Republic, 12 Chapters, 1948. Starring Clayton Moore, Roy Barcroft, Ramsay Ames, Drew Allen, Stanley Price.
Notorious gangster Vic Murkland (Roy Barcroft) escapes from prison and hides out at Benson’s Sanitarium, where his accomplice Doc Benson (Stanley Price) uses plastic surgery to transform him into a perfect double of Police Commissioner Angus Cameron (also Roy Barcroft); Murkland then manages to have Cameron kidnapped and imprisoned in the sanitarium, taking his place as Commissioner. Soon the Murkland mob has resumed its racketeering activities, targeting industrialist R. J. Cook (Edmund Cobb) with protection demands; G-man Ted O’Hara (Clayton Moore) is assigned to run Murkland down– but takes a long time to realize that his trusted ally the commissioner is also his elusive quarry.
G-Men Never Forget was the first post-war Republic serial to place really heavy reliance on stock footage; almost all its cliffhangers are borrowed from earlier serials, with the script carefully tailored to lead up to the cribbed sequences. However, despite the familiarity of the chapter-ending action, G-Men is never tedious; in fact, it’s both interesting and entertaining, thanks to an excellent cast, strong camera work, good direction, and a script that adds some distinctive flourishes to the standard Republic formula.
Writers Franklin Adreon, Basil Dickey, Sol Shor, and Jesse Duffy wisely avoid the large-scale espionage plots or extraterrestrial invasions that jarred so embarrassingly with Republic’s reduced post-war budgets in many of the studio’s other later chapterplays; the heavies in G-Men are fairly realistic gangsters preoccupied with protection rackets, payroll robberies, and other down-to-earth schemes. Although most of those schemes–like the plots of more grandiose late-Republic villains–are repeatedly thwarted by the good guys, G-Men’s heavies come off as not only more believable but also more menacing than most of their contemporaries, murdering more than one likable supporting character as part of their ongoing attempt to cover up Murkland’s masquerade as the Commissioner.
Above: A pair of killers about to break into their victim’s darkened office.
The aforesaid masquerade and the Commissioner’s imprisonment by the heavies make G-Men much more involving than most of Republic’s later cops-and-robbers chapterplays; it lends suspense to the narrative and provides a connecting thread between the otherwise unrelated capers that form the bulk of the narrative. The Commissioner’s attempts to escape, and Murkland’s attempts to preserve his pose, periodically interrupt the heroes and heavies’ repetitive clashes over robberies and racketeering, while the final three episodes are entirely given over to the gradual exposure of Murkland–providing a satisfying and dramatic build-up to the exciting climactic chapter. The writers also do a very good job of reminding us of Murkland’s matchstick-chewing habit at periodic intervals–a habit that plays a key part in the serial’s eventual denouement.
The most distinctive aspect of G-Men’s script, however, is its frequent echoing of the tough black-and-white crime films popular in the post-war era–features such as The Narrow Margin, The Racket, or Armored Car Robbery. G-Men is not as hard-boiled in tone as any of these films, of course; however, many of its scenes–like the vicious beating of Cameron and a double-crossing henchman, or the murder scene in Chapter Ten (with the panicked victim plastering himself against a closet wall as his killer calmly turns on a radio to muffle the fatal shot)–do show a decidedly harsher edge than one would expect from a serial. The hero’s pose as a hood and the heroine’s complimentary pose as his slinky moll are also a bit edgy by serial standards, as is the villains’ attempt to frame the hero on bribery charges; although the writers don’t make nearly as much of this latter twist as they could have, it’s quite unusual for a chapterplay script to even acknowledge the possible existence of police corruption.
Above left: Ramsay Ames, disguised as a brassy moll, visits supposed criminal Clayton Moore in the prison hospital. Above right: A gangster–about to make a hit–lurks on a street corner.
