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

Thursday, March 14, 2013


SECRET AGENT X-9 (12 chapter Columbia serial/1937). Directors: Ford Beebe; Cliff Smith.

This is the first of two serials based on the Secret Agent X-9 comic strip, the latter being released in 1945. This earlier version is much, much better. Agent X-9, also known as Agent Dexter (Scott Kolk), is assigned when the Belgravian crown jewels are stolen and the agent guarding them murdered by a sinister villain known only as "Brenda." Brenda gives orders to his top aide, Blackstone (Henry Brandon), and X-9 can't quite figure whether a pretty woman involved in the case, Shara (Jean Rogers), is on the side of the angels or not. Monte Blue is Belgravia's Baron Karsten, and Lon Chaney Jr. is a hood that works for Brenda. David Oliver is Pidge, a pal of Dexter's who is not an agent but always seems to be around, managing to be both helpful and comical at times. As each chapter begins, the events of the previous installment are presented in comic strip panels. This is an exciting, well-made serial with fairly standard but adept cliffhangers [Dexter's boat nearly smashes into a large obstruction at high speed at the end of chapter one], more than adequate performances, very good chase sequences, and some lively fisticuffs. Kolk makes an appealing, boyish leading man, and the incredibly versatile Brandon (who played everyone from Fu Manchu to Barnaby in Babes in Toyland) nearly steals the show as Blackstone. Jean Rogers was Dale Arden in the Flash Gordon serials and closed out her career in The Second Woman.

Verdict: Far superior to the 1945 version with Lloyd Bridges. ***.

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