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

Thursday, July 11, 2013

THE VANISHING LEGION

"The Voice" confronts a cowering member of the Legion
















THE VANISHING LEGION (12 chapter Mascot serial/1931). Directors: Ford Beebe; B. Reeves Eason.

"The Voice ... has spoken." 

Oil man "Happy" Cardigan (Harry Carey) has a certain time period to bring in a gusher but he finds this is difficult to do when he has to deal with raids on the oil fields by a group of men on horseback calling themselves the "Vanishing Legion." Then there's a mysterious character called "The Voice," who issues commands using a special transmitter and never speaks above a whisper. It is suggested that the Voice is actually one of the four directors of the oil company. Adding to the intrigue is a company secretary named Miss Caroline Hall (Edwina Booth), who may be an agent of the Voice, and may even have something to do with the Vanishing Legion. If that wasn't enough mystery, we have young lad Jimmie Williams (Frankie Darro) who is the only one who can ride a wild horse named Rex, and his father, Jed (Edward Hearn), who is wanted for murder. As the serial progresses, things get a little confusing with all the inter-relationships, and people turning out to be something other than you thought they were. Darro probably has more to do in this serial than anyone except maybe Carey, but he's billed after Carey, Booth and even "Rex, King of the Wild Horses." He gives an excellent performance and out-acts most of the adults, although Carey, Hearn and others are at least competent. Booth comically over-acts at times, but she's continually called on to suggest an alternating good gal and bad girl to keep the audience guessing which she might actually be, and generally she's both attractive and vital. Other prominent characters include Ashton (Philo McCullough), who may have some relationship to the man allegedly murdered by Jimmie's fugitive dad; the Sheriff (William Desmond), who at one point is suspected of being the Voice; and Hornbeck (Lafe McKee), Jed Williams'  lawyer. Although he does not actually appear in the serial, the voice of the "Voice" is supplied by none other than Boris Karloff, which not only adds some spookiness to the proceedings but neatly hides the identity of the actual villain. Two memorable cliffhangers in the movie involve Carey nearly getting trampled by a pack of wild horses, and Booth opening a door in a hallway and discovering that there's no room inside, just a quick path to the sidewalk far below.  Booth had very few film appearances but Carey was also in Beyond Tomorrow and had a notable role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

In the entertaining book Classic Cliffhangers Vol. 1  by Hank Davis, the author suggests that there's something "unnatural" in the (off-screen!) relationship between Frankie Darro, and the actor who plays his father, Edward Hearn. Davis seems to think that Hearn fondles Darro too much [but I watched the uncut movie and saw absolutely nothing over the top in the realistic displays of affection a father would show for a motherless boy whose whole world revolves around his beloved dad] and he is particularly disturbed by a scene in which father and son kiss on the lips. The kiss may seem to be held longer than necessary [and looking at it with 21st century eyes one might find it discomforting] but Davis neglects to inform the reader that this scene occurs at a highly emotional moment when both father and son are afraid they may never see each other again. To suggest that Hearn was getting off on it and is therefore a pedophile is patently unfair. This was a more innocent time period, and parents and children did kiss on the lips without anyone thinking it was automatically unnatural. The boy actually initiates the kiss and this is not the only time he does so, and given the time period especially, it doesn't seem that weird.  Davis also doesn't mention that in other scenes, such as when Jimmie thinks his father has been killed, "Happy" hugs the boy to his breast, strokes his hair, but there's no suggestion [and shouldn't be] that this makes actor Harry Carey a pedophile. I'm as repelled and outraged by child molestation as anyone else, but I don't think it's fair to label someone a pedophile based on a scene in a movie! There is nothing on the Internet to indicate any unnatural interest in children on Hearn's part; only that he was married and had a child. Hopefully I'm wrong, but it's almost as if Davis for some reason decided Hearn was gay and that therefore he must be a child molester! This would be especially bizarre as Davis spends a lot of time decrying the racist aspects of many of these old serials.

Verdict: Creaky but somewhat entertaining old serial, but not one of Mascot's best. **1/2.

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