Brick Bradford

Brick Bradford--titles
Columbia, 1948. Starring Kane Richmond, Rick Vallin, Charles Quigley, John Merton, Linda Johnson, Pierre Watkin, Wheeler Oakman, Jack Ingram, Charles King, Leonard Penn.

World-famous adventurer Brick Bradford (Kane Richmond) is recruited by the United Nations to assist and guard Dr. Tymak (John Merton), who’s developing an missile-interceptor ray that’s intended to bring about world peace–but can easily lead to world war if falls into the wrong hands. One such pair of hands belongs to the sinister Dr. Laydron (Charles Quigley), who sets out to steal the ray with the aid of a gang of thugs; in addition to fighting off this gang, Brick must journey to the Moon (via Tymak’s “Crystal Door”) and to a tropical island in the year 1748 (by means of Tymak’s “Time Top”), as he endeavors to protect Tymak and help him complete his invention.

Brick Bradford was the first of Sam Katzman’s Columbia serials to be helmed by the team of Spencer Bennet (who’d go on to direct almost all of Katzman’s subsequent chapterplays) and Thomas Carr (who moved on to television after co-directing several additional Columbia serials with Bennet). Both men came over to the Katzman serial unit from Republic Pictures, and both had more experience in providing exciting action on a low budget than most of the directors Katzman that had hired to oversee his 1945-1947 serials. However, though the Bennet/Carr team would later direct some of Katzman’s best serials (Superman, Pirates of the High Seas, Roar of the Iron Horse), their initial collaborative effort was thoroughly mediocre–albeit much less of a complete disaster than many of the Katzman chapterplays that preceded it.

Like many other Katzman Columbia serials, Brick is decidedly overlong; Arthur Hoerl, George Plympton, and Lewis Clay only manage to fill out its fifteen chapters (most of which clock in at a lengthy 18 minutes) by means of heavy narrative padding. The first three episodes (in which Brick and his friends search for Tymak’s kidnapped assistants, while Laydron–posing as Tymak–plots against them, and Tymak himself is held prisoner on the Moon) and the last six (in which good guys and bad guys engage in a protracted tug-of-war over a station wagon that contains the disassembled pieces of Tymak’s interceptor ray) are particularly padded, presenting as they do a relentlessly repetitious series of captures (of both people and equipment) and escapes that play out over a limited geographical area (the hills between Tymak’s lodge and Laydron’s cabin hideout)–much like a backyard children’s game. The repetitiveness of the plotting is painfully accentuated by the serial’s plodding pace; scene after scene is stretched out by unnecessary and sluggish-looking footage–one example being the Chapter Three sequence in which the heroine and her father are threatened by a timed death-ray; static and redundant shots of the potential victims and the deadly ray are intercut with shots of Brick steadily but unhurriedly walking (not running) to the rescue, and with a sequence that has him slowly creeping up a hillside to roll a boulder at the villains who try to block his path. Here and elsewhere in the serial, this filming approach definitely helps to use up screen time, but also severely diminishes excitement.

Brick Bradford--walking Brick Bradford--in the path of the ray-gun
Above: Kane Richmond, Rick Vallin, Wheeler Oakman, and Leonard Penn walk deliberately onwards (left) as Pierre Watkin and Linda Johnson face certain doom (right).

Chapters Four through Six, in which Brick battles against the lunar dictator Zuntar on behalf of a group of democratically-minded colonists from Earth, feel a little less repetitive than those that center around earthbound skirmishing–mainly because the subplot surrounding this secondary villain quickly builds to a definitive climax; however, the moon action still suffers from the same slow pacing as the earth scenes do (a lot of footage is wasted on scenes of characters walking slowly across the “lunar” surface), as well as from embarrassing production shortcuts (see below). Only during Brick’s middle episodes (part of Chapter Seven, and all of Chapters Eight and Nine) does the chapterplay seem to come fully alive; though these chapters (which center around a journey into the past to acquire some important scientific papers) don’t move any faster than the rest of the serial, their focus on a simple treasure hunt gives them more of a sense of forward momentum than the circular action in the other episodes–while their temporary elimination of an oversized supporting cast of underdeveloped characters, in order to focus on a pair of protagonists (Brick and his sidekick Sandy), is also refreshing.

