John Payne 1950s Adventures



Captain China (1950) stars Payne as skilled freighter captain Chinnough, a hard taskmaster (common thread in all four of these movies) who, during a typhoon, is locked up below by hateful mates Lon Chaney Jr. and John Qualen. Payne survives, and since his first mate Jeffrey Lynn falsely testified that the sinking was caused by Payne’s drunken negligence, Payne is disgraced and locked up for months. After his release he shows up as a passenger on Captain Jeffrey Lynn’s ship, where the crew includes Qualen and Chaney. Also aboard is Gail Russell, who’s on her way to her fiancé in Manila, but she becomes the object of rivalry between Payne and Lynn. For Payne and Russell it’s instant attraction and lots of smouldering gazes, but she bristles when she suspects Payne is just using her to make Lynn jealous. Payne and Chaney have a terrific, nearly unstoppable fistfight, after which Chaney and Qualen stew and plot their next murder attempt, and in the meantime we get to know the other passengers: missionaries Edgar Bergen and Ilka Gruning, mystery writer Ellen Corby and alcoholic officer Michael O’Shea. They’re all in place for this movie’s big attraction, the typhoon that tosses the vessel and its cargo about and tests all the characters. It’s a long and gripping struggle (with a grisly end for one of the bad guys) far beyond Lynn’s capabilities, so he admits he needs Payne’s help. Payne wrings the most humiliation out of the moment by making Lynn beg, but that disgusts Russell, so Captain China may win back his ship but lose the woman. Fun note for Canadian music fans (and fans of patio lanterns everywhere), Russell’s character is named Kim Mitchell.


In Tripoli (1950), Payne is U.S. Marine Commander on a mission to capture a Barbary pirate stronghold in support of a Naval assault. Philip Reed is the shrewd Shiek whose help they need, and he’s engaged to fiery Countess Maureen O’Hara. However, once O’Hara lays eyes on Payne, she’s smitten (another common theme in all these movies). She reconsiders her allegiances, tags along on the gruelling desert trek, applies her manipulative and seductive powers, plays the men against each other and tries to squeak out of her arrangement with the Shiek. Her position makes her privy to some key info on decoy artillery, which helps Payne win the battle, but he has a hard time convincing the brass to trust him.

Payne and O’Hara both play stubborn, proud characters in a schoolyard-type courtship where the more they fight the closer they’re getting, so there are plenty of enjoyable kicks, glares and insults. Howard da Silva is fabulous as the jolly, keen leader of a band of mercenaries who help Payne; his running gag is frequently, and with a big grin, interrupting intimate Payne-O’Hara moments, but he also gets in lots of great zingers on matters of loyalty and fighting for money, like this gem: “always glad to help a young country get started!” Tripoli was my favourite of this bunch, for the great cast, clever writing, nice production quality, from costumes to sandstorms and grand battles. Supporting cast includes Grant Withers, Alan Napier, and Connie Gilchrist, and the director was O’Hara’s husband at the time, Will Price.


Crosswinds (1951) puts Payne on the water once more, this time as a loner skipper whose beautiful boat is his pride and joy, his job, home and sweetheart. Until he meets Rhonda Fleming. She’s an alcoholic trying to get sober, and biding her time in the company of shady characters Forrest Tucker and pilot Robert Lowery. She’s also a big fan of the sea and beautiful boats like Payne’s, so she and skipper hit it off quick, but Payne ends up boat-less and in jail thanks to Tucker’s swindling. Once he’s out, Payne reluctantly joins crooks Alan Mowbray and John Abbott in a search for the gold that vanished along with Lowery and Fleming’s plane in an area full of headhunters and crocodiles. Everyone here is likably unlikable, so the fun is watching them all lust after that gold and try to cheat, double-cross, drown or feed each other to the crocs. They pull together just long enough to sail past a flurry of arrows and spears, and in a great bit, cut through the cannibals’ rope bridges and river traps. Even then their acts of decency need some “encouragement” at gunpoint. Both Crosswinds and Captain China were directed by Lewis R. Foster, and if I’m not mistaken the ship in Captain China was called the Crosswinds.


