VCI has released it on VHS. My copy arrived in today's mail. I've only watched the first chapter so far. The film it came off of is very nice, the video transfer looks good. It's really not fair to judge a whole serial on one chapter but so far it's been a lot more talk than action. A common failing in Universal's serials I'm afraid
I watched this 13 chapter serial last night and am happy to be the first to give a report on it.
First off, the print and transfer is perfect. This, like Jungle Jim and the 37 X-9, is going to make those who abuse VCI look pretty silly IMHO.
That said, this one is not quite as good as it's predecessor. It's better than many of the later Universal serials (Great Alaskan Mystery, Jungle Queen, Mysterious Mr. M spring to mind for some reason), but not quite up to the classics. In general, Universal's best serials were done in between 1936 and 1940. Which is not to say that Universal didn't have good serials before or after that. Vanishing Shadow is pretty entertaining and engrossing. Gangbusters and Mystery of the River Boat both also do a good job of holding your interest. But let's face it. By 1945, serials were going downhill all around.
However, this one is kinda like Adventures of the Flying Cadets and Lost City of the Jungle in the sense that there's enough good actors in it to help elevate it. And what a cast it is:
Keye Luke in one of his many "I'm a Chinese Secret Agent battling Nazis and Japs" roles as Ah Fong.
Eddie Cobb who plays a bartender in all of two scenes (a hysterical fact when you consider the fact that he's prominently listed on the box).
Gene Roth practicing for his part of Incompetent Uniformed Henchman Rekov in The Lost Planet by playing an Incompetent Uniformed Nazi.
B Movie Vet Samuel S. Hinds as the egnimatic Solo, who must get awfully tired sitting at that bar all the time flipping seeds into a cup.
Cy Kendall--the fat man who constantly wore a white suit despite the fact that the white suit consistently made him look so fat--as the shady owner of Shadow Island.
Victoria Horne--a white woman trying to look Japanese by keeping her eyes closed all the time. You ask me, she looks more like a somnabulast than a Jap, but that's just me.
Jan Wiley, who did such a good job playing the useless heroine of Dick Tracy Vs. Crime, Inc. that the producers decided she should do the same thing here!
Stanley Price, George Chesebro, and John Merton are running around in this, too.
Then of course, you've got Lloyd Bridges. It's a little odd to reckon Bridges as an action hero after seeing him in Airplane!, but then again I've never seen Sea Hunt.
Plot? The Japs are after some synthetic fuel. Turns out a lab assistant discovered that if you mixed something called 722 with distilled water, it makes a great aviation fuel. You hear this speech repeated over and over again, in every chapter. At first, the Jap scientist whose assistant discovered this tells his boss that all they have to do is deliver some papers. But Bridges shows up on the boat and gives the delivery boy a speech about being a Good American and the papers go to the bottom of the ocean.
Then the villains hit upon the idea that they have to send someone to impersonate the American doctor. They get three guys together to have plastic surgery and watch the same newsreel over and over again in hopes to train these schmucks to become exactly like the doctor so that they can walk into his office and copy his formula.
One question arises: unless the villains plan to kill the doctor, what exactly is the point of having someone impersonate him? Why not just have a crook break into the University at night and copy the formula that way? Oh, wait...if they did that, there'd be no serial. My mistake.
Bridges slowly learns that the Japs and Nazis are up to something called 722, but he has no idea what it is. And so we're off.
Along the way, we get to meet Mama and Papa Pierre, the mysterious owners of the hotel X-9 is staying at. They have lousy French accents and apparently some confusion as to which side they're on; at one point, they free the bad guys, then later claim to be on the hero's side!
Hinds' character of Solo is probably the most interesting character in the batch. One gets the distinct feeling there's more to the character than just a kooky old man who flips seeds into a cup. One of the serial's funniest moments occurs when he actually does something, then goes right back to flipping the seeds after everybody has left the room!
The cliffhangers are nothing too spectacular, but at least there's not the usual amount of outrageous stock footage cluttering this one up. The cast tries gamely and overall it will hold your attention. Just don't expect continous fistfights; it's a late Universal, so there's a ton of talking in it.
Rate it 3 stars out of five.
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