Friday, April 14, 2017


We're back in Serials-land: more cliffhangers, more fisticuffs, more repetition of action, and more weak writing. If this is your thing, keep reading—it's perhaps the earliest adventure serial I've seen and though it's nothing special, it does have a couple moments of interest. Professor Van Dorn is a slightly loony scientist who has created several inventions including a Destroying Ray which, yes, destroys things—only living things, leaving inanimate objects unharmed—a ray that burns through metal, and a huge but clunky robot. Stanley Stanfield is an engineer working with Van Dorn who has invented a Vanishing Ray machine which, when strapped onto a person, causes them to vanish—but leaves their shadow visible (so the title is a complete lie: the shadow NEVER vanishes!). Stanley's father, a crusading newspaper editor, was driven to an early death by corrupt businessman Wade Barnett, and now Barnett wants Stanley's newspaper stocks so he can take over the paper and stop it from continuing to muddy his reputation. But Barnett's daughter Gloria, ashamed of her father, has taken a false name and, when Stanley comes to her rescue when she faints in middle of a busy street, the two become friendly and she agrees to help him deal with her father.

All of the above happens in the first 20 minutes. The rest of this 4-hour serial consists of repetitive episodes in which Barnett and his chief goon Dorgan try to get their hands on the stocks, Stanley uses the Vanishing Ray to spy on people, and Van Dorn wrecks havoc with his inventions. I must admit that the central conflict, over stocks and bonds, is different from the usual serials concern with taking over the world, but it's a rather low-key plot that moves incredibly slowly. The hero, played by Onslow Stevens, seems more perturbed than heroic, and in fact spends most of the last two climactic chapters tied to a chair as things happen around him. Richard Cramer enjoys himself as the thug Dorgan. Van Dorn (James Durkin, gleefully over-the-top at times, and pictured above with Stevens) is on the good guys' side, but is also a little insane and quite bloodthirsty. When he agrees to work with Stanley against Barnett, he says enthusiastically that he wants to be "judge, jury and executioner." Barnett (Walter Miller) keeps promising his daughter that he'll reform, but despite the fact that he keeps breaking that promise over and over again, she keeps giving him the benefit of the doubt. Barnett's affection for his daughter, and his attempt to make sure that his thugs don’t hurt her, provides an interesting plotpoint here and there. Ada Ince, as Gloria, has little to do and is not very good at doing what she does. The robot is seen early on, but doesn't get unleashed until near the end. It's goofy and not all that scary looking, even though all the characters are scared shitless of it. At seven or eight chapters, with a brisker pace, this might have been more fun. As it is, recommended for viewers who are already fans of the classic-era serial. [YouTube]

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