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Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Nostalgia - Geoff Mayer recalls the life of actor Richard Crane, star of Sam Katzman's 1953 serial THE GREAT ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN KIDD

June 6 marks the birthday of Richard Crane, a prolific if relatively unknown Hollywood actor who was born in 1918 in Newcastle, Indiana and died 50 years later in 1969. 

Richard Crane
His first screen role was a bit part at MGM in George Cukor’s Susan and God. For the next 28 years he worked steadily in film and television without achieving stardom. In 1954 he starred in Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.

Crane, however, also starred in two serials for Sam Katzman at Columbia. The first, Mysterious Island, was an overly ambitious adaptation of the 1874 Jules Verne novel. 

The second, The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd, was a unique serial. Unique in that it transgressed a number of serial conventions - notably it employs three flashbacks that are exposed later in the serial as false (just as Hitchcock did in Stage Fright). Secondly, the heroes in the serial (with Crane as British naval officer Richard Dale) ultimately (spoiler alert) fail to achieve anything - they cannot save Kidd (John Crawford) from public execution nor bring the guilty parties to justice. 

The serial, unlike any other sound serial, ends on a downbeat note with Dale and his companion fleeing England for America.

Why would Katzman sanction such a serial - other than to use the standing sets and footage from his 1950s pirate films? Nothing in the background of veteran serial writers George Plympton or Arthur Hoerl provides a clue. Perhaps the release date of the serial, 15 months after High Noon, may suggest a possible explanation as Carl Forman’s western inspired a number of politically coded genre films including Johnny Guitar, Silver Lode, with Fred McCarty the name of the villain (aka anti-communist Joseph McCarthy) and A Star in the Dust - plus a number of science fiction films.

There is no empirical evidence, unlike interviews with people involved in High Noon, to support such speculation. But it is certainly a strange serial with its story of a great political conspiracy and the title, The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd, is deeply ironic. 

Anyone wanting more on Richard Crane, John Crawford (who is outstanding as the tragic Captain Kidd who comes to realise that he cannot escape a powerful political conspiracy) and The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd can find it in my recent book Encyclopaedia of American Film Serials  (McFarland, 2017, click on the title for a link to Amazon)

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