The direction of Fred Brannon and Yakima Canutt and the cinematography of John MacBurnie is well above-average in G-Men; dialogue scenes are staged with more of an eye to balanced composition than usual (particularly in the villains’ plotting sessions), while an unusually high percentage of upward and downward shots are used to make the visuals more striking. The latter technique is particularly effective in the scene in which a police detective suddenly realizes that “Cameron” is really Murkland; the crucial sequence contains little dialogue but is carried off very dramatically, with close-ups of the detective staring down in wide-eyed horror at Murkland and Murkland looking up warily at the detective.
Above: Roy Barcroft (left) gives himself away to Doug Aylesworth (right).
The action scenes are also neatly handled, with the shootout in the darkened office in Chapter Twelve being particularly well-shot. Fistfights are numerous but don’t dominate the proceedings to the extent they do in many other 1940s Republics; many of the serial’s brawls are quite brief, which leaves elbow room for suspense sequences (the gangsters’ stalking of R. J. Cook in Chapter Five, the subsequent scene with the booby-trapped Dictaphone) and for memorable non-fistfight action like the aforementioned office shootout or the gun battle at the used-car lot in Chapter Four–which has the hero making clever use of a dump truck as moving cover.
Above left: The dump-truck-assisted shootout. Above right: The office shootout in Chapter Twelve.
The Chapter Four fight in the shipyard office, the brief farmhouse fight in Chapter Six, the Chapter Ten office fight, and the climactic fight at the sanitarium are some of the best of the serial’s fistfights; Dale Van Sickel doubles star Clayton Moore while Tom Steele doubles action heavy Drew Allen, although they oddly switch “roles” in at least one brawl. Bud Wolfe, Dave Sharpe, Johnny Daheim, Carey Loftin, Gil Perkins, Duke Green, and Ken Terrell are all on hand as well, battling Van Sickel as various one-shot heavies; Green in particular lends extra bounce to the aforementioned Chapter Ten fight. George Magrill, whose career as a stuntman and minor heavy extended back to the silent era, also does his bit in one fight–and gets to deliver some funny dialogue to boot.
Above left: Clayton Moore slugs Tom Steele in the Chapter Four fight. Above right: Duke Green makes a flying leap onto Dale Van Sickel (doubling Moore), who’ s just felled Steele.
Most of the serial’s outdoor action takes place on the city streets of the Republic backlot, although there are also some chases on country roads and several trips to the studio’s farmhouse. The lumber yard that figures as a backdrop to the shootout in Chapter Two seems to be the “real thing,” as does the used-car lot that figures in Chapters Three and Four–although the latter could easily be Republic’s employee parking lot. The largely urban settings augment the gritty crime-film atmosphere of the serial; a foot chase or shootout on the hillsides at Iverson’s would have seemed a little out-of-place in G-Men.
Above left: Clayton Moore and Ramsay Ames at the lumber yard. Above right: The used-car lot.
G-Men’s chapter endings–as mentioned at the beginning of the review–are mostly derived from previous Republic serials; the great flooded-tunnel scene from Daredevils of the Red Circle, the farmhouse explosion from Captain America, and the motorcycle-off-the-cliff scene from Federal Operator 99 are among the borrowed cliffhangers. As in all later Republics, though, the borrowing is only noticeable if you’re familiar with the original sequences; the stock footage is slickly and seamlessly integrated with the new scenes. The few original cliffhangers are much less spectacular than the stock-footage ones, although the Chapter Ten ending–which has Drew Allen waiting to shoot Clayton Moore in a darkened apartment–is filmed very memorably and stylishly, with a blinking light-up sign outside the window intermittently illumining the killer, and a complete cessation of background music giving the scene a tense and silent ominousness.
Above: Shots from the buildup to the Chapter Ten cliffhanger.
