Tuesday, July 28, 2020


This exotic romantic melodrama is set, we are told, "below the Equator, amongst those distant isles where the white man's civilization is but a rumor." (This was filmed in Tahiti in French Polynesia, if that helps.) One of the mating rituals of the islands is that, when one island runs out of eligible single women for their young men, the men go racing off to a nearby island and take however many women they want. Taro is one of a gang of desperate and horny men who travel to an island and chase the women down—to a background score of inappropriately humorous music. A bunch of local lads with spears show up to run them off, but Taro chooses Lilleo in a slightly more civilized manner, and asks permission before taking her. Back on his island, Taro's kindly mother tries to make Lilleo feel at home, and when Taro saves her from a wild boar, his captive bride begins to soften toward him. A ship full of white men comes to the island as they do periodically to shanghai native men to work in enforced slavery in some nearby phosphorus mines. A group of men, including Taro, is lured on board with drinks and trinkets, and Taro, not knowing what he is doing, signs up for five years of work. The next morning, on the mining island, Taro is furious at being taken from Lilleo, but soon he decides to play the game and becomes an ideal worker despite some dangerous conditions—Taro is warned by another worker that the mines' "devil dust tears the throat." When Taro saves the lives of several men during a mine collapse, the bosses decide to fetch Lilleo for him from his island. But when they get there, they discover that she has been claimed by the island's chief. Still, she manages to stow away on the ship, and she and Taro are reunited for a night of sex (not shown but strongly implied). The next day, she is taken back, but Taro is determined to find her again. They reunite on a ship at sea but when a typhoon hits, their happiness is threatened.

Back in the early 30s, it was not unusual for a big studio to produce a movie like this that is part fictional melodramatic narrative (this one supposedly based on Herman Melville's Typee) and part travelogue, though by 1935 this cycle had pretty much worn itself out. The two leads, Mala (as Taro, pictured above) and Lotus Long (as Lilleo), were professional actors—he was an Inuit and she, New Jersey born, was Japanese and Hawaiian. But the rest of the islanders were Polynesian non-actors. They speak their dialogue in their native tongue with large English subtitles onscreen. A good chunk of the 70 minute running time is spent in travelogue mode, with shots of the islands, the natives, the animals, etc., and I got a little bored by that. But the climactic storm makes for a rousing finale, and [Spoiler!] I liked the happy ending, with Taro and Lilleo surviving the typhoon and discovering a new island where they will presumably be Adam and Eve figures. Mala, sometimes credited as Ray Mala, made over 20 movies, including a Flash Gordon serial, and Lotus Long had a similar career, appearing as Asian supporting characters in Mr. Wong and Mr. Moto movies. An interesting novelty. [TCM]

Saturday, July 25, 2020


Lacy Bell visits her sister Eve at work and finds her watching "Christmas in Christmas Cove," her favorite Christmas movie, which features her favorite TV-movie star Chad Matthew Monroe. Lacy chastises her for her escapes into fantasy and for letting her mean boss, Mr. Peterson, ignore her attempts to get promoted. Eve chastises Lacy right back for floating through life, not committing to jobs or boyfriends. It's Christmas Eve and the two sisters, who live together, are feeling sorry for themselves. When they pass a streetcorner Santa, Eve asks for a perfect Christmas-movie Christmas, and the next morning, the two wake up in a strange bed (with their make-up on and their hair done) in a strange house with a strange woman who claims to be their grandma (or Gran Gran as she likes to be called). Surprise! They are living in a Christmas movie, in a cozy town called Holiday Falls with snow, quaint shops and cute kids (and mean Mr. Peterson as a Scrooge figure). It's a week before Christmas and there are problems that need to be solved, like putting on the Christmas festival and raising money for the animal shelter. Also in town is Chad Michael Monroe who is "playing" a pop star named Russell. Eve is ecstatic, especially when she winds up being courted not only by Russell but by Dustin, the local innkeeper with a big-city backstory. Lacy is less happy--she doesn't tell Eve what her Santa wish was, but we find out it involved wanting to be a better person--and gets even crankier when she becomes the object of the attentions of Paul, the town baker. He is handsome, whimsical, and donates his time to good causes--like the animal shelter--but Eve thinks he's a bit of a stalker, as he makes a stream of homemade cards for her and even stands outside her bedroom window watching her sleep as he places the cards around the yard. Complications ensue: Dustin's ex-girlfriend from the city visits and causes problems for Dustin and Eve; Russell agrees to sing at the Christmas festival, but when he finds out that Dustin is vying for Eve, he petulantly decides to leave town on Christmas morning. Will Eve and Lacy work out a happy ending in Holiday Falls? And, more importantly, in real life?