The Blazing Forest (1952) starts with Agnes Moorehead’s desire to make her miserable niece Susan Morrow happy. The young woman hates the idea of spending the rest of her life in remote woods where her aunt and uncle raised her, so widowed Moorehead calls in a favour from her old sweetheart William Demarest. To raise money off their land, they hire Payne, the most efficient, and apparently most hated, timber-clearing expert around. He seems to be a mean grump, who brings trouble and tragedy wherever he goes, but he’s just misunderstood. It’s actually his no-good, thieving, drinking brother Richard Arlen who makes the spectacular messes that Payne spends years cleaning up and working to pay for. Of course, the young lady Morrow falls for Arlen’s charms before she figures out the other brother is the good one. Another of the wrong assumptions in this plot leads to Arlen and Demarest crashing their truck and starting a massive forest fire. That, and a devastating multi-log rollaway earlier in the film, give us some very exciting looks at the perils of logging. Luckily both Morrow and Moorehead end up finding love and a happy future in that forest.

All four of these movies were Pine-Thomas productions.

More Payne movies covered here recently: Hell’s Island (1955)Larceny (1948)Silver Lode (1954)


29 thoughts on “John Payne 1950s Adventures”

  1. Excellent! I’ve been hearing a bit about these Payne movies, which I haven’t seen myself, lately. I like the guy in most everything I’ve seen him in so far and intend to track these down at a later date.

    1. I could watch these and him, all day, like you I’m a big fan. Versatile, solid, underrated actor, and as this group goes to show, a great action star.

  2. I am very happy to see another John Payne grouping from you, Kristina! Quite a fan of the man, like Colin and many others.

    A lot of his films, like those of Rod Cameron, are pretty hard to find, particularly in decent shape. Much as I like him and know his films well, I have never seen “CAPTAIN CHINA” or “TRIPOLI” and “CROSSWINDS” & “BLAZING FOREST” I have only seen, thanks to our friend John Knight. I guess they are a bit cheesy but really they are great entertainment. And what more can you ask?!

    1. Saving his westerns for another post 🙂 Yes they certainly entertained me, even the very poor version of Blazing Forest I found online. It had some bits missing, I think a conversation between Payne and Arlen, but even so, that fire was impressive. All Pine-Thomas productions, most using some of his beefcake appeal but all featuring good action and Payne as the tough/wronged guy with a soft center.

  3. i was only about seven or eight when i first noticed john payne in the television series “the restless gun,” he stood out from the rest of the tv stars. his old movies were often shown on the tube, and i got excited whenever his name came on in the opening credits. it has only been in the past decade that i have been looking at his work seriously, and i think he is right up there with robert ryan as one of the most unusual personalities of the lower budget action fiilm.

    1. Well put, I feel the same, I honestly can’t remember where I first noticed him, it might have been in a noir actually, then was surpirsed to see his musical talent, but yes he’s a great one to track through all the different genres, good job in most of what he did. Thanks for reading

    1. Got to love those posters as well, kind of a theme there, good costars, and speaking of Ladd, I found myself comparing their “personas” a lot, tough and standoffish but sensitive, they both did that really well.

  4. For starters there is an outfit called
    Hollywood Scrapheap which has many of the Pine-Thomas
    Payne flicks. They are quiet cheap and are the best versions
    that I have seen of these films so far.
    I was very glad to get considerable upgrades of PASSAGE WEST
    The Hollywood Scrapheap titles seem to have been sourced from
    streamed films,I guess.
    Most of their titles are from the Paramount/Republic library.
    As Paramount,so far have no intention of releasing their
    vintage films,Hollywood Scrapheap is a great alternative.
    In the post to you Kristina is the Scrapheap version of
    CAPTAIN CHINA which is far superior to the very poor
    “off air” version that has been going the rounds.
    I will be sending to Colin later on all the Pine Thomas/Payne
    films apart from HELL’S ISLAND which I believe he already has.
    Colin sent me an e-mail saying that I am very kind-not really;
    because the more on-line action esteemed blogs give these films
    the greater possibility there is of these films getting an
    “official” release.
    I have sent the very esteemed Laura a whole heap of
    Pine Thomas films-she is a very busy lady.
    Over time I am hoping Laura too will give these films a plug
    on her excellent blog.
    While no classics,these films are great fun with stellar
    production values.

