Forgotten Film Franchises: Fu Manchu, Tarzan, and Dick Tracy | Lighttrain

Hey, how’s it rolling? Welcome to this episode of Out of Order, the show where we count films down in a non-linear fashion. In the modern era, it seems Hollywood is always seeking out opportunities to create a cinematic universe of connected movies, jumping off the immense popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. So although big-budget franchises are common nowadays, there are still some film series that have been forgotten about. For this list, I’m looking for franchises with at least 4 installments that most people wouldn’t know of. Let’s get this train on the road!

RKO’s Dick Tracy (4 Films from 1945-1947)

This narrowly made it onto the list, since there was a Dick Tracy film made in 1990 which has reinstated the noir detective to a more recognizable status. This series has gone through many phases, believe me, ranging from radio serials to comic strips. But I’m focusing specifically on the RKO Pictures series from the 1940s. The most recognizable of the series was titled Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome, starring horror icon Boris Karloff. This was a very obscure installment where Karloff played a “corpse-like” crook whom has escaped from jail. Morgan Conway was the tough sleuth for the first two, Dick Tracy and Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, while Ralph Byrd starred in Dick Tracy’s Dilemma and Gruesome. It’s rather difficult to catch this quadruple collection of pulpy detective farces, but if you can catch Gruesome then give it a watch and see two pop culture figures collide.

Universal’s Dark Universe (3 Films from 2014 – 2020 as of now)

Odd, huh? How a franchise so recent has already fallen from the public attention. I mean, if it was ever in the public’s interest at all. The idea behind the Dark Universe was that it would be a franchise of connected films similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but with classic monsters instead of superheroes. The only three movies that have sprouted from the 6 year run were the mixed Dracula Untold, Tom Cruise featuring in a remake of The Mummy, and the recent reimagining of The Invisible Man. Well, where are the others? And why are each of these films released so far apart? Following the at best lukewarm reception to Dracula and Mummy, the studio reconsidered whether or not to move forward with the franchise. They are instead making individual remakes with further standalone continuations, similar to The Invisible Man, which fared much better critically.

So as of right now, the Dark Universe dream seems to have been left for dead by Universal. It’s kind of shocking how much of a failure this endeavor was. They had tons of features in the works, even including an adaption of the novelty hit “Monster Mash” . I don’t necessarily desire to see these scrapped projects, but I wonder what would have been if Dracula Untold and The Mummy were stronger.

Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan and Jungle Jim (12 Tarzan Films from 1932 – 1948, 13 Jungle Jim Films from 1948 – 1954)

What’s this? A combo pack? Just to clarify, both franchises star water polo athlete Johnny Weissmuller in the leading role and have to do with adventuring throughout the lush green studio backlot forests. First off, some of you likely are familiar with the character of Tarzan, a chiseled human man raised since a young age by gorillas in the amazon. But did you know about his 13 additional older films? I’m assuming not. On the other hand, we have the far less popular Jim. I mean, when up against a vine swinging howling gorilla man named Tarzan, little ol’ Jim the wildlife hunter isn’t going to strike it rich. Sorry Jim, maybe next time. Yeah, it’s unlikely you’ll ever run into a Jungle Jim fan. Overall, I haven’t seen a single one of these movies myself, but I am impressed by Mr. Weissmuller’s dedication. Granted, these collective 25 pictures were pretty much all of his filmogrophy credits, but it’s still a great feat nonetheless. Oh for heaven’s sake, I’m afraid Out of Order is glitching ou-

We’ll return with more forgotten franchises after these brief Messages

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Carry On (31 Films from 1958 – 1978, 1992)

The Carry On movies have a clean cut reason for their misfortunate unpopularity; they originated from the United Kingdom, thus it hasn’t really crossed over. I had never even heard of this series before I did some research for this post, and the franchise is rather unique. Instead of the characters returning for every flick, a medley of British comics returned throughout, each time taking on a different role from the one prior. That sounds like a fun practice for an actor, though I can’t be sure since I’m not a professional. Maybe it was torture. In fact, according to my sources, it kind of was. Most of the recurring ensemble members were paid very little for a feature. In his journal, star Kenneth Williams picked bones out of the series for minor peeves, though he always said to have had a fondness for the franchise itself. On top of that, critics often panned the films one after the other, though a few such as Carry On Up the Kyber, Carry On Camping, and Carry On Spying received decent amounts of praise. And although the critics didn’t find too much to enjoy, audiences kept coming back for more of the returning quick-paced humor, hence why Carry On, well, carried on for so long.

Speaking of critics being incredibly wee with their compliments, I found that I prefer to be a “film enthusiast” rather than a “film critic”. Critics I find cannot simply have a good time at the movies since their job is literally to scour for problems. Not to say critics can’t simply find a film entertaining, but audiences are far easier to satisfy in this way. In that manner, I love films through and through, as you may have guessed. I still notice stains on a movie, but I don’t like to emphasize them. I hope that all makes some sense. Anyways, on to our final franchise of the evening!

Christopher Lee’s Fu Manchu (5 Films from 1965 – 1969)

Ah my good friend the exploitation trailer, back at it again!

This is it folks, the reason I wanted to make this whole list in the first place. Based off a collection of novels Sax Rohmer, the series stars the infamous Fu Manchu, a fiendish Chinese tyrant whom implements criminal syndicates and torture methods to take control of the world. Side note: why is it that villains want to rule the while world? That’s a lot of responsibility. I mean, what do they even plan to do? The plot is absurd, so why am I even questioning anything. From what I understand, the character has stirred some racial controversy in the past, impacting the series in a inconvenient manner. Through the thick and the thin of this dictator’s career, his highs are worth running mentions on the Train. Come on, the guy’s classic thin, long, and droopy moustache has in fact been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. And you know how we’re doing a MST3K review for Turkey Day, right? Well, that show actually did an episode with The Castle of Fu Manchu. And all because some author’s Ouija board spelt “Chinaman” to him.

No, I’m not kidding. I’m also not joking that Nicolas Cage preformed a cameo as Fu Manchu in 2007. Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you, but I have evidence supporting my claim, you know.

His most iconic role. But what is he saying?

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4 thoughts on “Forgotten Film Franchises: Fu Manchu, Tarzan, and Dick Tracy | Lighttrain

  1. Ok. No food references…

    I did a post on an old Dick Tracy piece, too:
    https://cosmic-observation.com/2019/09/02/movie-monday-dick-tracys-g-men-1939/

    I liked Cruise’s The Mummy even though it went in a different direction than Fraser’s The Mummy. I didn’t know about the other two.

    I’ve seen some of Weissmuller’s movies. I always preferred Ron Ely’s Tarzan on TV.

    Never heard of the Carry On stuff.

    Cage has done some pretty weird stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

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