Todd Gault's Movie Serial Experience

Todd Gault's Film Serial Experience: Movie serials, cliffhangers and reviews. A gallery of movie serial stars.
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"The Oregon Trail"; Universal, 1939.

Though not as well remembered as such stalwarts of henchman villainy as Charlie King, Bud Osborne, or Pierce Lyden; heavy set Jack C. Smith could hold his own with any of them. His usual personae was as the cringing, cowardly henchman who is always caught between what he fears more, being caught by the hero or being killed by his boss. This character served him well during the late thirties in B westerns like Tex Ritter’s “Headin’ For the Rio Grande” (1936) and “Sing, Cowboy Sing” (1937), or Johnny Mack Brown’s “A Lawman Is Born” (1937).

But he also appeared as a bit player in bigger films like James Cagney’s “Angels With Dirty Faces” (1938) and “Each Dawn I Die” (1939), as well as the horror classic “Tower of London” (1939) starring Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff. It was this same year that he transferred his sniveling personae to the serials for Universal.

“The Oregon Trail” (1939) put Smith in familiar territory as he helped smarmy James Blaine take over the fur trade in Oregon and pitted the henchman against stalwart hero Johnny Mack Brown again. Next was Bela Lugosi’s “The Phantom Creeps” (1939). Smith was the most unlikeliest of mad doctor assistants as he helped Lugosi perfect his deadly inventions to take over the world, when he wasn’t being tormented by Lugosi’s giant robot or fleeing both hero Robert Kent and foreign spy Edward Van Sloan.

After appearing in Clark Gable’s western soaper “Honky Tonk” (1941) and another horror film, “The Strange Case of Doctor Rx.” (1942), it was back to his regular job of taking orders to stop that interfering hero in films like “Stage Coach Buckaroo” (1942). Unfortunately his appearances in B westerns would prove to be short, as he died in 1944.

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