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

Friday, April 18, 2008

THE LOST CITY


THE LOST CITY (1935). 12 chapters. Super Serial Productions. Director: Harry Revier.

While this is hardly one of the better serials it does have its entertaining moments. Kane Richmond stars as Bruce Gordon, an electrical engineer who determines the source of energy that is causing havoc around the world. He traces the signals to Africa and takes off with a party to discover what and who is behind the problem. In a hidden city lost in the jungle, the madman Zolok (William Boyd) is determined to take over the world. He forces an elderly scientist, Manyou (Joseph Swickard) to turn native slaves into giants with his equipment. [These “giants” are simply very tall black men who wouldn't look out of place on a basketball court although everyone in the cast seems abnormally startled by their appearance. The fright wigs they wear make them seem as comical as they are moderately scary.] Sam Baker is the head giant, Hugo.

The wide cast of characters include Zolok's somewhat hulking servant Appolyn (Jerry Frank), Manyou's daughter Natcha (Claudia Dell) – despite the “native"- like name she is actually a blond – assorted bad guys (who cause more problems for our heroes whether or not they're allied with Zolok), an Arab ruler looking for giant slaves, and the campy and vampish Queen Rama (Margot Duse), who blinds Richmond when he refuses her advances and has Natcha hurled into a lion pit in one of the serial's more suspenseful scenes. [There is also a juicy bit involving some descending spikes.] There is also a dog-sized jiggling spider prop that drops a web onto our heroes, and assorted clips of wild animals on the loose.

Richmond is stoic and able, if a bit wooden, as the hero. William Boyd is pretty awful as Zolok, chewing the scenery and spitting out his lines with a fury that may have been meant to suggest madness but only comes off as dreadful overacting. [He makes one appreciate the comparatively understated Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless even more.] Older and more intelligent-looking than many serial actresses, Claudia Dell somewhat resembles Jeannette Mcdonald; you keep expecting Natcha to break into song at any moment. She is not a bad actress, and has a nice moment when she reaches out to tenderly stroke Richmond's hair as he's tending to her. Dell not only played Spanky's mother, she was Octavia in the 1939 Cleopatra and according to imdb.com was the original model for the Columbia logo.

There is quite a bit of bad acting in The Lost City, but a bigger problem is the absence of music. It also doesn't have the color, action or pace of the Flash Gordon serials, being similar only in its absurdities. Still, it's fun enough in its own minor way, and there have, unfortunately, been much worse chapter plays inflicted on the public.

Verdict: Watch at your own risk.**.

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