Brick Bradford--arrival on moon Brick Bradford--arrival in past
Above left: Dr. Tymak strides into the wastes of the Moon (Lone Pine). Above right: Brick and Sandy step out of the Time Top in the year 1748.

The most appealing aspect of the time-travel episodes, however, is their unexpectedly humorous tone; the wisecracking breeziness with which Brick and (especially) Sandy cope with the natives and pirates of the past comes as a breath of fresh air after the quasi-political pontificating and general solemnity of the Moon sequence. More than one reviewer has compared the enjoyable bantering in these middle chapters to the antics of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in their “Road” pictures; though Brick stays a lot more grounded than those films, and leading man Kane Richmond is not as cheerfully casual as Crosby, Rick Vallin’s Sandy does strongly suggest Hope at times–particularly when he forgets his danger to whistle at a pretty native girl, uses a torrent of disconnected slang (“Hubba hubba! Sis boom bah!”) to awe natives who think he’s a magician, and obliviously confuses some pirates by making anachronistic remarks. The humor levels drop again after the heroes return from the 1700s, but there are some entertainingly offbeat comic moments sprinkled throughout the later episodes (and the earlier episodes too)–among them the amusing flat-tire routine involving the villains, the two different scenes in which an invisible protagonist sows discord among the henchmen, and Richmond and Vallin’s exchange of repartee in Chapter Eleven (which has a rather ad-libbed sound to it).

Brick Bradford--Vallin pushes cigars
Above: Rick Vallin (far left) shows Noel Neill, Stanley Price, and other 18th-century islanders the “magic” of cigar-smoking.

Carr and Bennet, assisted by stuntmen Eddie Parker, George DeNormand, and Fred Graham (who plays a recurring henchman), incorporate some respectable fight scenes into Brick at various points, although these scenes are not numerous enough to consistently boost the serial’s energy level. The best of the bunch is the long fight/chase at the stamp mill, which culminates in a race up a set of stairs and a fight between Parker (doubling Richmond) and Graham on a small platform; the whole sequence was shot outdoors at a real mill of some kind (the same one used in Jack Armstrong) and ever-so-briefly recalls some of the action scenes in Mascot and golden-age Republic chapterplays. Most of the other fight scenes are shorter than the mill sequence, but are mostly well-executed; among the more noteworthy are the Chapter Three fight (which begins with a neat leap from a cabin porch), the Chapter Thirteen fight atop the station wagon, and the energetic last-chapter fight on the hillside (which incorporates some nice leaps, flips, and kicks). The synchronized Chapter Six fights–one between Brick and a villain in Tymak’s lab, one between Sandy and another villain outside the building–are fine too, though the lab brawl could have been greatly improved if the budget had allowed the stuntmen involved to do some Republic-style prop-smashing; instead, they pointedly avoid bumping into any of the lab’s breakable equipment.

Brick Bradford--fight 1 Brick Bradford--fight 2
Above left: Blows are traded during the stamp-mill fight. Above right: Hero leg-flips villain through the air during the climactic Chapter Fifteen fight.

Brick also features several foot chases through various rock formations, and shootouts among the same formations–but most of these scenes (like the chase in Chapter Four and the ray-gun battle in Chapter Five) are flattened by the aforementioned slow pacing; characters rarely break into anything more strenuous than a jog when pursuing each other, and frequently take an interminable amount of time to aim and fire or creep up on each other during gunfights. However, the scenery against which these sequences unfold is at least very attractive; Brick features an excellent collection of outdoor locales–the stark canyons of Lone Pine (which serve as the mountains of the Moon), the forested slopes of Corriganville (which figure as the “island” during the time-travel chapters) and the rugged hills of Kernville (which provide the backdrop for most of the 20th-century earthbound action); the Bronson Canyon area and one of its less familiar cave mouths also put in an appearance.

Brick Bradford--Bronson Canyon Brick Bradford--Corriganville
Above left: Kane Richmond (or his stunt double) prepares to jump a heavy at Bronson Canyon. Above right: Noel Neill, Frank Ellis, Rick Vallin, Stanley Blystone, Kane Richmond, and Al Ferguson pause before starting to dig up buried treasure at Corriganville.

