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Chapter One Hundred Three

Serial Dogs

by Ken Weiss

Tim McCoy and Dynamite as Pal in Universal's "The Indians Are Coming" ('30).Dog actors are like human actors: some are good and some aren’t. Let’s take a look at five of them, in this case from Western serials: Rin Tin Tin as Rinty in “The Lone Defender” (‘30 Mascot), Dynamite as Pal in “The Indians Are Coming” (‘30 Universal), King as himself in “Sign of the Wolf” (‘31 Metropolitan), Rin Tin Tin Jr. as Rinty in “Law of the Wild” (‘34 Mascot) and Duke the Wonder Dog as himself in “Tex Granger” (‘48 Columbia). Saving the two Rinties for last, Dynamite as Pal in “The Indians Are Coming” doesn’t have a lot of screen time but manages to make his mark. In all fairness to him and the other dogs, unlike the Rinties, Dynamite is merely one of the cast, not the star. As Pal he’s well named because he’s a real pal to his master, Tim McCoy, accompanying him pretty much everywhere. When Tim is unjustly imprisoned, Pal goes to jail with him and shares his cell. Although he doesn’t untie knots or bite people much, he performs the other chores expected of a serial dog: delivering messages, leading rescue parties and barking warnings. When he’s shot at, he plays dead, then continues his mission. All well and good, but for a serial dog he’s oddly non-violent. In 12 chapters he’s aggressive only twice, going after Indians, even disabling one. Still, it’s disconcerting when he starts barking while he and Tim are spying on Indians and, even worse, barks weakly and does little else as two Indians creep up on them and attack in Ch. 11.

King, in “Sign of the Wolf”, goes through all the motions required of canine heroes. He delivers messages, leads the good guys to the bad guys and even snatches jewels from the heavy’s hands and delivers them to his mistress, Virginia Brown Faire. He finds hero Rex Lease and his sidekick Joe Bonomo tied up, using his teeth to unbind them. At one point he climbs out on a tree limb and jumps on a mounted bad guy passing beneath. He’s usually running ahead or alongside galloping horses on rescue missions. He does all these things, but rarely convincingly. He often seems distracted and aimless. He frees Rex from his bindings by simply tugging on a rope until it conveniently falls off. (Blame the director.) In most fights, as Rex and Joe repeatedly slug it out with outlaws, King is mostly an interested observer, dashing about with his tail wagging, but doing little to help. In one fight (the end of Ch. 4), as Rex and Joe take on four outlaws, King does nothing but wag his tail. For most of that fight he simply disappears from the screen. During another fight, when he does join in, it’s inadvertently funny. He grabs the barrel of an outlaw’s revolver and tries to tug it from his hand. He’s got the barrel in his mouth. All the bad guy has to do is pull the trigger and King’s brains are guacamole. King does have one talent unique among serial dogs: he understands Kuvanese!

King protects Virginia Brown Faire from a bear in Ch. 8 of "The Sign of the Wolf" ('31 Metropolitan).

Poor Duke, in “Tex Granger”—he may indeed be a Wonder Dog, but he gets little opportunity to prove it. His appearances in the first six chapters are few and far between, confined mostly to running alongside his newly-adopted master, Buzz Henry. Starting in Ch. 7 the diminutive pooch’s role becomes meatier as he helps in a few rescues, delivers messages and plays dead when shot at. But at times he’s a tail wager when he shouldn’t be, and tends to sniff around the horses when his attention should be elsewhere. He’s also a barker, signaling his arrival to all, good or bad, even barking while he’s in enemy territory with Buzz, who has to “shhh” him. All in all, three unimpressive performers.

Buzz Henry, Duke and Peggy Stewart in Columbia's "Tex Granger" ('48).

The story of how Rin Tin Tin was found in a German trench by Capt. Lee Duncan during WWI reads like typical Hollywood baloney—but is true. Rin Tin Tin shows why he’s the most famous of all dog stars in “The Lone Defender”, made just a few years after his peak. He doesn’t kid around. In Ch. 1, spotting enemy Bob Kortman in a saloon, he’s instantly on the attack, launching himself into the air and landing on Kortman’s back. When Kortman breaks loose, flees and leaps from a balcony, Rinty is

Badmen capture Rin Tin Tin in Ch. 6 of "The Lone Defender" ('30 Mascot).

