“Red Barry” (‘38)
I liked Buster Crabbe when he played Flash Gordon, his signature role. In other parts, however, I often had a problem accepting the 100% pristineness of his heroic character. There always seemed to be something of the bullyboy about him, an uncomfortable suggestion that if the right mood was upon him he could easily turn nasty and abusive. I suppose that’s why it never bothered me all that much when he occasionally played a bad guy—opposite old swimming buddy and rival Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller in “Swamp Fire” (‘46), for instance.
In “Red Barry” (Universal ‘38), Buster portrays a wise-cracking, slightly unorthodox—and not always particularly bright—flatfoot, a character based on a popular comic strip of the time by Will Gould. He’s actually pretty good in the part; breezy, indolent and sarcastic when lounging about in the squad room, but full of Flash Gordon testosterone when things are up against him and his pals.
Since I’m not all that familiar with the cartoonist’s original comic strip concept, I don’t know if Crabbe’s cinematic interpretation is accurate. In any case, Red Barry is a fast-paced cliffhanger energetically directed by the team of Ford Beebe and Alan James with breakneck action, a few unique chapter endings (buried in coal; attacked by a nightclub lion, etc.) an offbeat plotline and some over the top, almost tongue-in-cheek performances.
The somewhat confusing storyline has Red, popular with his immediate superior Scotty (Wayde Boteler) but not so with the City Hall uppity-ups, investigating the theft of millions of dollars in bonds stolen from a friendly Asian nation (pre-WWII politics prevented more specific labeling of the foreign good and bad guys). Before the final chapter, Red finds himself in a deadly cat and mouse game full of espionage, dangerous fem fatales, and a host of villains out after both the bonds and our hero’s neck.
I enjoyed this serial more than I thought I would. It reminded of the hundred or so little crime movies of the same period involving detectives and newsmen that I grew up with. You don’t take anything too seriously for a moment. You just breeze along with it, enjoy the ride and sometimes it’s an exciting one.
Frances Robinson essays the traditional glib newswoman of the ‘30s part and Hugh Huntley is fun as the eccentric and effete investigator Vane (a kind of parody of S. S. Van Dine’s popular sleuth Philo Vance) while veterans Frank Lackteen and Philip Ahn are also on hand.
“Red Barry” falls into the middle ground of serials, nothing special but moderately entertaining and occasionally quite a bit of fun. You could do worse with several hours. Modern TV, as an example.
Among Marion Shilling’s films were two major serials, “The Red Rider” (‘34) with Buck Jones and Grant Withers and “The Clutching Hand” (‘36) with Jack Mulhall, Ruth Mix, Rex Lease, Mae Busch and a long roster of stars from the silent days of pictures.
“I did a considerable amount of riding in ‘Red Rider’ and also in lots of westerns,” Marion explained. “I was terribly awkward and scared on a horse at first, but I learned fairly quickly and I can boast that eventually I learned to make a flying mount. There was a double, usually a man in clothes like mine, for the very dangerous scenes, but I shudder now remembering some of the chances I took. Galloping over rough countryside with so many gopher and snake holes was certainly hazardous. If the horse had happened to stumble on one of those holes it would have been disastrous. My horse on one occasion was stung by a yellow jacket and I was thrown. I got right back on again and continued with the scene. I saw it in the rushes the next day and decided, for sure, I had a guardian angel watching over me.”
“One day while making ‘Red Rider’, I thought it was a good idea during a long wait between scenes to go off by myself to an isolated place and practice riding a bit. I soon became aware of someone following me. I looked around and there was Buck Jones. As I caught his eye, he started laughing and said, ‘Marion, that’s the best example I’ve ever seen of a horse riding a girl!’ Buck, over a period, gave me some excellent tips that were very helpful. Buck was a dear person, thoughtful of everyone. He told me one day that he wanted to introduce me to someone,” Marion recalled. Buck guided her to an old Indian sitting in the corner of the set. “Marion,” Buck said, “I want you to meet Jim Thorpe.” “Not the Jim Thorpe,” Marion exclaimed. “The very one,” Buck answered. (Thorpe was a famous Indian athlete who later worked in films.) “I’m certain Buck staged this incident more for Jim’s benefit than for mine,” Marion confided.
“Buck was one great person! He was so kind to everyone. Twinkling with good humor, he loved telling sometimes racy jokes between scenes but his wit always exceeded the vulgarity. Then, when we were called before the cameras, he was all business. He loved to assign people nicknames. Of all the actors I ever worked with, he was my favorite.”
