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

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


THE SECRET CODE 15 chapter Columbia serial (1942). Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet.

Cop Dan Barton (Paul Kelly) pretends to be a rogue so he can join a gang of Nazi saboteurs and destroy them from the inside. Unfortunately the only man who knew of his plan is killed early on, putting him at odds with Nazis and policemen alike. He dresses up in a uniform and mask and calls him The Black Commando, undermining the plans of the saboteurs after he's accepted (more or less) into the gang as Barton. He does have two allies, another detective named Pat (Clancy Cooper) and a newspaper woman named Jean (Anne Nagel). The serial greatly benefits by the casting of Kelly over some pretty-boy non-actor, and Nagel over some sexy bimbo, as they make their characters more believable than usual. Ludwig Donath, Trevor Bardette, and others in the supporting cast are also assets.

Well directed by Bennet, the serial has cinematic and exciting fight scenes in every chapter (often with chairs and the like thrown directly at the camera). One chapter has the bad guys planting radio bombs all over the city -- each one alone can wipe out a city block! Then in chapter fourteen there are the light bulbs that fall, smash, and emit a deadly gas. Lee Zahler's "score" is just a bad bowdlerization of Beethoven's Fifth (which became a "V for Victory" theme during World War 2) but is effective enough. Too bad The Black Commando didn't return for a sequel.

Verdict: More fun than The Dark Knight. ***.


Anonymous said...

Like you, I enjoyed this serial, too. Did you notice, though, how much it resembled the Spy Smasher serial, even down to the music cues?

William said...

Yes, Spy Smasher used Beethoven's 5th as well. Very, very good serial, though.