Tag Archives: Columbia Pictures

Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox), Chapter 13: The Mystery of the Payroll

While most of the thirteen chapters of Brenda Starr, Reporter don’t deal with it, The Mystery of the Payroll is what the whole thing is supposedly about. And it gets solved in the last chapter. Though not really. I mean, it’s solved, but not satisfactorily. In fact, one of the big twists just raising more questions. Luckily, there’s no time to answer them because the serial is over.

After what should be an action-packed cliffhanger resolution (it isn’t, though there’s at least some action in a long shot), the story moves back to the newspaper office. Joan Woodbury is in trouble again with boss Frank Jaquet for disobeying copper Kane Richmond. Pretty soon, there’s a deus ex machina reveal and the wrap-up begins.

I suppose it’s efficiently executed; there’s quite a bit of wrapping up to do, even if none of it involves Woodbury. Given how poorly the serial leaves her, it’s probably better she didn’t get any of that material. It’s mostly Syd Saylor and William ‘Billy’ Benedict.

This chapter might be Benedict’s least annoying performance in the serial. He’s not a constant drag on the proceeding like usual. Or it might just be the “final chapter” energy.

Payroll is a disappointing end to a disappointing serial. It might have been nice, at least once, for Woodbury to take the titular Reporter job seriously instead of just being an adventurer.

Of course, the same goes for inept copper Richmond.

Brenda Starr, Reporter is a drag. Mystery of the Payroll might have been able to brace it after the last few chapters’ general competence. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


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Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox), Chapter 12: Murder at Night

Murder at Night features two murders at night. It doesn’t, however, have much night. Ira H. Morgan’s day-for-night photography is so inept, most of the action seems like it’s taking place late afternoon. The visual cues run contrary to the script, which has all the action taking place over hours.

So, basically, no one sleeps in Brenda Starr. Cousin Lottie Harrison stays up all night in case Joan Woodbury comes home and needs a meal cooked for her (and any guests).

Oddly enough, the script introduces a whole new element–there’s a mole for the bad guy at Woodbury’s newspaper. Woodbury doesn’t even know the bad guy’s identity. Everyone thinks George Meeker is on the up-and-up, not realizing he’s running a gang for the still unseen (and not really heard from lately) “Big Boss.”

There’s some energy from the finale chase scene, which does set up a real cliffhanger, but the chapter–penultimate or not–is more of the same from Brenda Starr. There are double-crosses, there are betrayals, there is repetitive dialogue. Practically all of Wheeler Oakman’s dialogue involves begging Woodbury to turn him over to the cops; she always refuses, with her reasons getting thinner as the chapter progresses.

The chapter also has a pointless flashback to another chapter. Time killer.

There’s a lot to wrap up in the final chapter–the “Big Boss,” the mole, the secret code (presumably the location of some stolen money)–and Starr needs to use all its remaining time wisely, which seems highly unlikely given the serial to this point.

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


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Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox), Chapter 11: On the Spot

This chapter has Joan Woodbury not just getting out of a trap, she executes a great plan for it too. A surprising one. Not a lot of surprises in Brenda Starr, Reporter, so getting any of significance–even this late (On the Spot is the penultimate penultimate chapter)–is nice.

Overall, it’s not a bad chapter. Too much with idiot cop Joe Devlin. Starr’s either got condescending super-cop Kane Richmond (who hasn’t solved a single thing… though neither has Woodbury) or idiot Devlin. On the Spot gives Devlin the illusion of more to do, but then cuts away when it’s his turn.

Syd Saylor’s playing the same type of part–dimwit sidekick–but he’s at least good at it. And his character isn’t as much of a dimwit.

After the escape sequence, it’s all about Ernie Adams scheming until the cliffhanger. Of course Woodbury has inserted herself into that situation; she’s tried to call for back up, but William ‘Billy’ Benedict messes it up.

There are a lot of thin characters in Brenda Starr but Benedict’s got the worst. Whenever he shows up on screen, the serial becomes practically intolerable. I’m not sure if anyone could play the role of office numbskull with charm, but Benedict doesn’t.

Still, it’s a lot better of a chapter than the serial usually puts out.

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


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Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox), Chapter 10: A Double-Cross Backfires

Brenda Starr is rallying in its last third–A Double-Cross Backfires is a solid serial chapter. Sure, Joan Woodbury gets interviewing and kidnapped duty, but there’s some good action and some actual suspense.

The chapter opens in Marion Burns’s house–rigged for her psychic scam–and no one except Burns can find their way through it. Lots of curtains, false walls, all sorts of stuff. Perfect location for a thrilling shootout, even if Fox’s direction is boring.

And Burns is rather good. She’s underutilized, but at least she’s underutilized in a supporting role as opposed to Woodbury, who’s underutilized in the ostensible lead part.

The action scene has Kane Richmond chasing a bad guy’s cab and then climbing a roof to duke it out with him. Again, not great direction from Fox, but good enough to get it through. Richmond’s still a condescending jackass overall, however.

Maybe the most salient factor in the rallying is Ernie Adams. He’s a stoolie who all of a sudden has a bunch more to do. Adams knows how to act a scene where the director isn’t going to give him anything. He’s a delight.

So, Backfires doesn’t.

I just wish Brenda Starr had this level of energy and inventiveness (and the strong supporting cast–not the tiresome cops and newspaper sidekicks) throughout.

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


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