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

Thursday, August 22, 2013


David Bruce, Richard Crane and John Crawford as Kidd

THE GREAT ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN KIDD (15 chapter Columbia serial/1953). Directors: Derwin Abbe [Abrahams]; Charles S. Gould.

"Kidd was sacrificed on the altar of greed and politics."

The amazing thing about this cliffhanger serial is that it manages to get the basic facts straight about Captain William Kidd, supposedly a notorious pirate. In the 17th century Kidd was assigned to track down pirates but legend has it that he became a pirate himself; he was hung for piracy and for murder [he did kill a member of his crew, but this may have been involuntary manslaughter or perhaps even self-defense]. Biographers have suggested that Kidd was railroaded, important evidence suppressed, and this serial supports that view [but perhaps tries too hard to make him out some kind of saint].

In 1697 when the U.S. was still under English rule, Captain Richard Dale (Richard Crane) is assigned to investigate the allegations of piracy regarding William Kidd (John Crawford), and he does so with the aid of his colleague, Alan Duncan (David Bruce). Along the way they are shanghaied, become fugitives, wind up on more than one pirate ship, and finally become part of Kidd's crew, although they are confused by the fact that he doesn't act at all like a pirate. If Dale didn't have enough problems, his superior, Robert Langdon (Nelson Leigh), is willing to betray him at the drop of a hat for his own ends, and in general a great conspiracy regarding Kidd seems to be in place. There are a few exciting cliffhangers, angry Mohawks, storms at sea, and more than one mutiny to keep things humming. Our heroes are thrown in a hay cart which is then thrown over a cliff, tossed into a fiery store room, and tied up directly in front of cannons that are just about to be lighted. In perhaps the most startling cliffhanger, Duncan throws a knife in his friend Dale's back.

Crane [The Mysterious Island serial; The Alligator People] gives one of his best performances in this, and both Bruce and Crawford are fine as Duncan and Captain Kidd. [Dale isn't the brightest fellow. Told to keep his assignment secret, he discusses it with Duncan in the middle of a crowded tavern!] Others in the cast include Marshall Reed [Pirates of the High Seas], effective as the pirate Robert Culliford, George Wallace [Radar Men from the Moon], who is quite vivid as the conspiratorial Buller, Gene Roth as a prisoner, Lyle Talbot, who shows up briefly as a Boston jailer, Michael Fox as a scurvy fellow, and even Eduardo Cansino, Jr,. the brother of Rita Hayworth, as a native; he had only a few credits. One assumes that choreographer Willetta Smith must have been a friend of the producers, as she doesn't make a particularly fetching princess in a couple of chapters. Crawford was in a number of serials, as well as Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl  [not as Kidd, However]. Bruce was Deanna Durbin's leading man in Lady on a Train and was also in Singapore Woman.

The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd has more of a story than most movie serials, fairly good production values and performances, and is entertaining on top of it.

Verdict: If you like lots of sword fights ... ***.

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