I loved this cute holiday movie satire, which manages to be quite funny and also avoids being too snarky. Though it originally aired on UpTV, it's harmless enough that it could easily play on the Hallmark Channel without offending anyone. The cliches are mocked (the incessantly cheerful grandma, the small town personalities, the pile-up of problems that need to be fixed by Christmas, the big-city gals who need to have their lives fixed by the down-to-earth small-town guys) but generally respected. I won't spoil all the jokes, but my favorite is when the gang has only a few hours to fix the Christmas festival. Lacy asks how on earth they can manage to do so much, and Eve shouts, "Montage!" followed by a montage of all the fixing they can pull off. The movie obviously had a smaller budget than the Hallmark movies and it shows occasionally, though one plus is that it was filmed in Frankenmuth, Michigan at a year-round Christmas village and the decor seems more authentic and less fussy than the Canadian locations used by Hallmark.

Despite some problems with the budget and the storyline (the ending, though satisfying, doesn't quite work), the actors, mostly from TV and other Christmas movies, put this over. They seem to be having fun without veering off into silly exaggeration. Lana McKissack is absolutely right as the sweet Eve and Kimberly Daugherty is just as good as the more cynical Lacy--and they even look like they could be sisters. Ryan Merriman suffices as the blandly handsome Dustin (though he winds up playing an oddly passive role in the story's outcome), and Addy Stafford is note-perfect as the ex-girlfriend/bitch who shows up to put a temporary damper on things. Best of all is Brant Daugherty as Paul; he manages to walk a tightrope edge, balancing charm, whimsy, and non-threatening small-town masculinity. The sparkle in his eye helps to keep the slightly stalkery aspect of his love for Lacy in check. And he is as good-looking and sexy as any traditional Christmas hero (he had experience in MINGLE ALL THE WAY). Brant and Kimberly, married in real life (pictured at top left), wrote the screenplay. This is the last of my Christmas in July posts, but I doubt I will find another Christmas movie this year that is more fun than this. [Amazon Prime]

Wednesday, July 22, 2020


This Walt Disney take on the famous folk hero and his band of buddies begins in 1190 with King Richard taking off for the Crusades, leaving his brother Prince John (Hubert Gregg) in charge of the country. But first we meet Robin (Richard Todd, at left) and Marion (Joan Rice), acting like schoolkids with crushes on each other—while Robin practices his archery, Marion fiddles with the target so he keeps missing. Marion's father joins King Richard and leaves his daughter in the care of the Queen Mother. As the king and his forces depart, John promises to serve the country well and the Archbishop of Canterbury gives his blessings. But soon, John has appointed the sinister Delancey (Peter Finch) the Sheriff of Nottingham; the two are in cahoots in order to place new onerous taxes on the people to benefit themselves. When the two hold an archery contest in order to build an small army of tax collectors, Robin and his father Hugh win but refuse publicly to join the Sheriff's group. On their way back home, Hugh is shot dead and Robin takes off into the forest, vowing to fight against John and the Sheriff. Over the years, Robin collects a band of like-minded men who live in the forest and do what they can to steal from the Sheriff's men and give back to the peasants. We meet the usual names from folklore such as the burly Little John, the troubadour Allan-A-Dale, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet. Marian eventually joins the band of outlaws, and when King Richard is captured on the way from the Crusades and held for ransom, she gets the Merrie Men to publicly donate much of their ill-gotten money toward the ransom, hoping to force John and the Sherrif into giving some of their personal fortunes for the ransom. The trick works, but John abducts Marian and plots to disgrace Robin and his men once and for all.

No movie version of the Robin Hood story is likely to match up to the wonderful Errol Flynn film from 1938. In the Flynn film, Marian is a member of the royal court who doesn't have a past history with Robin, unlike Marian in this version, though otherwise the story and incidents in the two movies are largely the same. Being a Disney family film, this has been sanitized and simplified a bit, and despite the death of Robin's father, Robin and his men rarely seem truly in danger. The Sheriff's villainy is mostly unmotivated—he's bad because the story demands it—and because of this, Finch's performance never takes off, and this becomes a rare bland outing for the actor. The rest of the cast ranges from very good (Todd as Robin, James Robertson Justice as Little John, and Gregg nicely underplaying the evil Prince John) to adequate (Rice as Marian, Martita Hunt as the Queen Mother Eleanor). It moves along at a good pace with, as befits the story, a fair bit of humor cropping up here and there. The Merrie Men send messages through the forest by arrow, and the sound the arrows make as they shoot through the air is a bit like I imagine the German bombs sounded during the London Blitz. Expect a Disney film and you won't be disappointed. [TCM]

