We all have wish lists of movies we want to see. For years I’ve been on the lookout for Sons of Adventure (1948). Why this obscure B movie? Because it’s a story about stunt men made by Republic Pictures, the studio that employed the best stunt players in the business in their serials, Westerns and B pictures. What’s more, it was directed by the king of the stunt men, Yakima Canutt, the former rodeo cowboy whose many credits included the chariot race in Ben-Hur (1959). Imagine the possibilities!
Now, thanks to Andrea Kalas at Paramount (which owns the Republic library) I can cross this title off my bucket list….but, as so often happens, the film does not live up to expectations.
The premise for Sons of Adventure was devised by two veteran serial writers, Franklin Adreon and Sol Shor; Adreon also produced the 60-minute feature. They made it irresistible to studio chief Herbert Yates by promising to re-use action footage from earlier Republic films: not just serials like The Lone Ranger, Dick Tracy’s G-Men, Adventures of Red Ryder and Federal Operator 99, but the big-budget John Wayne vehicle The Fighting Seabees. They managed to incorporate six minutes from that film by contriving a flashback in which stunt man Russell Hayden explains to a studio publicist why his pal Gordon Jones is qualified for a job alongside him: during World War II he rescued Hayden from an exploding tank.
Sons of Adventure promises to take us behind the scenes of moviemaking but does so on only the most superficial level. For diehard Republic fans it’s fun to see clean-shaven Roy Barcroft playing a hot-tempered director named Bennett (after real-life director Spencer Gordon Bennet), with George Chandler as his world-weary assistant.
But the whodunit at the center of this limp hour-long yarn is strictly routine, and glimpses of the Republic lot are meager compensation. Russell Hayden is genial as always, and top-billed Lynne Roberts (formerly known as Mary Hart) is a pleasing leading lady, but Gordon Jones, Stephanie Bachelor, Grant Withers, John Newland and the other players are understandably uninspired.
As for stunts, Canutt (or someone copying him) does perform his signature “gag” in which he falls under a stagecoach’s galloping horses and manages to catch the back of the wagon. In another scene a similar wagon explodes into smithereens on a back lot western street…but it’s just not enough to bring this second-rate film to life.
At least I can cross this off my wish list…but I sure wish it had turned out to be a better film. It would take a stuntman-turned-director of the next generation, Hal Needham, to make the best movie about his profession, Hooper (1978) with his pal, stuntman-turned-actor Burt Reynolds in the lead and one of the all-time greats, Jock Mahoney, in a flashy cameo part.