Clayton Moore’s steely-eyed glare and quiet forcefulness make him an ideal serial “G-man;” whether he’s intently analyzing clues or just as intently shooting it out with heavies, he invariably comes off as tough, intelligent, and dedicated. Ramsay Ames is calmly professional as his extremely capable policewoman aide, Sgt. Frances Blake, sporting a rather unattractive short haircut in an apparent effort to look less like a glamor girl and more like a detective–but her considerable beauty and her wryly good-humored screen personality are still very much in evidence beneath the haircut and the professionalism.
Above: Clayton Moore and Ramsay Ames.
Roy Barcroft is given one of his best serial showcases as Murkland and Cameron; only his turns as the Purple Monster and Captain Mephisto were as meaty. As Murkland he’s cynically sarcastic, almost swaggeringly confident, and slyly duplicitous when posing as the Commissioner–while as Cameron, he’s fearless, shrewd, and doggedly determined in the face of brutal treatment. Barcroft’s terrific dual performance is the cornerstone of the serial’s success; had Murkland been less memorably nasty or Cameron less sympathetic, there’d have been much less reason to be interested in the one’s crime wave and the other’s dangerous plight.
Above: Roy Barcroft as Murkland (left) and as Cameron (right).
Drew Allen, as Murkland’s enforcer Duke Graham, makes an unusual but excellent action heavy; though youthful and even somewhat handsome, he’s just as vicious in behavior as uglier and more grizzled thugs like Kenne Duncan or Dick Curtis. He plays Duke as a cocky, trigger-happy punk, alternating between smug flippancy and sullen perplexity–and makes him seem like a decidedly realistic hoodlum, a characterization very much in keeping with the gangster-movie feel of the serial.
Stanley Price is also excellent as the slick Doc Benson, a crafty secondary heavy who’s quite capable of formulating plans on his own and never hestitates to order Duke around in Murkland’s absence; the shrewd and self-assured character is a far cry from the panic-stricken weasels Price usually played. Edmund Cobb is very good as the upright but rather choleric R. J. Cook, grumpily but admirably refusing to knuckle under to Murkland’s protection demands.
Above: Edmund Cobb and Stanley Price.
Jack O’Shea plays Price’s sanitarium assistant, Doug Aylesworth has a recurring part as a police detective, and Phil Warren is Clayton Moore’s G-man superior. Russell Whitman is another police detective, Frank O’Connor the District Attorney in the final scene, and Charles Sullivan a police patrolman. As aforementioned, the stunt team members play many incidental thug roles, with Steele and Van Sickel making by far the most appearances; Robert Barron, John Crawford, and Bob Wilke also have noticeable henchman bits. Barry Brooks is a furtive sanitarium aide, George Douglas a prison-hospital orderly, and Eddie Acuff makes the most of two brief appearances as a shady used-car dealer named Fiddler. LeRoy Mason provides the voice of Vic Murkland before the gangster begins to “imitate” the Commissioner’s voice (this dubbing, and the facial makeup Barcroft wears as the pre-surgery Murkland, helps to make it seems as if the villains have actually gone to some effort to disguise their leader as Cameron, instead of merely taking advantage of an implausibly strong pre-existing resemblance, as in Secret Service in Darkest Africa).
G-Men Never Forget, despite its frequent reliance on old footage, is a solid late entry in the Republic canon. In fact, one could wish that Republic had used it as a template for more of their later serials; an emphasis on tough and semi-realistic gang-busting–instead of improbably grandiose espionage schemes or science-fictional world-conquest plots–could have made other later Republics at once more interesting and less silly. It’s that gangbusters/gangland atmosphere–along with its well-balanced plotting and its excellent cast–that makes G-Men worthy to stand alongside earlier Republic chapterplays, stock footage and all.
Above: Clayton Moore (left) and Drew Allen shoot it out in a back alley.
