“Undercover Men”

August 13, 2008

Long ago, when I became an F.O.S. (Friend Of Steve), I tackled for the first time the mystery of Durango.  There are many mysteries surrounding the man. The ones that occupied my mind initially were these: why did they make so many of these? Why did they lavish such little thought upon them? Why didn’t they show them on TV?

I found answers in a theory which I truly cannot remember where it came from. Perhaps I read it on the internet somewhere. I’m half-sure I came up with it myself and forgot. Anyway, the theory was this: the Durango Kid films, and many of Charles Starrett’s other cowboy films, were shot as part of an agreement with England over United Kingdoms content. Part of this is true, the studios had an agreement to shoot a certain percentage of their films on English soil, or one of the colonies. In exchange, their films were allowed to be shown in the United Kingdoms. Most of the big Hollywood studios kept a studio in England for just this purpose. Columbia, however, did not have one.

So, the theory went, Starrett shot his seven to eight pictures a year and helped to fulfill the content requirements.

That’s because they were all shot in Canada.

Well, our old friend Les Adams, tore this theory apart for me. He points out that only three of Starrett’s films were shot in Canada, “Stampede” (1936), “Secret Patrol” (1936) and “Undercover Men” (1934).

Set in the “Town of Highland” as the burn tells us, this gangster film has Charles playing Bob Hunter.  Bob is a cashier at a local bank.  When the place is robbed, he cooperates to protect the customers (including his fiance.)  He is branded a coward and fired.  He joins the Mounties to show his true character and catch them hoods who done it.

Bob’s a pretty straight arrow to begin with so there’s not much of a transformation as he becomes a Mountie.  Charles looks good in that stiff Mountie uniform, as he would again in “Outpost Of The Mounties” (see blog entry).

There are no horses in this, but there are motorcycles and Charley gets to ride one (briefly.)

When a fellow officer gets shot (by a unique assassin, a mute little guy named “Joe”), Charley uses this over-the-top surprised look — mouth wide open, body tense and frozen — that I’ve seen once or twice before.  It’s funny and effective at the same time.

There’s a twist where a superior officer calls Bob a coward so Bob hits him.  He is court-martialed.  This allows him to continue his investigation in civilian clothes.

SPOILER: The ringleader ends up being the spoiled son of the banker who got Bob fired.

One last note.  I’m loathe to correct the Master, but Les forgot “The Viking” which was shot in Labrador and Newfoundland.

— all images courtesy of Les Adams

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One Response to ““Undercover Men””

  1. I can’t tell you why some of the early Starretts were shot in Canada. I know that when the Durangos were released in England, they would change the title to something that the audience might understand. Certain words or locations (“buckeroo” “Lone Star”) would be changed because British children may not have understood the cowboy lingo. I know the early Starretts were popular because I used to have a Western Movie annual which had “The Old Wyoming Trail” featurized in story form. I can tell you that an attempt was made to put the Durango films on early television out of New York, but they wanted Starrett to fly out from Long Beach to do a ten minute introduction, and he declined. It wasn’t until the Movie Channel ran a Durango Kid marathon for twelve hours in the eighties, that the films were widely shown. They have always been shown at Western film conventions.

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