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Tim Holt - 8/9
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,The Rookie Cop

The Rookie Cop

Maybe you've taken in The Good German (2006) and The Good Shepherd (2006) recently, but when's the last time you caught a good German Shepherd movie? Though it's a chapter in American cinema that has long passed us by, the years between the World Wars were rife with family-friendly programmers built around German Shepherd heroes. The preeminent dog stars that defined this subgenre during the '20s were the groundbreaking Strongheart and, of course, his better-remembered rival, Rin Tin Tin. After these standard bearers passed away in the early '30s, a veritable kennelful of wannabe successors sniffed around the major and minor studios, seeking to be named Hollywood's alpha dog, but never finding the niche enjoyed by Rinny or Strongheart. RKO's entry into this four-legged race was Ace the Wonder Dog, and the low-budget crime drama The Rookie Cop (1939) was exemplary of his brief star push from the studio.

Filmed for the lush sum of $77,000, the screenplay concerned novice policeman Clem Maitland (Tim Holt), who finds himself in a quandary when his handyman friend Tom Hadley (Monte Montague) is fingered in a lineup as one of the hoods responsible for a warehouse fur heist. Clem insists that his pet and informal K-9 partner Ace (Ace) could demonstrate that Hadley's scent was nowhere to be found at the crime scene; the commissioner (Robert Emmett Keane), who doesn't buy into the viability of police dogs, places Hadley into lockup. It gets worse for Clem when the real warehouse thieves decoy him from his assignment guarding a payroll shipment, murdering a watchman in the process. The young cop finds himself suspended for dereliction of duty. Clem remains determined to break the racket, and with the assistance of his girlfriend Gerry (Janet Shaw), the watergun-wielding neighbor kid Nicey (Virginia Weidler), and, of course, Ace, you know the heavies don't stand a chance.

At the time The Rookie Cop was made, the 21-year-old Holt, son of the silent-era star Jack Holt, was establishing the niche that he would occupy with RKO into the early '50s as their go-to lead for the studio's B western output. While quickie oaters would comprise the bulk of his screen legacy, Holt acquitted himself well on those occasions when he was matched with a director of stature and a script of substance. His work for King Vidor in Stella Dallas (1937), Orson Welles in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), John Ford in My Darling Clementine (1946), and, especially, John Huston in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) stand as testament. Holt made only three more screen appearances after his last RKO roundup in 1952, and he was managing a radio station in Oklahoma at the time of his passing in 1973.

As Nicey, the thirteen-year-old Virginia Weidler was full of the trademark precocity that marked her busy tenure as a popular Hollywood child star. Her career was most lastingly marked by her roles as Norma Shearer's daughter in The Women (1939) and Katharine Hepburn's know-it-all kid sister in The Philadelphia Story (1940). Like many of her peers, her prospects faded as she reached young adulthood; she made her last screen appearance in 1943, and completely turned away from show business within a few years afterwards. Unfortunately, a childhood bout with rheumatic fever had affected her health adversely, and she was only 42 when she suffered a fatal heart attack in 1968.

Ace would ply his trade onscreen from 1938 through 1946, moving down Tinseltown's rungs as he worked for Columbia, Republic, Monogram and PRC. The most notable highlights in the pooch's portfolio would include Republic's chapterplay adaptation of The Phantom (1943), portraying the canine sidekick Devil opposite Tom Tyler as the masked jungle hero of the comics. Ace was also prominent in the TV horror-show staple The Monster Maker (1944), featuring J. Carrol Naish as a mad scientist afflicting his victims with acromegaly.

Producer: Bert Gilroy
Director: David Howard
Screenplay: Guy K. Austin (story), Earl Johnson (story), Morton Grant, Jo Pagano
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Film Editing: Frederic Knudtson
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Tim Holt (Clem Maitland), Virginia Weidler (Nicey), Janet Shaw (Gerry Lane), Frank M. Thomas (Police Chief Gordon H. Lane), Robert Emmett Keane (Commissioner Hugh Thomas), Monte Montague (Tom Hadley).

by Jay S. Steinberg


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