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

Thursday, July 12, 2018


Jeff York (aka Granville Owen) and William Tracy

The art of Milton Caniff
TERRY AND THE PIRATES (15 chapter Columbia serial/1940). Director. James W. Horne.

In this cliffhanger version of the famous newspaper comic strip, young Terry Lee (William Tracy) goes off to find his father, Dr. Herbert Lee (John Paul Jones), with the aid of his buddy and his father's assistant, Pat Ryan (Jeff York, aka Granville Owen, of Li'l Abner). As they search for Dr. Lee, the two men find themselves embroiled in a conflict between an evil half-caste named Fang (Dick Curtis) and his followers, and the mysterious Dragon Lady (Sheila Darcy of Drums of Africa), who presides over her subjects in a cavern headquarters. Fang seeks to control all of the natives in the area, as well as the white settlers, and is after a treasure that he thinks Dr. Lee can lead him to. Lee is only interested in the scientific achievement of locating a lost race. Other characters include Forrest Taylor as Allen Drake, and Joyce Bryant as his daughter, Normandie -- both actors also appeared in The Iron Claw serial --  while Fang's despicable henchman, Stanton, is played by Jack Ingram. Connie, a diminutive Asian fellow, is charmingly played by Allen Jung -- and looks much less like a caricature than he did in the strip -- and the unfortunately-named Big Stoop is essayed by Victor DeCamp. During the fifteen chapters, Terry, Pat and the other good guys must contend with Fang's army of leopard men -- who wear hoods and striped robes -- as well as an agitated and nasty gorilla named Bobo (Jack Leonard). Pat is nearly beheaded by a High Priest (John Ince), Terry nearly eaten by gators, and both are endangered by walls that slowly move in to push them into a pit full of spikes. One of the best cliffhangers has the boys trapped in another pit that is rapidly filling with water.

Terry and the Pirates is a consistently lively, amusing, and exciting serial, but it is far below the level of the comic strip and much less serious. In the comic strip, the Dragon Lady is a beautiful Eurasian who heads a group of modern-day pirates, but in the serial she has been reduced to a fairly pretty white lady who rules a standard lost sect. At 23, William Tracy is far too old to play the boy Terry -- Jeff York was only five years older -- and has to compensate with some "gee willikers" expressions and a high-pitched screech when they are in trouble. Years later he played another recurring role in the Terry and the Pirates TV series. Dick Curtis is actually good as Fang, but unfortunately he is saddled with a voice characterization that makes him sound like an Oriental parody in a bad sitcom, Asian by way of the Borscht Belt. Jeff York is suitably handsome and heroic and more than competent as Pat. Lee Zahler has contributed a very effective score.

In the strip, writer-artist Milton Caniff -- who eventually left the comic to do Steve Canyon, for which he controlled the rights -- aged Terry until he became an adult and Pat Ryan's role was diminished and possibly eliminated. I don't know if Pat was actually Dr. Lee's assistant in the comic, and believe it is more likely that Terry was an orphan, with Ryan acting as his mentor.

Verdict: Frankly ridiculous at times, but also fun and fast-paced. ***. 


angelman66 said...

Trivia: Did you know that Doris Day named her son after this, her favorite comic? :-)

William said...

Interesting! Even her bios don't tell you that!