille Lund's less-than-rewarding screen career was spent supporting lower-echelon cowboy stars such as Reb Russell and the slap-happy comedy team of the Three Stooges. Aside from The Black Cat, she is best known for her work with the Stooges in such two-reel comedies as 3 Dumb Clucks (1937) and Healthy, Wealthy, and Dumb (1938). Widowed by radio producer Kenneth Higgins and long out of public view, the actress returned to the limelight in the early '90s when she graced various film festivals with her reflections on both The Black Cat and the Stooges. (A version of this essay was published under my byline by the All-Movie Guide.)

Pirate Treasure (Universal, 1934)
Searching for his inheritance, an ancient treasure map, Dick Moreland (Richard Talmadge) is opposed by unscrupulous Staley Brassett (Walter Miller) and his gang of modern day pirates and cutthroats.

There are too many easy conjectures in film history and "truths" are repeated ad nausea with hardly anyone apparently willing to take the trouble of verifying their veracity. Such is the case of poor Richard Talmadge, the European-born silent screen daredevil whose rapid decline in talkies is usually explained by A: his problems with a foreign accent. Or B: a squeaky voice unsuited for heroics. One otherwise highly regarded serial historian, who is no longer with us and shall remain nameless, opined: "With the coming of sound, Talmadge's heavy German accent became a liability." Even a cursory look at Pirate Treasure completely fails to support such a statement, however, and Talmadge certainly wasn't dubbed. Yes, his voice was not exactly a manly basso but it was no girlish squeak, either. If Talmadge spoke with a hint of an accent, the origins may be located somewhere nearer to Flatbush Ave. than his native Switzerland.

It has also been stated that Pirate Treasure is strangely devoid of eye-catching stunt work, another "truism" wholly debunked already in an opening chapter that has the hero (and/or his real life stunt-double brothers Otto and Victor Metzetti) spending the final five minutes or so in one seamless series of stunts that include leaping from a cliff to a speeding car, battling three bad guys in said careening vehicle, and finally taking a terrific dive, automobile and all, off the pier at San Pedro. The following chapter is nearly wall-to-wall acrobatic action culminating with Talmadge being shoved off the roof of a six story building, his descent slowed down only by a succession of canopies. Treasure never lets up from there and in fact tends to become almost too stunt driven. There are of course the wild, camera undercranking donnybrooks typical of the early sound era with everyone flailing wildly with little or no discernible result, but that is just par for the course. Talmadge is attacked by a horde of henchmen in virtually every chapter and you're hard pressed to tell friend from foe among the flapping arms and legs. None of it is at all realistic, and the fights, as strange as it may sound, sometimes become complete action stoppers. But for all its faults, devoid of stunt work Pirate Treasure is not!

About the production:
NĂ© Metzetti and from a Swiss-German family of acrobats, Richard Talmadge (1892-1981) had been Douglas Fairbanks’ stunt-double before embarking on a screen career as an action star in his own right. He continued his low-budget film career into the sound era -- and here is the rub for the so-called historians: Talmadge's sound films didn't differ one iota in concept or budgets from his silents -- before drifting into stunt coordinating, working well into the 1960s. Although no relation to silent stars Norma and Constance Talmadge, Richard Talmadge never actively dissuaded the notion.

Playing a true starring role in Pirate Treasure, the Lottie Carson was a real ship of that name anchored in 1933 at San Pedro, California. The vessel, according to an undated source, had a long and dramatic history before becoming a popular movie location.

“The little three-masted [sic] schooner Lottie Carson of 295 tons, built by Hall Bros. in 1881, also entered another phase of a long and checkered career. She had passed to Mexican owners during the First World War, being operated as the Lenora by F. Jebsen, the notorious German agent. After the war she was sold at auction in Victoria for $3,650 to W. H. Drewitt, who installed a gasoline auxiliary engine and entered her in the [bootleg] service as Coal Harbor. In February, 1925 she was captured bythe U. S. Coast Guard in southern California waters as a suspected rum runner, was towed to San Francisco and sold at auction to Los Angeles owners, who restored her original name, but found no use for her. After several years in lay-up she was given a peculiar bark rig and appeared in several motion pictures, including Slave Ship, Souls at Sea and South of Pago Pago.”

Cliffhanger cheat ("Annie Wilkes Hall of Shame" nominee)
With an obvious rag doll substituting, Dick Moreland is flung off a steep cliff in chapter 9. In chapter 10, alas, our hero simply dusts himself off and continues his quest apparently no worse for wear.

It's a Small World After All
Our intrepid heroes get a break when the uncharted island containing the treasure proves to be inhabited by Polynesian-looking "wild savages" speaking Spanish!

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