Excellent review. One of my favorites. It helps that I don’t have a good memory for cliffhangers (though I certainly could place the flooding tunnel from Daredevils). I think both Clayton Moore and Roy Barcroft have perhaps their best serial roles in this one. I think your explanation is correct about why Ramsey Ames has short hair. She is playing a professional. One thing I would emphasize more than perhaps you did is that she was a real co-hero in this one and saved the day several times with her shooting skills. Right on point about its “crime story” aspects and also that perhaps Republic might have been wise to go in this direction more in later years. ****1/2 out of *****
Another fav that I have in my collection. Republic wisely and with care and skill, combined stock footage from their older serials, the result being that the viewers usually could not detect the old from the new. I could detect the stock footage mainly because Ive seen so many Republics over a span of years..Barcroft easy steals the show with his dual role. Clayton Moore makes an ideal G man with Ramsey Ames as his very able assistant. As usual, another excellent revue.4 stars out of 5.
Yes, Ames’ character was quite a sharp-shooter in this one; I also found it interesting that both Russell Whitman’s detective character in Chapter Eleven and the Commissioner in the final episode got to help out the hero with well-placed bullets. Between their actions, Ames’ repeated “nice shooting” (to quote Moore’s character), and the Commissioner’s earlier attempts to escape Murkland, the supporting characters come off as far more capable in this serial than in most other chapterplays–particularly in later Republic outings, where the hero’s helpers–both male and female–are generally of little help. There’s also a definite sense of police camaraderie between the law-enforcing characters in G-Men that you don’t see in many other serials; Moore and Ames seem genuinely upset when they think that the Commissioner has “sold out” to Murkland, and Moore has to keep Ames from rushing out to help Whitman when he’s hit over the head (saying something to the effect of, “I don’t like seeing a policeman hit anymore than you do); he later calls the Whitman character an “honest cop” as a term of praise.
This is probably a good place to mention that updates will be a little slower over the next two weeks, due to the family demands of the Christmas season. Merry Christmas to you two, and to the rest of my regular readers–and rest assured there are many reviews yet to come, even if they’ll be coming somewhat slowly over the holidays.
G-Men Never Forget is one of my favorite post WW-2 serials of all time. The review and replies are spot on. Clayton Moore and Roy Barcroft are in excellent form. Its hard to hide the glamour of Ramsay Ames. She was one of the last active female leads of Republic serials. Ailene Towne would come along 2 years later and be put in a more passive role. I sometimes wonder watching this serial if Republic writers dug out a rejected Dick Tracy script and had it filmed. Maybe it should have been Dick Tracy Never Forgets???? Anyway Ralph Byrd owned that role and comparing Byrd to Moore is like comparing apples to oranges. Good to see this serial reviewed, finally.
Drew Allen also plays a cocky punk in the Roy Rogers’ film Eyes of Texas. Posing as the nephew of Francis Ford who is killed by a pack of dogs used by the villians, Allen gets his comeuppance when Barcroft subdues him and throws into the basement with the dogs. Ramsey Ames gets to show off her gorgeous legs in tights for publicity photos, although in the serial, she wears a modest skirt. Darn it. Of course we would have been too young to appreciate the pulpitude at that time.
Great review, I agree this serial is a real gem. Ramsey Ames is one tough broad whether dropping the hammer without a second thought or driving a truck in reverse! The “noir” aspect is well done and makes this effort unique in serials. Also got a big kick out of the name “Duke Graham” – a insider nod to two of the studio’s stuntmen?
Fast paced…almost too fast but Barcroft gives a great performance along with the dependable Clayton Moore. Bob Wilke shows up for brief minute as a Bad Guy…!!!
The stock footage isn’t the only thing that’s borrowed. The scene where Clayton Moore and Ramsey Ames go undercover in a prison hospital ward was lifted from Holt Of The Secret Service where Jack Holt and Evelyn Brent did the same thing. And the plot device of he evil Roy Barcroft keeping the good Barcroft prisoner was used not only in Secret Service In Darkest Africa but also in Daredevils Of The Red Circle.
Not much to add, except to concur with all of the positive comments. Easily one of best of the latter-day Republics, and a personal favorite.