Saturday, July 18, 2020


Molly (Jen Lilley) is looking for investors for her tech start-up, an app called Mingle All the Way. It's not a dating app, but an app for making platonic, companion matches when a plus-one is needed for social or business purposes. Her somewhat brittle mother (Lindsay Wagner) makes it clear that she thinks Molly will not be a success and should come back to the family accounting business (though her father is much more sympathetic). Molly's assistant Tyler suggests that a good PR move would be for Molly herself to use the app and report on her success via a blog to impress their potential investor. Meanwhile, Jeff (Brant Daugherty), an up-and-coming ad man, is hoping for a promotion, but not having a girlfriend is taking a toll on his opportunities to socialize at holiday parties with his boss, and when he hears about the Mingle app, he thinks he might try it. Molly and Jeff meet "not-cute" when they spar over an angel ornament at a decoration store. They have a second awkward meeting when she literally bumps into him on the street, causing him to spill his box of homemade Christmas stockings. But guess who gets matched up on the Mingle app? They decide to make the best of it (with Molly hiding the fact that she is the app's creator), and in the run-up to Christmas, they start to fall for each other. She gives him back the self-confidence that he lost when he broke up with a long-time girlfriend, and he gives her back her love of Christmas, which she lost when her mom decided years ago to spend the holidays skiing in Aspen rather than having old-fashioned family get-togethers. But just when Jeff is ready to tell Molly that he's fallen in love with her, his old girlfriend shows up. And just when that situation is cleared up, Jeff finds out that Molly is the Mingle creator, and he thinks he's been being used this whole time just to sell the app. As per the Hallmark Christmas template, in the last eight minutes of the movie, the two manage to clear things up (on Christmas Day, no less) and share a kiss.

I watched this movie, another one in the Hallmark Christmas in July lineup, for one reason: Brant Daugherty (at left). I discovered him in A Christmas Movie Christmas, an UpTV movie which I caught on Amazon earlier this year and will be reviewing soon. He falls squarely into the blandly handsome leading man mold of TV romance films, but he shows fun flashes of whimsy that are not usually called for in these films, so he stands out in the crowd. He's a bit more tamped down here (UpTV being, apparently, more whimsical than Hallmark), but he's still fun to watch. Lilley is fine as the damsel who needs a man to save her from herself--I hate to put it that bluntly, but let’s face it, that’s pretty much par for the course at Hallmark--though, to be fair, she helps him solve his problems as well. Wagner is perfect as the Grinchy mom (I had quite a crush on her in her Bionic Woman days) who gets her own redemptive moment thanks to Jeff. There's a subplot romance between Molly's friend (Sandy Sidhu) and Molly's assistant (Casey Manderson), but not much time is devoted to that (I could have sworn that the assistant was going to out himself as gay, but it may take a few more seasons for Hallmark to get to that point). There's also a sister and niece for Jeff, to show us what a great family guy Jeff can be, and an actor with the unlikely name Preston Vanderslice gets a couple of good scenes as Jeff's slimy colleague who is out to make Jeff look bad in their boss's eyes. The angel ornament that our couple argue over makes a fitting return near the end. Pretty much standard stuff, with Daugherty supplying just enough of a spark to make this worth catching.

A final note: I predicted the other day that Hallmark might take a bit of a breather this year with film productions stalled by the Covid-19 pandemic, but yesterday I saw a press release from Hallmark announcing a slate of roughly 40 new Christmas movies coming up this fall. I'm guessing that the Canadian film business has recovered more quickly than Hollywood's--that's what happens when your country has a competent leader. A quick scan of the titles and casts doesn't promise that these films will be very different from the past, with perhaps a slight increase in Black cast members, but nothing special in the way of characters (gay or disabled people) or stories (maybe a high-powered businesswoman who doesn't have to leave her job at the end to find happiness).  But I can always hope for a Christmas miracle. [Hallmark]