Walter Miller and Grant Withers were also in “Red Rider”. “During my teen days I’d been a fan of Walter’s. I followed several of his serials faithfully with suspense and anticipation, never dreaming one day I’d be working with him. Walter was such a nice person, clean-cut, intelligent, reliable. I worked with Grant Withers during the six weeks of making Buck Jones’ ‘Red Rider’ serial. Grant was lots of fun and completely enamored of his bride, Alice, from Chicago. She was on the set nearly every day.”
As for “Clutching Hand”, Marion recalls Rex Lease as “…handsome, personable, his good humor brightened the set. His witty comments kept us all laughing. He had the makings of a big star, but, as he confessed to me during lengthy between-scene chats, he had a weak character. He regretted the hard time he had given his wife. Soon after we had completed ‘The Clutching Hand’, he came by my house one day and asked to borrow my package of stills from that serial. He said they’d help him get a good part, that he’d see I got them back soon. Despite numerous reminders from me, they were never returned and I was unable to replace them.”As for Ruth Mix, “We became good friends during ‘The Clutching Hand.’ She was sincere, unaffected, honest. A natural beauty, but unaware of it. She had flawless creamy skin, long dark hair and her eyes sparkled. Liked by everyone. After we had finished shooting one evening, Ruth took me to meet her dad (Tom Mix) whose circus was in town. I also met his wife who was performing with him.” (Thanks in part to Boyd Magers for excerpts from his WESTERNS WOMEN book.)
Grim, tight-lipped, droopy eyed, pudgy and sullen, 6' 1" Edmund Cobb played all kinds of roles, good and bad. At various times he could be seen as the sheriff, the star’s partner, the rancher, the trail boss, but more than likely he would be one of the outlaws, or only one of many henchmen at the bottom of the cast, other times one of the primary heavies, such as the voice of The Rattler bringing dreaded menace to Ken Maynard for 12 thrilling chapters of “Mystery Mountain.”
Edmund Fessenden Cobb was born June 23, 1892, in Albuquerque, NM, the grandson of an editor of the KANSAS TRIBUNE and one-term U.S. Senator (1866-1871). Instead of returning to Kansas, Cobb’s father settled in New Mexico, eventually becoming Governor of the Territory appointed by President Grover Cleveland in 1885. Four years later, he took up a law practice. Young Ed was being prepped by his grandfather for a life in politics, however, he died when Ed was 15.
Meanwhile, Ed was becoming interested in local theatrical productions. Around 1910, when Ed was 18, the St. Louis Motion Picture Co. came to Albuquerque to make a picture which introduced Ed into a 56 year career in western film making. At first Ed worked as a stuntman, extra and bit player, making it impossible to know what early titles he appeared in. It is known he appeared in “Pueblo Legend” in 1912. In 1914 he was in what is considered the first silent serial, “Adventures of Kathlyn” (Selig) with Kathlyn Williams and Tom Santschi.
Cobb headed for the Essanay Chicago studios in 1915, ultimately playing roles in some 35 of their productions between 1915-1916, including “Strange Case of Mary Page,” a 15 chapter Henry B. Walthall serial. “Days of ‘49”, in which he was the hero saving Neva Gerber, was released in 1924 by Arrow and “Fighting With Buffalo Bill” came along in ‘26 from Universal. Cobb was the gallant plainsman aiding Wallace MacDonald for 10 chapters. These were followed by “A Final Reckoning” (‘28 Universal) which saw Cobb as a heavy opposing Newton House for 12 chapters and “Scarlet Arrow” (‘28 Universal) starring Francis X. Bushman Jr.
In the ensuing years his personality and horsemanship paid off, allowing him to work in 63 silent and sound serials and over 500 other films, mostly westerns. Cobb played a friend to Tim McCoy in Universal’s bridge-over release between silent and sound serials (being released in both versions), “The Indians Are Coming” (‘30).
Cobb continued as a featured player in serials throughout the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, playing every type of role written—but specializing in heavies. When the serials ended, Cobb continued to work, with his last role being a bit in producer A. C. Lyles’ “Johnny Reno” (‘66).
Producer Alex Gordon also featured Cobb in several of his productions, including his all-star westerns “Bounty Killer” and “Requiem For A Gunfighter”. Alex told us, “My wife and I, along with Ed and his wife, Virginia, often had dinner together and became friends. He was a wonderful man—didn’t drink—and his wife was very beautiful and so well-dressed. She looked like Theda Bara—but not a vamp. Ed was not a wealthy man and for one of his birthdays in later years we gave him a money tree where all his friends pinned money on it. He was quite moved.”
By others who knew him, Cobb is described as a quiet, unassuming, down-to-earth, polite, gentleman. In poor health, Cobb was admitted to the Motion Picture Hospital where he died of heart attack August 15, 1974. His illustrious career spanned six decades and the entire spectrum of silent and sound serials.
Edmund Cobb’s Sound Serials:
The Indians Are Coming (‘30 Universal)