Re: Movie Serial Recommendations

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Friday, December 05, 1997 10:26 PM

Brian <> wrote in article
> Just out of curiosity I picked up the Superman movie Serial - 15
> chapters - made in 1948 and though only up to chapter 4, I am quite
> enjoying it.Its as low budget as one can imagine with special effects
> that are laughable…
> But mainly I was hoping that someone could give me some other good
> recommendations on enjoyable movies serials to watch.

General advice: keep to serials made up to 1945 or 1946, avoid those made later. The budgets were drastically curtailed as the number of theaters showing serials plummeted. There were fewer writers on the later ones, which tended to mean less imagination, repetitive plot devices, less detail within the fights and cliffhanger-escapes.

Republic Pictures made the best ones, followed by Universal (which ceased making serials in 1945, possibly unwilling to tarnish their image with lower-budgeted serials, a decision that thankfully made more playdates available to the two companies to continue in the business). Columbia's are the worst. The "Superman" serials not only were made post-1946, but were released by Columbia, which on "Superman" didn't make the serials but instead distributed them for a producer with even less money to spend on them. Those laughable special effects don't do justice to the better work done elsewhere. Republic used Consolidated Film Industries for their optical effects; Republic owned the company, true, but it did such good work that the major studios contracted their optical work to it.

Recommendations: "Zorro Rides Again" (1937), "Zorro's Fighting Legion" (1939), and to a lesser extent, "Zorro's Black Whip" (1944); "Spy Smasher" (1942); "S.O.S. Coast Guard" (1937; with Ralph Byrd essentially playing his Dick Tracy character under a different name, and Bela Lugosi as the villain); "Manhunt of Mystery Island" (1945); "The Masked Marvel" and "Captain America" (both 1943 comic-book-hero type adventures); "The Purple Monster Strikes" (1945). All these are from Republic.

From Universal: "Buck Rogers" is continuously moving forward in story, and strikes today's viewers as a precursor of "Star Wars"; "Ace Drummond" (1936) has more characters than usual for a serial, and once you've been introduced to them all, that makes for more surprises and twists and counterpoints in the plot than you thought you'd see; "Adventures of the Flying Cadets" has one of the better plots of serials, and is by far the best I've seen that centers on a group of teenage boys turning detective.

Universal made three "Flash Gordon" serials. The third, "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe," has surprisingly adult connotations (e.g., an attractive woman who in breathless voice promises unspecified rewards to the rugged man who rescued her).

I hope this helps.

--David Hayes


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