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

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Both in disguise, Copperhead (Wilcox) faces Dr. Satan (Ciannelli)
MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN (15 chapter Republic serial/1940). Directors: John English; William Witney.

Just before the older man's death, Bob Wayne (Robert Wilcox) is told by Governor Bronson (Charles Trowbridge), the man who raised him, that his real father was once known as the original Copperhead, who fought for justice but was wrongly labeled a crook. Bob decides to don a mask and become the new Copperhead, so that he can fight the minions of the mysterious Dr. Satan (Eduardo Ciannelli). "Mysterious" is right, because we never learn why he calls himself Dr. Satan nor what his true identity is. (Similarly, the Copperhead disguise seems fairly unnecessary.) Satan is after a remote control device invented by Professor Scott (C. Montague Shaw), whose daughter, Lois (Ella Neal), is trapped in a diving bell with Bob when it springs a leak thanks to the diabolical manipulations of Dr. Satan. The nefarious Satan forces his men and others to wear explosive chest devices that keep them from getting out of line or escaping, and on several occasions employs a large killer robot to do his dirty work. Ciannelli [Johnny Staccato; Monster from Green Hell] is quite good as Dr. Satan, sneering his contempt without ever overacting or chewing the scenery. Wilcox, who was Diana Barrymore's third husband and companion-in-nightmare, was certainly good-looking and was not a bad actor, but he's not a good choice for a serial action hero as his performance lacks dynamism and is rather listless [even if one gives him the benefit of the doubt and imagines that he was trying to differentiate between Wayne and the Copperhead]. Ella Neal is adept and attractive, but the other woman in the cast, Dorothy Herbert, has little opportunity to do more than look interested or perky as reporter Alice Brent. Jack Mulhall [The She-Creature] and Ken Terrell [Indestructible Man] are also in the cast. One of the best cliffhangers has to do with a cell whose far wall begins closing in on our hero as Dr. Satan chuckles. This was originally conceived as a Superman serial, but the rights for that character went to Columbia studios instead; that studio took eight years to finally come out with a serial about the Man of Steel.

Verdict: Entertaining, but not in the class of the best Republic serials. **1/2.


Anonymous said...

One of the first serials I ever saw and one of my favorites. Great and exciting music by Cy Feuer. The Copperhead's mask is interesting, too, and of course Dave Sharpe's stunt work is excellent!

William said...

Not one of my top favorites, but it has its moments.