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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hanging Again Off Mascot's Cliff

A wilderness serial produced by Mascot Pictures seems entirely appropriate. Any of us as kids might have shot something comparable given rudimentary cameras and equipment. That’s not to say Last Of The Mohicans is amateurish. It only seems so in that lovable way primitive chapterplays have of taking us to a rugged outdoors where anything might happen, and in event it did, no retaking to cover blown lines or stunts gone wrong. Nat Levine set out for the woods and rushed twelve installments of action crude as it gets filled with dialogue seemingly delivered off the fly. I kept wondering what his crew did for lunch over twenty-eight days they spent making this serial. Bet ones with guns shot rabbits and skinned them right there. There’s no pioneer spirit in movies like that applied to making Mascot serials. Last Of The Mohicans really gets down to basics I’m betting real frontiersmen knew. No flowing maned GQ Daniel Day-Lewis stuff here, nor pyroteched Michael Mann set-pieces to remind us it’s big Hollywood on the job. Nat Levine was lifelong opposite number of all such contrivance. Instead of dressing rooms, he’d give actors a barrel to change in. The man was perfect to translate early American myth. Nat himself was catch-penny Hollywood’s own mythic figure, a strictly fringes sort that brought exposed film out of God-awfulest places others didn’t venture near. Levine seems to have picked locations especially for drab. Last Of The Mohicans departs from that with background at least as captivating as woods behind my house. Given extraordinary circumstance of a Nat Levine reincarnated to make another serial, I’d gladly extend permission for him to shoot there …

Fans more knowledgeable assure me that Last Of The Mohicans is something of an educational serial, a real Classics Illustrated of the chapter dramas. Seems Nat really based his story pretty close on James Fenimore Cooper’s famous novel. I’d confirm that but for lifelong aversion to reading other than non-fiction. A lot of youngsters likely wangled parental dimes in 1932 by assuring Mom that this was no mere cliffhanger, but a faithful adaptation of a Great Book. Sort of like the time I got our sixth grade teacher to give extra credit for going to see Steve Reeves in The Trojan Horse. Jon Tuska wrote that Cooper’s novel actually lent itself to episodic play. Could we argue that Nat Levine’s serial is indeed the most effective of all that story’s renderings? I’d sure give it an A for splendid effort, and agree with Tuska that Last Of The Mohicans may be the best of all Mascot serials. As with most twelve to fifteen week affairs, LOTM does the ying-yang of capture and rescue throughout. Often it’s treasure maps or cyclotrodes. This time velvet-clad sisters are the prize sought by warring factions. Veteran heavy Bob Kortman plays Magua and he’s one bad indian. I still wonder how Wally Beery and Fredric March got the Oscar away from him that year. Kortman had a gap between his front teeth that looked like a window at the Automat. Spend twelve chapters with actors and you really get to know them. Lead Harry Carey received $10,000 to play Hawkeye. He wears authority like a King’s robe and was probably what sold/sustained this serial over three months it took 1932 patrons to finish it.

The curse borne by orphaned cliffhangers has been abuse visited upon them by exploiteers intent on seizing coin out of decrepit prints in circulation. Unless I’m mistaken, all the Mascot serials are Public Domain. That means you or I can get rich selling them! … except for the fact precious few care anymore about Mascot serials, and haven’t for quite a long time, which is how and why they went PD to start with. I’ve been mulish in my support for these things, having celebrated The Vanishing Legion and The Miracle Rider on previous Greenbriar occasions. Consider this fair warning that I will address other Mascots as they become available. VCI’s recently released Last Of The Mohicans DVD is realization of dwindling fanbase dreams (when we die, who will be left to watch?). There used to be a horrid VHS wherein philistines grafted a classical score over much of the otherwise mute (and better for that) action. Add music and you rob Mascots of their starkest gift --- quiet austerity. All carry banners of anti-slickness and are ongoing rebuke to shiny models Republic later did. Rarity of Mascots only enhance their cache. I wonder if 35mm exists on any of them, let alone camera negatives. VCI quality on Last Of The Mohicans is surprisingly good, however. Digital’s greatest gift has been ongoing rescue and availability of so many discarded subjects we’d have never seen again otherwise. Toward that end, VCI has been one of our best providers.


Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Great post:

I saw some episodes of this serial in a defunct channel, from Argentina, called Retro the originally played classic American television series and movie serials.

The channel used to have rare highlights like a weekly presentation of a single show in order to put the spot in an unusual guest star; pilot as well the final episode presentations too.

They later added classic films including silents on Saturday mornings.

Sadly, the channel was absorbed by Turner broadcasting in order to cancel it, which they did a year ago, in order to replace it with their lousy Latin American version of TCM, which features the same kind of content (but with much less quality) along with scanned and panned classic films!

Here is a rarity that was captured a week ago in Argentina:

6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What video company released the VHS version with the added music?

10:18 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I'd imagine several companies distributed the version with music added, and that was probably done to re-assert a copyright on a "new" edition of an otherwise PD product.

4:41 AM  
Anonymous East Side said...

Forgive me if I said this in an earlier post, but recently I watched a few minutes of an early John Wayne movie (Republic? Mascot?) where not only was the score newly-dubbed (with synthesizers)but the dialogue was as well! Sheesh.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Yeah, they're overdubbing John Wayne's Lone Star Monograms, sometimes colorizing them and sometimes retitling them!

11:26 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Does anyone know of any good quality DVD's to be had on the John Wayne Lone Star westerns? --- minus the awful dubbed music and sound effects?

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Don Hayes said...

Yes, Christmas Seals are still around. My wife gets them in the mail every year for our donation to the American Lung Association.

10:39 AM  

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