Friday, July 17, 2020


American Chris Smith (Robert Webber, right) was in a car accident in London several months ago. He has recovered physically from a fractured skull but has total amnesia—Chris Smith is a name given to him by Dr. Keller (Anthony Newlands), who is about to release him. His medical care has been paid for by an anonymous source, and this same source is providing him with a penthouse apartment. (Plot loophole #1: why hasn't Chris or the doctor put a little muscle into finding who this source is, since one assumes that person could help Chris remember who he is?). The only thing found with Chris in the accident, in which the driver was killed, was a photograph of a model torn out of a magazine. (Plot loophole #2: who was the driver? One assumes that digging into the driver's life might help Chris remember who he is.) Chris gets a private eye named Hemmings on the case—and Gina, his nurse at the hospital who has fallen for him, tries to lend a hand—but in the meantime, he begins hearing voices arguing in the apartment next to his, but when he investigates finds only an empty unfinished apartment. He discovers that the woman in the photo is a model who was found brutally murdered, but one day she shows up at his place—her name is Denise (Lelia Goldoni); she's been his mysterious benefactor because her late husband is the man who was responsible for Chris's injury.  After having hallucinations of a dead body in the shower, he has a breakthrough and his memory of the crash comes back to him—and it's here that my plot summary should end to avoid spoilers. 

This a nifty little psychological thriller. It's easy to figure out that Chris is being gaslighted (or "diaboliqued," as in the classic 50s French thriller DIABOLIQUE), but by whom and why? Anyone—the doctor, Gina, Denise, the private eye—might be an enemy, or a friend, and this is the quandary that kept me more or less engrossed here. Robert Webber is more known as a character actor (THE DIRTY DOZEN, Blake Edwards' 10), but he does a nice job as the lead here. Interestingly, during the flashback, we learn that Chris was a wanderer and a bit of a jerk, which adds unexpected shades to his character. The lovely Goldoni is a nice combination of aloof and mysterious which keeps us on our toes as far as her motivations. Maurice Denham, as Hemmings, is a little shambling like Columbo, and though he disappears from the film for a while, he plays a surprising role in the climax. This Hammer B-film played in the States strictly as a second feature, and isn't well known, but it makes for a fun viewing for fans of tricky thrillers. [DVD]

Monday, July 13, 2020


The Hallmark Channel is currently running their Christmas in July programming when they dip into their huge catalog of past holiday movies. But the global Covid-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc with virtually every part of our lives, and as movie and TV production has been mostly shut down for the past four months with little sign of significant re-opening before fall, I wonder if there will be any new Christmas movies on Hallmark this year—I suspect that summer is their prime time for production. With the sheer number of past movies (they've produced 30-40 new films every year for the past several years), this may not be a problem. In fact, it might be a blessing, as the Hallmark Christmas movie formula has become stale through overuse and could use a breather. I picked this movie at random to sample their July offerings and it's a nearly perfect example of their Christmas romance genre. 

Elle works in Chicago for an advertising agency. A tight group of college friends serves as her family and she is looking forward to their annual Christmas get-together. At work, she is trying to impress her boss with a last-minute job putting together a social media campaign for a cookware line—she has her eye on a big promotion as a creative director and thinks this could put her over. Meanwhile, as she takes on the planning for her Christmas party, she has an awkward meet-cute moment with a handsome Coffee Shop Guy when she spills coffee on herself. It turns out that Coffee Shop Guy is Max, an ad man who usually works at her company's New York office but is in Chicago to help his sweet widowed mom with her Christmas ornament business (what a nice guy, right?). And they wind up partnered up to work on the cookware campaign. Sparks fly, but the course of true love never did run smooth; Max mistakes a cold-weather cuddle with her friend Jay to mean that they are in love. No sooner does that get settled than it turns out that both she and Max are applying for the same promotion and when she overhears him during his interview seeming to present ideas of hers as belonging to him, she's furious. Will Elle's social media ads be successful? Will she be able to make time for her Christmas party? Will she get the promotion? And, most importantly, will she and Max make up in time for a lovely kiss in the snow?

