Dennis O’Brien

Created by Herbert H. Margolis
Louis Morheim (1922-2013)
and Richard L. Breen (1918-67)

“I rent out boats and do anything that means long odds and short hours. My sideline’s trouble.”
— O’Brien explains his occupation in Roaring City

When you deal with these dames –you’re in the DANGER ZONE!”
— tagline from Danger Zone

  

All things considered, easy-going DENNIS O’BRIEN (played by Hugh Beaumont) would probably rather just rent out boats from his shop on San Francisco’s Pier 23 at fifty bucks a pop. Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite keep the boats afloat, so he moonlights as a “troubleshooter”  in three episodic B-flicks from 1951. The down side is that, as a makeshift private eye, he has a shocking propensity for getting knocked unconscious and being framed for murder; variations on that theme being repeated Danger Zone, Roaring City and Pier 23.

Many suspect that the three films are actually recycled episodes of a failed television show; each “film” containing two separate half-hour episodes slapped together and pawned off as feature films to unsuspecting theatre owners. Lending creedence to the TV theory is the fact that all three films made their debuts within a few weeks of each other, suggesting they were already in the can. My guess is that the filmmakers were betting heavily on Beaumont, who had just wrapped up playing Brett Halliday’s freewheeling private eye Michael Shayne in several films. They probably figured on striking while the iron was hot, rushing the films out while Beaumont still had some credibility playing a detective.

WAITAMINUTE! Beaumont had some credibility playing a detective?

Certainly, O’Brien works a wonderfully diverse group of cases. In Danger Zone, he’s hired to buy a specific saxophone case at an auction, while in his second advenure in that film he’s charged with escorting a young woman to a party on a yacht. In Roaring City, he’s suckered into placing a bid on a rigged prize fight, and is hired to pose as the husband of a wealthy socialite, while in the final film, Pier 23, he’s called upon to protect a professional wrestler and convince a convict not to attempt escaping from Alcatraz. But invariably, O’Brien is played for a patsy, and usually ends up getting sapped and — just for good measure — accused of murder.

But for Hugh Beaumont, the low-budget leading man, it was probably good training. He would go on to TV stardom a few years later as the ultimate paternal patsy, Ward Cleaver, in Leave It to Beaver.

* * * * *

Back in 1946, Jack Webb starred in the radio show Pat Novak for Hire, where he played a guy who rented boats out of a small office on Pier 19 in San Francisco, and moonlighted as a sort of freelance trouble shooter. A year later, Webb starred in Johhny Madero, Pier 23. Madero rented boats out of a small office on Pier 23 in San Francisco, while moonlighting as a sort of freelance trouble shooter.

Coincidence? I thought not… so I did a little digging…

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Turns out the films were apparently recycled by Herbert H. Margolis and Lou Morheim from a half-dozen half-hour scripts they’d written (along with Richard L. Breen) for the Pat Novak radio show. But the plan wasn’t to rip off a failed television project–no, producer Robert L. Lippert’s plot was to release the films, and then chop them up for television.

Margolis was an American radio, film and television writer and producer. Not many facts about his career and history are known. He wrote several movies, including Smuggler’s Island, For Men Only and Ma and Pa Kettle, and both the movie and TV versions of The Wackiest Ship in the Army. Other TV credits include Gilligan’s Island and Mike Hercules, an unsuccessful 1956 TV pilot, featuring a San Francisco private eye played by… Hugh Beaumont?

Morheim was also a writer and producer for radio, film and television, and frequently co-wrote with Margolis. He worked on several top television series of the 1960s and ’70s, as well as several feature films, and is best known for his television work on The Outer Limits, The Big ValleyCombat and Ironside, and for feature films such as The Magnificent Seven, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and yes, some of the Ma and Pa Kettle movies.

And yes, Richard L. Breen was a Hollywood screenwriter as well. He started as a freelance radio writer, before turning to film. He won an Oscar for his work on the screenplay to the 1953 version of Titanic , and was nominated for A Foreign Affair, and Captain Newman, M.D. He also wrote the scripts for the 1953 noir Niagara, starring Marilyn Monroe, and the P.I. flick Tony Rome, based on Marvin Albert’s private eye, and starring Frank Sinatra.

FILMS

  • DANGER ZONE | Buy the DVD
    (aka “Pier of Peril”)
    (1951, Spartan Productions)
    Premiere: April 20, 1951
    Based on radio scripts from Pat Novak for Hire
    Adapted by Herbert Margolis and Louis Morheim
    Screenplay by Julian Harmon
    Produced and directed by William Berke
    Starring Hugh Beaumont as DENNIS O’BRIEN
    Also starring Edward Brophy, Richard Travis, Pamela Blake, Tom NealVirginia Dale, Ralph Sanford, Paula Drew
  • ROARING CITY Buy the DVD
    (1951, Spartan Productions)
    Premiere: May 4, 1951
    Based on radio scripts from Pat Novak for Hire
    Adapted by Herbert Margolis and Louis Morheim
    Screenplay by Julian Harmon
    Produced and directed by William Berke
    Starring Hugh Beaumont as DENNIS O’BRIEN
    Also starring Greg McClure, Edward Brophy, Richard Travis, Joan Valerie, Wanda McKay, Rebel Randall, William Tannen, Anthony Warde, Abner Biberman, Stanley Price
  • PIER 23 | Buy the DVD
    (aka “Flesh and Leather”)
    (1951, Spartan Productions)
    Premiere: May 11, 1951
    Based on radio scripts from Pat Novak for Hire
    Adapted by Herbert Margolis and Louis Morheim
    Screenplay by Julian Harmon and Victor West
    Produced and directed by William Berke
    Starring Hugh Beaumont as DENNIS O’BRIEN
    Also starring Edward Brophy, Richard Travis, Ann Savage, Margia Dean, Mike Mazurki, David Bruce, Richard Greenleaf

DVDS

  • Forgotten Noir: Collection 3 | Buy the DVD
    This budget priced collection rounds up eight moldy oldies, including both Danger Zone and Pier 23.
  • Forgotten Noir: Collection 4 | Buy the DVD
    This budget priced collection rounds up nine more moldy oldies, including Roaring City.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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