right behind him. Of the dogs reviewed, Rinty (and his namesake) is the only one who consistently leaps at his opponents, usually going for the neck. The others tend to stay on the ground, nipping at a heavy’s legs or arms. Like many of the others he’s smart: discovering pal Buzz Barton trapped in a well, desperately treading water, he races to Walter Miller and pulls on his vest to get him to follow. When that doesn’t work he runs back to Buzz and, using his teeth, grabs one end of the lasso tied to the saddle horn on Buzz’s horse and drops it into the well, drags lengths and pushes them in until the rope reaches Buzz, then leads the horse away so Buzz is pulled up—a tribute to the scriptwriters as much as the dog. He does his own stunts. In Ch. 4, tied up and muzzled but knowing friend Walter Miller is in another room being attacked by a wild dog, Rinty unties himself reasonably convincingly and, even more convincingly, gets rid of the muzzle, scales two doors, leaps through their transoms and takes on the wild dog. Scaling doors and leaping through transoms was one of Rinty’s specialties. I understand the doors were constructed with camouflaged cleats, to make scaling a little easier (and doubles were sometimes used.). But there’s no cheating in a later chapter when, from the limb of a tree, he spies Miller bound and helpless in the back of a horseless, runaway buckboard. Rinty jumps from the limb, hits the ground running, dashes after the wagon, tries leaping into it, fails, tries again and succeeds. The leaps into the wagon are each photographed in one shot, from the wagon, so there’s no faking. Then he proceeds to gnaw at Miller’s bindings until they tear—all done in convincing closeup. Aside from stunts, Rinty does all the things the other dogs do; he delivers messages, leads rescuers and is good at detecting secret passages and trapdoors. It’s not so much what he does as how he does it. It’s one thing for a dog to perform well while the camera is on him and he’s doing something he’s been trained specifically to do. It’s another to be merely one of the actors in a busy scene with several people, and watching dogs in those circumstances is revealing. Other dogs often race around aimlessly. Many times, if you’re watching closely you’ll often see a dog looking for signals from his trainer. None of that for Rin Tin Tin. Somehow he seems more focused, more engaged in what’s going on. There’s no standing around while a fight is on, no hesitation, no tail-wagging, except when it’s called for. He’s strictly business, the consummate professional.

Rinty looks for a cue from his trainer before he goes into action against Bob Kortman who has the drop on George Brent in Mascot's "Lightning Warrior" ('31).

Rin Tin Tin Jr., shows many of his dad’s qualities in “Law of the Wild” (as well as in his other two serials “The Wolf Dog” and “Adventures of Rex ad Rinty”) in which he co-stars with Rex. He demonstrates his acting chops in the first chapter. In “Law of the Wild” when brutal Richard Alexander injures him and has his horse trample Rinty’s master, Bob Custer, Rinty crawls piteously to Bob, licks his face and revives him momentarily. He shows real discipline when he stands his ground as a flivver driven by Lafe McKee heads straight for him and swerves only at the last second to very narrowly avoid hitting him—all in one shot. According to online sources, the bloodline of Rin Tin Tin IV continues at the Rin Tin Tin kennel in Latexo, TX.

Rin Tin Tin Jr. tries to revive a wounded Bob Custer in Mascot's "Law of the Wild" ('34).

Kane Richmond restrains Rin Tin Tin Jr. from attacking cowering Al Bridge in "The Adventures of Rex and Rinty" ('35 Mascot).

Frankie Darro and Rin Tin Tin Jr. in Mascot's "The Wolf Dog" ('33).

Artwork. Boy shooting from behind wagonwheel.

 

Tommy Cook
Serial Memories

 

Tommy Cook had not quite celebrated his 10th birthday when filming started in late
William Farnum confers with Tommy Cook as Little Beaver and Don Barry as Red Ryder in Republic's action-packed "Adventures of Red Ryder" ('40). March 1940 on Republic’s “Adventures of Red Ryder”, with Tommy as Red’s Indian sidekick Little Beaver. “In those days, as young as I was,” said Cook, “my mother had to be on the set all the time. I had a welfare worker, hired by the studio, who taught me my school lessons. Until I turned 16 I wasn’t permitted to spend more than four hours a day in front of a camera. Everybody connected with ‘Red Ryder’ became very close. I was especially drawn to the stuntmen. Dave Sharpe, who doubled Don Barry in all of the risky sequences, was one of the greatest—if not the greatest all-around stuntman I have ever known. He always smoked cigars. (Laughs)
Tommy Cook was native boy Kimbo with Frances Gifford as Nyoka and Eddie Acuff in "Jungle Girl" ('41 Republic). There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. I idolized him. Both Dave and Don were very good to my mother and me, as were the two directors (Bill Witney and John English). Witney and I used to go horseback riding together near his home.” A year later Tommy appeared as native boy Kimbu in Republic’s “Jungle Girl”. “Tom Neal was like a father to me,” Tommy smiled. “We had a great relationship. I really liked him. Frances Gifford I didn’t get to know very well. The only problem was my pet monkey…every time I turned around he was crapping on me! I guess I liked doing ‘Red Ryder’ a little better than ‘Jungle Girl’ since I got to ride a horse, and because I’ll always be remembered as the first actor to play Little Beaver.”

 

 

 

 

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