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Monday, May 01, 2017

Good Month For Serials

Daring Death In Silence and Sound

Like their hero imperiled at the end of each chapter, silent serials hang by a thread. There are but precious few that survive in whole, a condition to make sense when we consider length --- The Mysterious Airman has ten installments, as in twenty theatrical reels that faced ninety years at risk. What was more useless than a silent chapter-play once sound came in? Most got thrown out with shovels, or melted down for silver. The Mysterious Airman beat odds by staying intact despite ill winds taking out almost all product like it. The Weiss brothers produced, their middle names economy, so Airman doesn't fly high as best of cliff-hang genre, but what's here glistens, as in flight footage (much) and masked villainy that would continue as staple until serials breathed a 50's last. The Mysterious Airman came out the year after Lindbergh made his historic flight. We might imagine fly-frenzy that anticipated it. Could 2017 hope to realize how nuts 1927 went for sky thrill after Lindy's New York-Paris hop? Just to sniff a plane got them in a lather, so what more addictive than ten weekly doses you could get for a dime? The Mysterious Airman evokes that passion and more, being flight back that shines like action filmed yesterday. Kit Parker supplies the fix, and co-producing Richard M. Roberts has a throughout commentary. Just slip on your goggles and lift off ...

Daredevils Of The Red Circle is put by experts among best of all Republic serials, a tall endorse when you tote up good ones they did. Chapter-plays used to come on television, an awkward fit, for they belonged to crowded Bijous and children molded by them. Daredevils, like others of its vintage, had brio that TV could scarcely copy, let alone surpass, so a second generation of fans entered valleys of cliffhanging, and what's left of these buy remnants as let out by licensors like Kino-Lorber, whose Blu-Ray release this is. I'd like to have been reared in the 30's so I could jump like a Comanche in theatres where serials led a bill. I knew a judge who kept Superior Court waiting as he rhapsodized in chambers over Daredevils Of The Red Circle and fact its villain was called "39013," numbers tattooed on the jurist's brain for sixty years. Daredevils Of The Red Circle refreshes for mayhem done real --- no stunt faked, which today seems heretical what with keyboards doing job of jumping jacks Charles Quigley, Herman Brix, and David Sharpe, titular three. Once there were such men, rather than pixels, pulling action duty. What emotion do Daredevils, I mean real ones, evoke?  I say exhilaration, especially where quality, off original elements, look like fresh-mint coin. Serials deserve rediscovery, if not a renewed following, to encourage more of Republic, plus others, on High-Def. A few so far are out there, with Captain Marvel next. Support each and maybe we can secure the lot.

Greenbriar is guest to Dick Dinman's DVD Classics Corner On The Air this week, topic being "Dick Dinman Salutes Undervalued Star Van Johnson." 


Blogger phil smoot said...

I purchased and watched "Daredevils of the Red Circle" Blu-ray last week (finished the 12th Chapter April 27).
While I had originally planned to watch it chapter-by-chapter over a month or two, I found that this serial was so much fun that I did it over a couple of days.
Great to see this kind of stuff looking so good in high definition --
I've never tired to watch any of it in the bad public domain copies.

Yes, lots of nonsense, but it is fun nonsense. This was such a top notch presentation that now I plan to purchase the upcoming Kino-Lorber Blu-ray release of "Adventures of Captain Marvel".

1:23 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

In the silent era, serials were made more for adults, but they were geared more toward children after the arrival of sound (the "Phantom Empire" trailer invited "boys and girls" to see it). Perhaps it's because serials were being relegated to Saturday matinees and their younger audiences.
When Republic was firing on all cylinders, they were the "serial king" as they bragged... combining the talents of pioneering action director William Witney, super stuntmen such as Dave Sharpe, and the best miniature-builders in Hollywood, the Lydecker brothers. Then came the postwar period with greater dependence on stock footage from earlier serials. I think their last serial, "King of the Carnival," took much of its action footage from "Red Circle."

2:06 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

One thing that I like of the Brazilian magazine A SCENA MUDA that is available online for free is that they include a lot extremely well written synopsis of movies, including serials and featuring stills, although frequently cropped or modified.

But here is a still from a silent serial that I have never seen somewhere else.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

One of my own favorites is the original "Tailspin Tommy". It too is mostly the usual nonsense -- I especially like how a mad scientist appears and disappears within a single episode, and how the villains seem to vanish for stretches in favor of Tommy's adventures as a beginning pilot. I suspect a big part of the appeal was identifying with the small-town airplane buff, a Kid Like You who goes from a home-made flight simulator to real biplanes. And he gets paid to fly!

This is one of the very few serials where the hero seems to have a life (beyond a secret identity). Not to oversell it; it's just surprising to see the very occasional "people" scenes in a form usually devoted to pure action. Would-be pilot Tommy lives with his parents. He meets a cute aviatrix who works at the diner at the airfield and they sort of hang out. He gets a job with an air freight service (under siege by villains), goes on assignments, attends an air meet, and moonlights as a Hollywood stunt pilot for a few episodes. Near the end he takes his girl to a dance -- as polite and harmless as a grade school party, and naturally interrupted by plot issues, but when did ANY serial hero do as much? After Flash Gordon and Dale, a closing episode smile was the most you could expect.

The sequel, "Tailspin Tommy and the Great Air Mystery", is a letdown despite a dirigible crash early on and a masked airman throughout. Now it's just rival oilmen in a generic lawless country, eternally invading and escaping from each other's base camps.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Mikeymort said...

In 1968, as an Army brat living in Germany, our base theater, the "Idle Hour", screened an episode of "The Phantom Empire" before each Saturday afternoon's feature. Anytime I see or hear Gene Autry referenced in the media it takes me back to that theater and time.

Army brats lived in a time warp, we had no American television, but could listen to "Suspense", "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar" and the radio version of "Gunsmoke" on American Forces radio at night.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Got this yesterday. Pegged Pilot X right away. Love commentary. Thanks for introducing me to it.

12:14 PM  

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