These locations (and the aforementioned mill) give Brick what production value it possesses; Katzman’s cheapness is far too evident in other production areas. It’s a little jarring to see a post-war space-travel saga that presents the Moon’s atmosphere as identical to that of Earth–an approach that saves Katzman from having to lay out money for spacesuits of the kind used six years later by the characters in Republic’s Radar Men from the Moon. In lieu of such spacesuits, the hostile “Lunarians” wear white T-shirts and Bermuda shorts (I’m not making this up–I wish I was) surmounted by Roman helmets and capes; their opponents, the rebellious “Exiles,” also wear contemporary Earthling togs, but at least they–as supposed transplants from Earth–have an excuse for their costuming choices (incidentally, it’s hard to square the presence of a sizable Earth colony on the Moon with the mocking incredulity with which both heroes and villains react to the announcement that Tymak knows how to get there; we never do find out how the “Exiles” managed to reach the Moon without anyone knowing they’d left the Earth).

Brick Bradford--Lunar garb
Above: Poor Gene Roth in a Lunarian “uniform.”

Production cheapness is also borne witness to by the bare concrete halls and throne room of the Lunarian Queen Khana’s palace, which are almost completely devoid of any futuristic furnishings or scientific equipment. Tymak’s lab on Earth is generously equipped with beakers and bottles, but is sorely lacking in the larger props used to suggest powerful gadgetry in some of Katzman’s later sci-fi chapterplays like Captain Video and Atom Man vs. Superman. The death ray featured in Chapter Three and the coveted interceptor ray are so dinky-looking that it’s hard to take the talk of their devastating power seriously; the latter gadget is only demonstrated twice (largely by means of animation) and spends most of its time being carted around in a station wagon. Laydron, supposedly a scientist himself, is forced to make his headquarters in a small and bare cabin more suitable to a Western outlaw (obviously, there weren’t enough small lab props available to supply two sets).

Brick Bradford--ray demonstration
Above: John Merton (center) prepares to demonstrate the interceptor ray (that black box on the table) as Pierre Watkin and Linda Johnson watch.

The scenes set in 1748, though entertaining, were also obviously crafted with economy in mind, and thus don’t ever succeed in creating the illusion that they’re taking place in another historical era. The natives that the heroes run into could just as easily have been encountered in one of Katzman’s contemporary jungle serials, while the pirates that the heroes temporarily ally with are dressed in generic sailor garb instead of recognizable 18th-century costumes; we also never get to see the pirates’ ship, or even a flintlock pistol. The overly-abrupt fadeout effect used to depict Tymak’s invisibility ray in action is unimpressive, but the visual effects (some of them animated) that show characters teleporting to the Moon and spinning into the past are not bad; the Time Top miniature is fine too, while the large-scale Time Top mockup is quite good (and easily ranks as the best prop in the serial). On the other hand, the cartoon stars that flash on the screen when Brick is apparently knocked from a car roof by a tree branch at the end of Chapter Thirteen are not only absurd-looking but jarringly out of place, giving a cartoonish tone to what would have otherwise been a fine cliffhanger.

Brick Bradford--spinning in time Brick Bradford--time top
Above left: Rick Vallin and Kane Richmond go into a blurry special-effects spin (left) as the Time Top carrying them swirls through time and space (right).

Most of Brick’s other cliffhangers suffer from a noticeable lack of buildup; characters are frequently thrust into peril before the editing of the scene has given us a clear idea of what the peril is. The Chapter Three flame-chamber cliffhanger and the Chapter Four fall into lava are particularly abrupt; the Chapter Seven powder-explosion and the Chapter Eleven gas-bomb cliffhanger are also inadequately set up. The Chapter One ray-gun cliffhanger is respectably handled, though, as are the Chapter Two mine-car crash and the Chapter Five freezing-gas cliffhanger; the former is probably the single best chapter ending in the serial, although the hero’s fall from the stamp-mill platform at the conclusion of Chapter Ten is quite good too. The booby-trapped-lab cliffhanger of Chapter Twelve is undermined by insufficient visual illustration of the trap involved, and by the embarrassingly dinky explosion that the trap sets off; the end of Chapter Fourteen is also below-par, centering as it does around a “death trap” that’s at once comically over-elaborate and ludicrously cheap-looking (the villains rig a gun that will shoot the helpless hero when his groggy sidekick regains consciousness and trips the trigger).

Brick Bradford--minecar 1 Brick Bradford--minecar 2
Above: Brick jumps into a runaway mine-car in an attempt to rescue Sandy (who’s lying unconscious at the bottom of it), but it rolls downhill anyway at the end of Chapter Two.

