Thursday, March 30, 2017

CYCLOTRODE X (1966/1946)

Professor Chambers has invented the Cyclotrode, a rather ill-defined McGuffin device that can wreck havoc with electrical power. Though he's developed it at his university for use by the government, a criminal mastermind known as the Crimson Ghost (who dresses in a huge grinning skull mask and—one can only assume since the film is in black & white—red robes) is after it for his own nefarious uses. When the machine and its inventor are taken, our hero Duncan Richards goes after them, knowing only that the Ghost is one of Chambers' university colleagues. This is a 100-minute condensed version of a 167-minute serial from 1946 called THE CRIMSON GHOST; it was released in the mid-60s during a period when old movie serials were considered campy fun, and it's a slam-bang affair, with all the fat trimmed. There isn't much more to the narrative than I've summarized above, but the movie is filled with incident, with cliffhangers arriving every ten minutes or so. At some point, a death ray is introduced, and at the climax, out of the blue, Duncan (Charles Quigley) and his chief assistant Diana (Linda Stirling) bring along a Doberman to help out. The skull face of the Crimson Ghost is indeed creepy, though the fact that we see him constantly, and that he basically just stalks about in his hideout and sends others to do his dirty deeds, makes him much less scary by the halfway point. Clayton Moore, later TV's Lone Ranger, is Ashe, the Ghost's main henchman, and he's actually more charismatic (and better looking) than the hero (he's on the left in the picture above, with Kenne Duncan as Chambers in the middle and the Crimson Ghost at right). The identity of the Ghost doesn't really matter since the characters of the suspects are all basically interchangeable. The best gimmick in the film is a necklace that the Ghost puts on those he has forced into doing his bidding; if anyone tries to remove it, he or she is instantly killed. As crowded as this film is with action, I doubt I'm missing much by not viewing the original serial—unlike the case of the more drastically edited SHADOW OF CHINATOWN. [Paramount Vault streaming]

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