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


Jay Novello, Tom Brown, Marjorie Lord, Rose Hobart

 THE ADVENTURES OF SMILIN' JACK (13 chapter Columbia serial/ 1943). Directed by Lewis D. Collins and Ray Taylor. 

Columbia turned the popular aviation comic strip The Adventures of Smilin' Jack into a serial in 1943. In this exciting and action-packed cliffhanger,  Jack Martin (Tom Brown) is working in China just before the U.S. entry into WW2.  Mah Ling (Cyril Delevanti of The Night of the Iguana), the governor of Handan, a province of China in the Himalayas, knows the secret route of a passage into India which would be helpful to the allies. The Japanese group, the Black Samurais, a division of Axis Espionage, is anxious to get this secret as well. The Samurais are under the uneasy control of a German agent, Fraulein Von Teufel (Rose Hobart of Conflict), who is better-known to the allies as "Trudi Miller," a war correspondent. We learn early on in the serial that Trudi is a ruthless double agent, but neither Jack, his friend, Tommy (Edgar Barrier), nor his sister, Janet (Marjorie Lord), are aware of this. It seems that in every other episode the evil Fraulein is reminding Kageyama (Turhan Bey) that she is in charge of the Samurais despite the fact that she is German. Philip Ahn is Wu Tan, the loving aide to the elderly Mah Ling; Keye Luke is Captain Wing; and Sidney Toler is cast as the Chinese general, Kai Ling. The ever-versatile Jay Novello is a cast stand-out as the Japanese saboteur Kushimi, and David Hoffman [The Creeper] also scores as the weasel-like Blenker.  With his pudgy face and kind of geeky voice, Tom Brown is hardly perfect casting as the sleek, handsome Smilin' Jack, but his performance is okay, while Lord and Barrier are adept enough in somewhat pointless secondary roles. Rose Hobart, on the other hand, while lacking the viciousness and sensuality of Carol Forman of Black Widow, is quietly effective and quite venomous as the steel-hearted Fraulein, and pretty much walks off with the serial (even if she is saddled with a highly unflattering headpiece). At one point the Fraulein suspends Jack in a net in the water below a trap door, even as the tide comes in and sharp floating spikes rise up higher and higher toward his back. Tom also plunges out of a plane to find that his parachute won't open, and is locked into a leaky box that is thrown into the river. In two of the best cliffhangers, a clipper ship holding our hero and friends crashes into the ocean, letting in gallons of rushing water; and a Japanese sub with Jack and the others aboard is rammed by a huge ship that is also controlled by Jap agents. An amusing aspect of the serial is that Mah Ling seems to take forever to make up his mind to give up the secret of the Mandan route and comes up with one obstacle after another to prevent him from divulging it. With the participation of such actors as Hobart, Luke, Toler, Bey and others, Similin' Jack has a better and better-known cast for a serial than usual. 

Verdict: Decidedly one of the better Universal serials. ***. 


angelman66 said...

This one looks good--I am a huge fan of Toler, as you are, as well as brilliant character actors like Jay Novello. And the wartime anti-Nazi storylines of this era were always absorbing...Spielberg obviously borrowed liberally from these for the Indiana Jones films.

William said...

He sure did! I liked the first "Indy" film but I wasn't overwhelmed, and the sequels were hit or miss.