Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ramsay Ames & G-Men Never Forget

Sultry, Brooklyn-born Ramsay Ames (Nee Phillips, 1919-1998) had begun her career singing with a rumba orchestra before an injury to her back sidelined her burgeoning career. She left New York for Sunny Cal and nabbed contracts with first Columbia, then Universal where she briefly gave Maria Montez a run for her money. Today, she is best remembered for playing the imperiled girl in one of Universal's monster franchises, The Mummy's Ghost (1944). She was actually a late replacement for the studio's pedestrian Ape Girl, Acquanetta, whose thespian skills was apparently not up to the “demanding” role. Married to playwright Dale Wasserman (“Man of La Mancha”), Ramsay Ames later relocated to Spain, where she would appear in her final film, a supporting role in Carol Reed's The Running Man (1963). Ames other serial work: Ralph Byrd's leading lady in The Vigilante (Columbia, 1947) and a cameo in Republic's The Black Widow (1947).

G-Men Never Forgets (Republic, 1948)

Sprung from jail, master criminal Victor Murkland (Roy Barcroft) has Police Commissioner Cameron (also Roy Barcroft) kidnapped and, after a bit of plastic surgery, takes the commissioner's place and is free to pursue his criminal objective: a ruthless insurance protection racket that even includes sabotaging a GI Bill housing project.

Veteran Republic connoisseurs will once again marvel at how brilliantly the company manages to near-seamlessly combine old with new in G-Men Never Forget. Here is Roy Barcroft in the opening chapter putting pressure on poor old Edmund Cobb to pay up or else. The "or else" is the destruction of the channel island tunnel and we are treated to a cliffhanger lifted straight from the 12-year-old Dick Tracy. G-Men never forget, indeed! Where footage like this would show up as rather grainy and instantly recognizable stock at, say, Columbia and the late and often unlamented Universal, Republic made sure that no one was any the wiser – or at least no one with a short-term memory. That the studio chose stock footage from the old Dick Tracy serials to meet the necessary budget restraints is no coincidence: without exotic trappings such as monsters from Mars or weird despots teleported from who knows where, G-Men is really Dick Tracy redux, with Clayton Moore and company reactivating the old franchise without having to pay compensation, literally and figuratively, to Chester Gould.

And it almost works; Moore makes a fine G-Man, tight-lipped and no nonsense, and the beauteous Ramsay Ames is actually an improvement over Tracy's usual nondescript colleagues, even if studio hairdressers did give her a rather unbecoming but business-like short hairstyle. (In the opening chapter, Ames impersonates a gun moll and looks much more her usual glamorous self.) Roy Barcroft is, as always, a formidable foe and even gets to stretch his acting muscles by playing a good guy for a change, if ever so briefly. So when all is said and done, and like so many other Republic serials of the immediate post-war era, G-Men is much better than its reputation and perhaps even better than it needed to have been considering the competition.

… and their fellas: Drew Allen

With the possible exception of the 1946 Cisco Kid western The Gay Cavalier, also with Ramsay Ames, in which he played Helen Gerald's love interest (see an earlier entry), G-Men Never Forget marked the best opportunity for Drew Allen, a former Golden Glove boxing champ of Iowa and Minnesota. Allen, who was really Virgil Frye and hailed from Estherville, IA, plays Roy Barcroft's chief henchman, Duke Graham, and it is his hospitalization that gives agents Clayton Moore and Ramsay Ames their opportunity to infiltrate the gang. Allen later became known as Gil Frye and in August of 1963 he joined Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, director Billy Wilder, Charlton Heston (!), and other Hollywood progressives in a civil right march on Washington, D.C.

About the production
Like Republic's most recent releases, G-Men was originally intended as a 13-chapter serial. However, hasty rewrites eliminated chapter 10 and subsequent chapters were re-titled. Also eliminated was a confrontation in the opening chapter between Duke Graham (Drew Allen) and R.J. Cook's (Edmund Cobb) secretary, Miss Stewart (Dian Fauntelle), who was left with a single line in chapter 3. In contrast, the character of Frances Blake, played by Ramsay Ames, was expanded and she would figure prominently in several climactic shootouts. Clayton Moore provided his own wardrobe in this serial, purchased at McIntosh on Hollywood Blvd. “If you watch G-Men Never Forget, you’ll see exactly what the well-dressed man of 1947 was wearing,” Moore later wrote.

Location department
The sanitarium where Commissioner Cameron is kept hidden is actually the Duchess Ranch, complete with windmill, a set built in 1944 on the northeastern part of the Republic back lot for the Red Ryder Bwestern series starring William Elliott. The ranch house and barn turn up in scores of Republic feature films as well, instantly recognizable even when dressed to look like "modern" suburbia.

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