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

Thursday, March 3, 2011


THE SECRET OF TREASURE ISLAND 15 chapter Universal serial (1938). Director: Elmer Clifton.

Reporter Larry Kent (Don Terry) is assigned to investigate what's happening out on Treasure Island, which is owned by a nasty man named Carter Collins, who calls himself the Shark (Walter Miller). Collins is searching for a lost treasure secreted years ago by pirates, and is ruthless with anyone who stands in his way. That not only includes Kent, but Toni Morrell (Gwen Gaze), who is unaware that her father, whom she's never met, is also on Treasure Island. Frankly, there are so many characters and so much going on that things get confusing at times, but all that really matters is that there are some excellent cliffhangers, lots of action, and such elements as a volcano, a giant skeletal ghost on the loose, a room with many, many doorways, a cute, trained crow or raven, and lots of secret passages and cobwebby underground tunnels -- oh boy!

Highlights of the fast-moving serial include: Larry nearly drowned when his prison cell is swamped with water; an amusing business with Toni swinging back and forth on a very tall ladder as Larry fights a villain who keeps kicking said ladder; Toni being forced to walk the plank by the vicious Shark; a lively battle between Larry and a thug in an ambulance; Larry falling into a boiling lava pool; and so on. A bit of business involving dynamite in a wagon and Larry continuing to stunt-ride after the explosion isn't even a cliffhanger but happens midway through the episode., as do many other thrilling sequences. The climax has our protagonists escaping through tunnels that go under the water but which are wracked with explosions as they hastily proceed. The very nasty villain gets a satisfying comeuppance. Miller and Gwen Gaze are excellent, Terry is fine and stalwart as the hero, and Treasure Island has enough action for five serials. It's a pity that there appears not to be a digitally remastered or at least very clear retail DVD of this serial.

Verdict: This is indeed a treasure! ***1/2.


JimbobMan said...

I would love to see this! Where did you see this serial?

William said...

This is in public domain, so I found a non-retail copy on either ebay or Worth hunting for if you're into serials!