Of course, the answer is "yes" to all of above—no surprise there. But what I liked about this movie was that, between them, the supporting cast almost steals the show. Brooke Nevin (Elle) and Michael Cassidy (Max, both pictured at right) are nice-looking, pleasant people playing nice-looking, pleasant characters and they're fine. But there's a parallel romance which develops between Elle's buddy Jay (Jeremy Guilbaut) and Max's sister Oakley (Andrea Brooks) which is cute. Elle's best friend is played nicely by Lara Gilchrist, and her circle of friends includes some rainbow casting: the Asian-American actor Nelson Wong plays Ryan, and African-American actor Latonya Williams is new mother Kate who flies in from out of town with baby and husband in tow. Elle's boss, played by Catherine Lough Haggquist, defies the Hallmark boss stereotype and is actually a nice person, high-powered in a fairly low-powered way. P. Lynn Johnson is sweet but not overly so as Max's sweet mom. These characters aren't really fleshed out very much, but the point is that I could imagine all of them having lives outside the movie, which may be a credit to both the writers and the actors (Brooke Nevin gets co-writing credit for the original story). There are weaknesses, the worst of which involves the snafu between Elle and Max at the end which could have been solved in seconds except there was still ten minutes left in the movie and these romantic problems are always taken right down to the wire. All the cast members (except Cassidy) are veterans of Hallmark romances, but Andrea Brooks, in particular, was charming and deserves a Christmas movie all to herself. Will Hallmark get any new holiday movies out this year? Maybe not, and maybe that's OK. They can give the cookie-cutter productions a rest and maybe a recharge while fans double-dip from the catalog. In the picture at top left are Nevin, Cassidy, Brooks and Guilbaut. [Hallmark]

Saturday, July 11, 2020

ATTACK! (1956)

During WWII, the infantry company known as Fragile Fox is pinned down near a small French town. When Jack Palance radios for back-up, his captain (Eddie Albert), cowardly and a bit befuddled by alcohol, doesn't send help, leading to the deaths of several men. Palance,who survives, holds it against Albert and wants something to be done about him; at the very least, he (and most of the other men) wants Albert booted upstairs into a bureaucrat job. However, Albert has the protection of the battalion commander (Lee Marvin)—Albert and Marvin grew up together, and there's the promise of a cushy job back home with Albert's father when the war's over, so Marvin is reluctant to do anything drastic. As a sop to Palance, Marvin tells him that the word is that the war is practically over and their company is essentially done with combat. Unfortunately, the Battle of the Bulge is right around the corner and history soon repeats itself, with Palance and his men in trouble, and Albert paralyzed by booze and doubt. Many men die, but a badly wounded Palance makes the trek back in order to exact revenge.

This is an atypical studio war film for the era, closer in tone to one of Samuel Fuller's idiosyncratic movies (THE STEEL HELMET), and directed by Robert Aldrich, who was known for his own unusual takes on genre films (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, KISS ME DEADLY). Basically a psychological character study, it was based on a play and shows at times, but there are a couple of battle sequences that open the film up. The performances are excellent throughout. Albert, mostly known as a comic actor and best remembered today as the bumbling rural husband on the Green Acres sit-com, does extremely well as the drunken villain. Palance, not one of my favorite actors, is good, though in true Palance form he tends to go melodramatically over-the-top. [SPOILER: his death scene at the end is particularly drawn-out.] Marvin is fine as are supporting players Robert Strauss, Richard Jaeckel and, in a central though down-played role, William Smithers. Buddy Ebsen (Jed in The Beverly Hillbillies) appears as a soldier, and it was a little weird to see he and Albert, both of whom would become stars in rural sitcoms of the 60s, together in serious roles here. The staginess of some of the scenes is enlivened by some interesting camera shots and setups. Highly recommended. Pictured are Albert and Palance. [TCM]

Wednesday, July 08, 2020


Pat (Stephanie Powers) has arrived in England to marry her boyfriend Alan, but first she has the somewhat unpleasant duty of paying a visit to the aging Mrs. Trefoile (Tallulah Bankhead). Back in the States, Pat was engaged to Mrs. Trefoile's son but he was killed in a car accident and she feels she owes the woman a courtesy visit. When she arrives at the woman's rural home, she plans on staying just long enough for a chat, but Trefoile asks her to stay the night and attend church the next day. Pat slowly comes to realize that Trefoile is a religious fanatic who doesn't allow mirrors in the house (vanity), won't permit anyone to wear the color red ("The devil’s color!" she snarls when Pat appears in a red outfit), refuses to eat "carnal" foods—in other words, she's a vegetarian—and quotes scripture frequently. Trefoile even quizzes Pat about whether or not she's still a virgin (she's not but she says she is). Thinking that the woman is nuts but harmless, Pat agrees to stay overnight, but when Trefoile finds out that Pat is planning on marrying another man, she hold her prisoner, preparing to cleanse Pat's soul so Pat will be worthy of being her son's bride in eternity.