Brick’s cast is a strong one, though it’s so large that a lot of its members are frequently reduced to standing around in the background. Kane Richmond, in his final chapterplay role, is not as drivingly energetic as he was in Spy Smasher, but still looks every inch a classic adventure hero, and conveys his usual quiet confidence and competence–as well as an easygoing cheerfulness; his wryly good-humored reactions to his co-star Rick Vallin’s quips are very entertaining. Vallin himself is given one of his biggest serial roles, and handles it with appealing flair, maximizing the comedy value of his various wisecracks with deadpan but subtly tongue-in-cheek facial expressions.

Brick Bradford--Vallin and Richmond
Above: Kane Richmond reacts to a ridiculous remark by Rick Vallin.

As the bald and bespectacled Dr. Tymak, John Merton looks a lot like his deranged Dr. Tobor in the earlier Hop Harrigan, but actually plays an atypically heroic character this time out. He defies the villains with bristling grimness, explains his character’s various gadgets with entertainingly fierce enthusiasm, and occasionally displays a dignified joviality in his interactions with the other good guys. Former serial hero Charles Quigley does a similarly good job of playing against type as the evil Dr. Laydron; though his character is sidelined during the time-travel excursion and during some of the Moon chapters, Quigley makes the most of each of his scenes–affecting an amusingly absent-minded manner when posing as Tymak, taking a dryly condescending and occasionally irritable attitude towards his henchmen, and gloating smugly and sarcastically whenever he gains the upper hand.

Brick Bradford--Merton and Quigley
Above: John Merton confronts Charles Quigley.

As nominal heroine June Salisbury and her geologist father Professor Salisbury, Linda Johnson and Pierre Watkin spend much of the serial merely “going along for the ride,” and only occasionally play an important part in the storyline. Johnson too often appears to be bored with her role, delivering supposedly pert remarks to Richmond and Vallin in lazily disinterested style and often coming off as tepidly annoyed instead of angry or concerned. Watkin does a better job with his performance, maintaining a briskly self-assured demeanor throughout; however, as in Jack Armstrong, he’s somewhat miscast as a parental figure–being just too aloof an actor to achieve the appropriate balance of warmth and authoritativeness.

Brick Bradford--Johnson and Watkin
Above: Linda Johnson and Pierre Watkin are surprised by off-camera villains.

Jack Ingram, Charles King, Fred Graham, and sometime hero John Hart make up Charles Quigley’s excellent henchman squad–though all four of them, like Quigley himself, are limited in screen time due to the multi-part structure of the plot. Ingram has the most to do, frequently plotting with Quigley and expressing dry disgust over failures; King is characteristically calm and determined, Graham typically swaggering, and Hart impressively stern and tough. Homely and hulking Rusty Westcoatt, another solid screen thug, replaces Graham in the serial’s last third after the latter is killed off.

Brick Bradford--henchmen
Above: Jack Ingram watches as an irate Charles King accuses John Hart of hitting him (the invisible John Merton is actually behind the mischief).

Usual heavies Wheeler Oakman and Leonard Penn are cast as Tymak’s assistants Walthar and Byrus; Oakman gets to explain gadgets several times in the earlier episodes–occasionally sounding a little unsure of himself, but remaining infectiously genial and enthusiastic nonetheless–and also gets more than one opportunity to mix in fights against the villains. Penn has almost nothing to do in the serial’s first two-thirds but stand around watching as Oakman expounds on scientific principles or defies the thugs who repeatedly kidnap the duo; he becomes prominent, however, in Chapter Eleven–in which he reverts to his usual villainous form and tries to acquire the interceptor ray for himself, working against both Laydron and Brick while pretending to be allied to both. This twist is not foreshadowed at all, and ultimately has no impact on the serial’s outcome (it was obviously inserted only as a means of prolonging the tug-of-war in the later episodes)–but it does give the always entertaining Penn some good chances to be suavely hypocritical and sneeringly megalomaniacal.

Brick Bradford--Oakman and Penn
Above: Wheeler Oakman and Leonard Penn have just been released by an invisible Kane Richmond.

