Thursday, June 30, 2011
"As a last resort, use your brains."
Tom Neal, most famous for the film Detour, plays the comic strip "daredevil of the skies" in this Columbia serial. Several agents investigating the story of a "flying disc" either crash to earth or disappear. The unseen leader of the sinister group that controls the [cartoon] flying discs is called "The Recorder" because he uses recordings to send messages to his underlings, chief among which is Krendon (Tristram Coffin, the King of the Rocket Men). The Recorder has kidnapped Dr. Benson (Forrest Taylor) and is holding him captive until he tells him all of his scientific secrets. Bruce is hired by Radcliffe (Hugh Prosser), who runs an engineering firm, to investigate the flying discs and find out what happened to Benson. Along the way he is helped by a spunky brother and sister team of young ranchers, Frank (Ralph Hodges) and Nita (Judy Clark, who isn't much of an actress). Highlights of the serial include a plane with jammed controls roaring toward a car with an unconscious Gentry inside in chapter 9; a bit with propellers that nearly slash into Nita in chapter 11; and a sequence in which Gentry's parachute, caught on rocks, begins to unravel strand by strand in chapter 12. Perhaps the most thrilling sequence occurs in chapter 5 as Bruce desperately tries to get Frank out of a car that stalled on train tracks at the end of the previous chapter. While the unmasking of the Recorder may at first seem to make absolute nonsense of everything that went before, it's actually all explained quite credibly in the serial's final minutes. Neal is fine as Gentry and the other performers are generally more than competent. Radcliffe's flirtatious secretary, Louise, is uncredited. Hodges also appeared in the serial version of Mysterious Island in 1951.
Verdict: Practically by the numbers at times, but it has some good moments. **1/2.