This Hammer movie is part of a popular cycle of films in the 60s that involved older actresses becoming "scream queens" in Gothic horror films (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, STRAIT JACKET). Bankhead, for as famous as she was back in the day, was mostly a stage star and made few movies—her last one had been in the mid-40s—so it's nice to have this available, even if her role is a departure from the more racy, sophisticated parts for which she was known. She does a fine job in a role that might have served as a model for Piper Laurie when she played a similar prudish fanatic as the mother in CARRIE. Her performance is strong but for the most part, she resists the temptation to overdo it. For me, her best moment is when Mrs. Trefoile, who was a sinful actress in her youth, is tempted briefly to apply lipstick, something she has judged Pat harshly for doing. Ultimately, despite the Biblical trappings, the character is less a religious fanatic (FANATIC is the movie's title in England) and more like Psycho's Mother Bates. Powers is OK, though modern audiences may tire of the way she keeps kowtowing to Trifoile in the first half of the film. There are other characters at the house who help Mrs. Trefolie keep Pat from escaping, and you’ll recognize a young Donald Sutherland as the drooling, metally handicapped farm worker. The musical score, oddly jaunty at times, isn't great, and the look of the movie is dirty and gloomy—as befits the atmosphere. But this is at heart a two-person narrative in the same way that BABY JANE is, and worth seeing for Bankhead. Pictured above is Bankhead with a portrait of her son. [Amazon Prime]

Saturday, July 04, 2020


Convict 39013 (Charles Middleton) has escaped from prison and has begun a criminal reign of terror against Granville Industries because he blames the owner (Miles Mander) for his imprisonment. One evening at an amusement park that Granville owns, the three Daredevils of the Red Circle are performing their act: Gene (Charles Quigley) is an acrobat and diver, Tiny (Herman Brix) is a muscleman, and Bert (David Sharpe) is an escape artist. But their act is sabotaged by 39013's goons and a huge fire breaks out. The three Daredevils manage to save themselves, but Gene's kid brother dies in the hospital the next day due to injuries from the fire, and the three (accompanied by the kid's smart dog Tuffie) go to Granville and his daughter Blanche (Carole Landis) and offer their services in stopping 39013. What they don't know is that kindly, elderly Granville is actually 39013 in disguise, and he and his henchmen are keeping the real Granville locked up in a basement room. 39013 wants Granville alive to see the collapse of his companies, but has a device at the ready that will release poison gas in the room if 39013 ever fails to make his daily visit. Among the villain's plots: to blow up a gas plant, to wreck a chemical plant, to use a death ray, to flood a highway tunnel, etc. The Daredevils (and Tuffie) manage to foil most of the plans, getting help from an unknown person who knows 39013's plans and leaks them to the men via handwritten notes with a red circle on them—the identity of this person is played up with much mystery, though you'll figure it out long before the final chapter. But can they stop 39013's final coup—the poisoning of Granville?

I have detailed my problematic relationship with movie serials before, and this one doesn't completely escape the problem of repetition inherent in the genre (short 15-minute chapters with little room for character development and predictable cliffhangers at the end of each—in this one, the heroes usually wind up locked in a room). But this is easily the best serial I've ever seen. First of all, the Kino Lorber DVD contains a beautiful print, which always helps—the serials released on VHS back in the early days of home video were almost always spliced up and murky. The three leads are youngish, handsome and energetic, especially David Sharpe who made a living for four decades as a stunt man—he's the guy in the suit who's dragged through the dirt in Blazing Saddles. The Daredevils, though not exactly fleshed-out characters, are individualized enough so each one stands on his own. The fisticuffs scenes, one or two per episode, are very well staged, even if the cliffhanger escapes are just average. Because the death of the kid in the first chapter goes against expectations, we're kept on guard a bit for other possible surprises. The low-budget effects are pulled off well, though none can compare with the flooding tunnel at the end of the first chapter.

Charles Middleton (39013) is better known as Ming the Merciless in the 1930's Flash Gordon serials so you might expect him to be at his evil best here, but actually it's the normally unflashy Miles Mander who takes the acting honors, as he has to play essentially three roles: the frail Granville who 39013 is disguised as, the less frail real Granville who is kept imprisoned, and the conniving 39013 when he still in disguise as Granville—and he is sometimes seen onscreen in both parts at once, though each episode has a shot of Mander ducking down to take off his disguise and Middleton appearing so we don't forget who's who. Landis, as is par for the course for these serials, has little to do besides worry, though she does shine briefly in the final chapter. Though I found Sharpe the best-looking of the Daredevils, all three are appealing as characters and as dashing fellows. Brix, who played Tarzan in a 1935 serial, later changed his name to Bruce Bennett. This is possibly the only serial I've seen that I might make a point of watching a second time, and that's pretty high praise. In the photo at top left are, in order Sharpe, Brix and Quigley. [DVD]