    1. My copy of Capt. China was so-so, especially hard to see what was happening during the typhoon scenes, so I will happily give that another look when yours arrives, thanks ever so much! and you are kind, this is so great to share and discover thanks to fellow movie fans. I neglected to mention in my post there were all Pine-Thomas prod. I have to research some more but I think Payne did around a dozen with them (?) and they were just as important in establishing his tough screen side as his noirs were, love seeing/learning about this chunk of his career now. I sound like a broken record but the more movies I see, the more I realize how little I know and the more I want to see and learn. Wonderful vicious circle that’s cured me over time of being the terrible know it all I was when I started watching classics. 🙂 Agree about the production value, good stunts, creative use of places to stand in for exotic locales.. lots of fun!

  5. Ha! A very kind gentleman from Australia over at Toby’s
    has just thanked me for the “heads up” on Hollywood Scrapheap.
    He is very pleased with the quality of the films and the graphics.
    Job done!
    Hollywood Scrapheap is a treasure trove for John Payne fans.
    Payne’s contribution to Film Noir has always been vastly
    overlooked. LARCENY needs as release and THE BOSS needs a
    major restoration.
    I liked the touches of humor in CAPTAIN CHINA especially when
    the hooker asks a very sozzled Michael ‘O Shea to buy her a drink
    and he starts rambling on about trigonometry.
    I don’t know if it was me but didn’t William Demarest seem to be doing
    some very dangerous stunt work in THE BLAZING FOREST especially
    considering his age at the time.
    Other non Payne Pine Thomas films that are well recommended are
    SANGAREE and JIVARO with Fernando Lamas.
    These are two of the very best P.T. flicks and deserve to be far better
    known. JIVARO in particular is a total corker of an adventure film
    Another reason,apart from Payne for loving the P.T. films is the awesome
    Rhonda Fleming Kristina,didn’t you say some time back Rhonda replied
    to a e-mail that you sent her?

    1. I was just recommending The Boss to some Payne fans on twitter and should give it another watch myself soon. I liked that in Capt. China too, I just watched O’Shea in Violence for an article so it was fun to see him here too. Yes Demarest really had some tough scenes, him and Arlen with the crash and in the stream during the fire was well done, and I really enjoyed his and Moorehead’s scenes together, they added a lot to that movie. Have to track down those other P.T. movies you mentioned, sound great! You recall correctly, she was nice enough to reply to a question I sent on working with Paul Kelly, for my article on him. She is awesome!

  6. Before today, I haven’t really paid much attention to John Payne movies. I’ve seen him in a couple of flicks, but didn’t know he starred in these adventure films.

    Looks like he had a fierce right hook, judging by The Blazing Forest movie poster!

  7. KIM MITCHELL!!! I haven’t heard “Patio Lanterns” since it came out in the ’80s (I’m going to download it now). My favorite of his songs was “Go for Soda”, from the Akimbo Alogo album.

    1. Haha I knew someone would get as much a kick out of that as I did! Same here on both of those songs, staples of summer party season 🙂 thanks for reading!

