Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

BLAKE OF SCOTLAND YARD (1937)


BLAKE OF SCOTLAND YARD (1937). 15 chapter Victory Serial. Director: Bob Hill.

Sir James Blake (Herbert Rawlinson) has invented a “death ray” that can change the course of history, and a masked villain known only as The Scorpion wants to get his hands on it, which he does, more than once [the machine doesn't look like it could successfully send out a radio signal let alone a vaporizer beam]. Ralph Byrd is actually the lead of this serial, cast as Jerry Sheehan, an associate of Blake's. Providing occasionally unwanted assistance are Blake's niece Hope (Joan Barclay) and her little brother Bobby (Dickie Jones). While it is understood that one often has to suspend disbelief while watching a cliffhanger serial, Blake of Scotland Yard asks a little too much of the viewer. Blake has come up with the greatest scientific achievement in decades, but there are no guards watching the death ray [except for one undercover man]? The Scorpion and his henchmen wander in and out and underneath Blake's estate, Mallow Hall, as if they own the place, but Blake still doesn't call in dozens of extra men. The Scorpion plants dynamite under the house and nearly blows it up; although his plot is foiled, Blake leaves the dynamite in the cellar where The Scorpion almost uses it again. How did Blake ever come to prominence in Scotland Yard? Connections? It certainly wasn't due to his intelligence!

Furthermore, no one in the serial – not even the title character – even bothers to attempt a British accent. The Scorpion is meant to be scary but only engenders titters as he wanders about all hunched over with a fake claw that is meant to resemble a scorpion's but looks more like a lobster's. His identity certainly proves to be no surprise. The little boy, Bobby, is cute enough, but he's also a little too precious and affected, overly earnest, and he's allowed to become part of the action way to often. The adults worry about him at times, but do little to protect him; while feisty and intelligent, he's still just a child. The main trouble with Blake of Scotland Yard is that under Hill's stodgy direction, it moves at a pace just slow enough to give the viewer time to be irritated by all these matters. There's no attempt to create atmosphere through lighting and shadows and even the underground scenes are over-lit. On the other hand, there's a lively fight scene wherein the heroes battle their way past some dangerous Apache dancers in the Parisian Cafe by furiously flinging circular serving trays at them. And Byrd and Barclay show their versatility [which the former was rarely if ever allowed to do] by impersonating a drunken older middle-class couple in a bar. There's also a startling shot of a man falling through a skylight and onto a bed, photographed from high above. Blake of Scotland Yard is not a great serial, but it does have a few exciting scenes and a fair amount of suspense at times. Herman Brix/Bruce Bennett has a small role as a Scorpion associate with an eye patch.

Verdict: Not great, but it has its moments. **1/2.

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