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

Thursday, July 25, 2013


PIRATES OF THE HIGH SEAS (15 chapter Columbia serial/1950). Directors: Spencer Gordon Bennet; Thomas Carr. 

On the paradise island of Talua in the south pacific post-WW 2, Kelly Walsh (Tommy Farrell) is bedeviled by the crew of a "phantom cruiser" that shoots at his boat and then disappears into thin air. Said cruiser has the ability to dive underwater while retaining the outward appearance of a boat instead of a submarine [this ability is so under-utilized that it's a wonder the serial even bothers with it.]. Kelly sends for his old Army buddy Jeff (Buster Crabbe), who has no interest in returning to the south pacific but suddenly finds himself besieged by passengers who must get to Talua, including Kelly's pretty blond sister, Carol (Lois Hall); Whitlock (Gene Roth), who turns out to be the governor of the island; and Castell (Tristram Coffin of King of the Rocket Men), an agent who is after a Nazi war criminal named Van Horsdorff who has hidden away millions of dollars worth of diamonds somewhere in the vicinity of Talua. The clue to the location of the diamonds may be inside a music box that plays "Three Blind Mice." It is revealed early on that Whitlock is corrupt, to put it mildly, and has some nasty confederates, especially Shark, captain of the phantom cruiser, who as portrayed by Marshall Reed with two day's growth of beard is one of the sexiest sociopaths to ever appear in a serial. Handsome Shark thinks nothing of gunning down associates with impunity before they can impart important information to the good guys. There are a couple of memorable cliffhangers, such as when a heavy stone block comes crashing down on a coffin inside which Jeff is hiding; and a great bit when Jeff battles a hood on a flat piece of wall that has just been torn off the side of the jail and is being dragged behind a speeding truck as it careens toward a cliff. Most of the characters in this, even some of the good guys, are rather shady and duplicitous, including Lamar (Stanley Price), Whitlock's secretary, and the Lotus Lady (Symona Boniface), who runs the general store and whose loyalties are ambiguous. Pirates of the High Seas may not be one of the classic serials, but it is entertaining if overlong at nearly four and a half hours. Crabbe may be a bit paunchy and middle-aged in this but he still delivers the goods, and the other cast members are generally equally adept.

Verdict: Worth a trip on the Phantom Cruiser. ***.

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