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

Thursday, June 3, 2010


MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN 1939 12 chapter Columbia serial. Directors: Norman Deming; Sam Nelson.

Although probably not the best choice to play Lee Falk's mustachioed magician from the comic strips, Warren Hull -- sans mustache -- is effective enough in this cliffhanger serial. Professor Houston (Forbes Murray) has invented a radium energy machine which he claims will "aid humanity," but it just seems like another destructive ray gun. Houston's daughter Betty (Doris Weston) is sweet on Mandrake and she has a younger brother named Tommy (Rex Downing). A masked character named the Wasp is after the radium energy machine and will stop at nothing to get it. A lot of suspense is worked up over the identity of the Wasp: could he be Dr. Andre Bennett (Edward Earle); engineer James Webster (Kenneth MacDonald); kindly Frank Raymond (Don Beddoe); or someone else? Al Kikume plays Lothar, Mandrake's assistant/servant. The Wasp ruthlessly gasses to death any screw-ups on his team, and blows up Mandrake's house at one point. There are collapsing buildings, flash floods from exploded damns, and danger in a cable car situated high over a chasm. Mandrake and the Wasp have a lively fight and chase in the final chapter. The music is mediocre and adds nothing to the serial. Robert Sterling of Topper TV fame has a small role as one of the Wasp's henchmen. Weston had only nine credits in total, and made only two more films after this appearance.

Verdict: Not exactly "magical." perhaps, but a lot of fun nevertheless. ***.


Anonymous said...

This was a surprisingly good serial from Columbia. Enjoyed the villain, the Wasp, and the outfit that he wore. The lighting effects were good, too.

William said...

Yes, this is one of Columbia's better serial efforts.