  8. Thanks for your kind replies,and thanks
    for bringing these fun Pine Thomas films to a
    wider audience.
    It’s a shame that Paramount have no intention of
    releasing the Pine-Thomas Payne films.
    It’s also a shame because Paramount lead the pack
    in beautiful Technicolor,their early Fifties films
    always looked sensational. Then with VistaVision
    they introduced the first High Definition process.
    look wonderful on Blu Ray.
    RUN FOR COVER is the finest of all Pine Thomas
    films and their best Western by a long shot.I do like the
    Pine Thomas Payne Westerns but wish that Ray Enright
    had directed them as opposed to Lewis R Foster.
    Foster,I feel let his films ramble too much,too many
    hokey moments in his Westerns at least.
    Payne was obviously happy working with Foster and
    CAPTAIN CHINA is by far their best film together.
    and Dennis ‘O Keefe make a formidable team.
    Their fight in PASSAGE WEST is a doozy.
    In spite of their faults the P.T. films always looked
    great and they used top DOP’s like James Wong Howe,
    Lionel Lindon and Loyall Griggs.
    I also like Edward Ludwig’s THE VANQUISHED a sort
    of “Southern Gothic” Western and has one of my all time
    fave moments when Coleen Gray chases Jan Sterling
    around the bedroom brandishing an enormous pair of
    scissors…very Freudian! 🙂

    1. Wow, dropping more names and titles here (and your next comment) for me to get excited about! Thanks, those all sound great and just what I’d enjoy. Payne and O’Keefe must be great together, after seeing that amazing fight in CAPTAIN CHINA I can imagine the one in PASSAGE WEST must be something. So many great movies to get to, once I’m back from gorging at the tcm fest!

  9. RAIDERS OF THE SEVEN SEAS is a fun movie,
    and has the attraction of three bad guys:
    Gerald Mohr,Tony Caruso and Henry Brandon.
    Pine Thomas’ CARIBBEAN is even better,my fave line when
    one of Cedric Hardwicke’s officers asks “do you expect me
    to dine with the crew?” to which Hardwicke replies
    “my crew does not dine…it gorges”
    Film also has the considerable attraction of Arlene Dahl
    brandishing a cat ‘o nine tails for much of the film.

    I might also mention regarding my previous comment
    about THE VANQUISHED,Coleen actually plays
    the “good” girl in that film.

    THE VANQUISHED is a tale of the post Civil
    War South and director Edward Ludwig goes for a
    florid melodramatic style
    In the similar themed DRANGO director Hall Bartlett
    goes for an intense Noirish feel.
    DRANGO stars Jeff Chandler who like John Payne
    in the Fifties seemed to love playing flawed characters.


  10. Ha!….I’m sure Laura can supply you with many
    of the missing P.T.films. 🙂
    Any missing ones I can include in your next
    “jet across the Atlantic”
    Thought I’d drop a film title in there,even though
    it’s not a good one,especially considering the cast.

    Thanks again for this lovely essay on these totally
    unheralded P.T. films…I think you have started
    something here!

    1. Thanks! that’s great, I’ve certainly started watching more movies this way, which is my main goal. I just love eating these up. Going to tcm fest tomorrow and I’ll put up an open post for the whole time so if you see anything fun to comment on, go right ahead.

  11. Well done, John – I think you just may have set things up for a mammoth John Payne ‘binge’ from Kristina. Well, I really hope so anyway. The 50s really were Payne’s decade and he is sadly underrated due to the fact that so many of his Paramount films have not been made available as they should be.
    Sounds like Hollywood Scrapheap is trying to correct that a bit.

    1. Guaranteed to be more binging on Payne and many others, once I return from tcm fest this weekend (so excited). Really appreciate all these recommendations too, keep them coming!

  12. Thanks Jerry!
    It’s also interesting that Paramount also own
    the two very fine Westerns that John Payne made
    for Republic SANTA FE PASSAGE and
    The latter title is Payne’s finest Western after the
    classic SILVER LODE.

  13. This has developed into a most entertaining thread, and it’s good that the films of a somewhat neglected guy like John Payne should stoke up a bit of interest.

    1. Yes it is great to see the underrated people like him, and lesser known movies get attention. When I tweeted this it got some nice reaction, more Payne fans out there too. Can’t wait to dig into a bunch of the westerns next.

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