Carol Forman is in good haughty form as the Moon’s overbearing queen Khana, snapping viciously at the dictatorial Zuntar when he crosses her will and arrogantly ordering people to the dungeon. She also does a good job of conveying romantic interest in Kane Richmond’s character; the subplot surrounding this passion of the Queen’s is not really developed, but does allow Forman a brief chance to break from her standard “coldly businesslike” villainess mold. As Zuntar, the real power behind the queen’s throne, Robert Barron is his usual sly and oily self; Gene Roth (not looking his best in his absurd “Lunarian” uniform) is the captain of Zuntar’s guard, while the resonantly-voiced Nelson Leigh is the leader of the “Exiles” opposing Zuntar. Pretty Helene Stanley, who’d go on to “play” Cinderella and several other Disney heroines in the live-action films shot as reference material for the Disney animators, has disappointingly little screen time as Leigh’s daughter.

Speaking of prettiness, Noel Neill makes her serial debut as the sarong-clad Lulah, a rather cranky native girl who serves as a reluctant guide for the heroes during their time-traveling treasure hunt. Stanley Price is the native chief, who reacts with amusing glee to Rick Vallin’s gifts of cigars but switches to equally amusing outrage when one of the cigars proves to be an exploding one. Reliable roughnecks Al Ferguson, Frank Ellis, and Stanley Blystone play the trio of piratical rogues who are also in search of the treasure; Ferguson’s rolling Irish brogue makes him sound more convincingly “old-world” than Blystone and Ellis, but the former’s boisterousness and the latter’s stubbornness still make them fun to watch. George DeNormand appears briefly as a cohort of Leonard Penn’s, and Marshall Reed and Terry Frost have bits as Lunarian guards; a dour and slightly sinister unidentified player with a thick German accent plays the UN bigwig who recruits the hero in Chapter One and reappears in the final episode to congratulate him.

Brick Bradford never becomes very satisfying or very thrilling, but never becomes terminally dull or stupid either, despite a lethargic pace and a low budget that often renders its science-fictional pretensions absurd. Thanks to a mostly engaging cast, a varied collection of outdoor locations, some well-staged bits of action, and several unanticipated outbursts of off-the-wall humor, it stays mildly interesting throughout–and even manages to be somewhat entertaining on occasion, though it still remains a very mixed bag of a chapterplay.

Brick Bradford--poster

A Note on the Source: The comic strip Brick Bradford–written by William Ritt, drawn by Clarence Gray, and launched in in 1933–was a terrific adventure saga distinguished not so much by its art (which was, however, perfectly serviceable) as by its simultaneously logical and imaginative storylines. Ritt’s Bradford stories were long and detailed affairs that sent their hero on journeys in fantastic realms (an Arctic realm of lost Vikings, a hybrid Babylonian/Meso-American civilization at the South Pole, an Eastern fortress ruled by a modern-day Old Man of the Mountain, etc.); when Ritt started to run out of corners of our century in which to tuck his lost worlds, he came up with the idea of the Time Top–which allowed him to send Brick Bradford adventuring in any historical era he chose. The serial version of Brick’s exploits captures only a fraction of the comic strip’s appeal–but, in all fairness to Katzman, no other post-war serial producer could have pulled off a Bradford serial either; an adaptation of the strip would have needed the production panache of Universal in the mid-1930s, Columbia in the later 1930s, or Republic in its 1937-1942 Golden Age to really do justice to its source. Incidentally, June Salisbury, Professor Salisbury, and Sandy Sanderson were all major characters in the strip–which is why they (like Brick himself) are given very little in the way of introductions in the serial.

4 thoughts on “Brick Bradford

  1. Having seen only three or four chapters when it was first released to theaters, I remember little of this serial. Two things I recall was a theater gimmick of a punch card that when fourteen chapters were viewed and the card punched each time then you could see the fifteenth chapter free. Also the use of sepia tone when Brick would land on another planet. Other than this ,nothing comes to mind. No rating.

  2. Little in the way of production values appears on screen, even for a Sam Katzman cheapie, the cliffhangers are mostly boring, the gizmos (other than the time top) are unimpressive, and the moon and the 1700s look just like contemporary earth. I had t force myself to sit through all 15 slow-paced chapters. Dialog is occassionally amusing and the acting is competent. I don’t know if this is the worst of the Columbia serials as I’ve not seen them all, but I’d bet it’s a contender.

  3. This serial replaces “Robinson Crusoe on Clipper Island” as the number one worst serial that I ever watched along with
    “Whispering Shadows” these are the top three stinkers on my list.

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