41 thoughts on “Home

  1. Thanks, Ken. By the way, my apologies to those who had comments on the old Home post; I’m still figuring out the intricacies of WordPress software, and had thought I could salvage the comments from the preceding Home post when I put up this replacement one (I couldn’t, it turns out). I think I’ll be able to preserve comments from a removed post in future, thanks to trial and error, but I figured I owed those of you who commented on the old Home post an apology.

  2. Jerry. Just on living through it cliffhangers. I have watched an interview with a 16 year old girl whose parachute did not open when she skydived from a mile up. She passed out and doesn’t know what happened. They said she landed in a cow pasture where the ground was soft enough to break her fall (I don’t really understand that). She did suffer severe injuries, but is recovering quickly. My bottom line with cliffhangers is that living through it is okay once in a while as long as it doesn’t become the standard way out, and it doesn’t stretch credibility too far.

  3. I agree with you that one or two believable live-through-it endings, if believable enough, are no problem; the fall-from-a-height-into-water escape, for instance, is quite credible (it seems to appear in nearly every Republic serial and in many Universals). I remember reading about a similar airplane-fall survival incident from 1972 or 1973–a student skydiver named Bob Hall who survived a plummet onto a runway (even stranger than the fall into the cow pasture). I’d consider that one, and the cow-pasture one, unacceptable in a serial, but you know what they say about truth being stranger than fiction. I can think of at least two serials (King of the Mounties and Captain Video) that have the hero falling into a haystack from an airplane–which at least provides more padding than a runway or even a pasture.

  4. Just a quick question……I am starting to buy more serials, got just a few, so would you or some of your
    experts give me a tip which ones to go for first?

    Thanks, Dickson

    • Thanks for the question, Dickson; I’ll do my best to answer it. Some of the best serials are, to my mind,
      The Fighting Devil Dogs (Republic, 1938),
      Gang Busters (Universal, 1942),
      Spy Smasher (Republic, 1942),
      Flash Gordon (Universal, 1936),
      Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (Universal, 1938),
      Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (Universal, 1940),
      Zorro’s Fighting Legion (Republic, 1939),
      Hawk of the Wilderness (Republic, 1938),
      Tim Tyler’s Luck (Universal, 1937),
      King of the Texas Rangers (Republic, 1941),
      Perils of Nyoka (Republic, 1942),
      Adventures of Captain Marvel (Republic, 1941),
      Overland Mail (Universal, 1942),
      Burn ’em Up Barnes (Mascot, 1934), and
      Daredevils of the Red Circle (Republic, 1939).

      However, keep in mind that “best” lists are a very subjective thing–and also that this is a very superficial list; there are dozens of other serial well worth watching. The Golden Age of serial-making, from my point of view, runs from about 1938 to 1942–but there are other fans who prefer serials from the World War 2 era or the early 1930s. All of the above serials, and many others, are reviewed on my site; if you’re curious about a specific title, I recommend you check out the review; I try to include enough information to give a reader an idea of whether he’d find the serial interesting or not.

  5. I’m certainly no expert, just a serial geek, and haven’t watched everything, but have watched most of the consensus better serials, and
    (1)–I agree with Jerry about 1938 to 1942 being the serial peak or golden age
    (2)–eight of Jerry’s top serials on in my current top eleven (Flash Gordon, The Fighting Devil Dogs, Daredevil’s of the Red Circle, Zorro’s Fighting Legion, King of the Texas Rangers, Spy Smasher, Perils of Nyoka, Gang Busters)
    (3)–the other three? Mysterious Dr. Satan (great villain and robot), The Crimson Ghost (best serial villain and henchman), King of the Rocketmen (wonderful flying scenes)
    (4)–why eleven? Because I am too wimpy to kick off one of my favorites to make it a top ten.
    (5)–close misses (Dick Tracy’s G-Men, Jungle Girl, Drums of Fu Manchu, The Red Rider)
    (6)–My personal likes–western serials. I especially like the late thirties epic western serials (The Painted Stallion, Flaming Frontiers, The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok). They are really in a different class than either the B’s or even later A’s, as with the help of stock footage and non-stop action, they have real scope and seem like old dime novel western adventures come to life.
    (7)–I like but most don’t seem to–The two Superman serials. the flying scenes are cheap animation, but otherwise I find them charming and well cast.
    (8)–the big name serial which didn’t do it for me? Buck Rogers. After the Flash Gordon series, this proved a super let-down. I found it lacking in almost all regards except production values.
    (9)–best campy jungle serials–Tim Tyler’s Luck, Jungle Girl, Jungle Jim, Tarzan the Tiger), action, hungry animals, and guys in ratty gorilla suits. All you could ever want in a jungle adventure.

  6. All sound serials exist, except for 11 Universal’s from 1929-32 and two independent serials. Also, only the first six chapters of CLANCY OF THE MOUNTED are available, and one chapter of BRENDA STARR, REPORTER is missing. All existing serials are available, some only through the grey market, but some titles are not from good quality prints, like BRICK BRADFORD. Some of the dealers in the grey market are honest in telling you what the quality is of particular titles.
    I’m not sure this is allowed here, but two good sources are VCI, and most releases from the Serial Squadron. The Squadron has the best quality on DRUMS OF FU MANCHU, THE LONE RANGER, DAREDEVILS OF THE WEST, and KING OF THE MOUNTIES.

    • I think it is a good idea to be able to publish your thoughts on the quality of different products here. We are all here because of how we feel about these films, and the viewing experience determines to some extent how we rank them. Some serials I got on VHS were so bad I couldn’t finish them (Iron Claw, Chandu, New Adventures of Tarzan) but I might have really enjoyed them if that wasn’t the case. Could be a great serial but if it’s all washed out or too dark we won’t watch it. If participants can provide some objective guidance as to the best prints out there it would benefit all of us.

      VCI is a premier vendor I think, most of what I have is from them, and I haven’t ordered any from Serial Squadron but it appears the quality is great there because of the significant restoration efforts they make, you can see clips on their web site to judge. Republic’s own reissues on tape in the 90’s were of course excellent and some looked (and still do) like they were filmed yesterday. I know Alpha is very inexpensive, Undersea Kingdom was fine but Blake was hard to watch as there was no film restoration done, and the print was rough. Hermitage Hill seemed to do great restorations but alas, their last chapter has played, although the web site is still active. A seller on eBay has a ton of them for short money but I don’t know how good they are. I just found a vendor in Australia that has a high quality angle and I’ll order a couple from him as a test.

      So I guess we just keep looking for good quality, I don’t want to miss the diamond for the rough.

  7. At the Serial Squadron, Dr. Grood will spend more months restoring a serial than anyone else would ever dream of, but sometimes he gets too creative and botches a project royally. He obtained an excellent print of THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, but modernized it tinting ray gun blasts purple, adding music, etc. But he did do a restoration on THE LONE RANGER that is miles ahead of any other version. DAREDEVILS OF THE WEST is missing five reels of sound, so he recreated the dialogue, music, and sound effects that is so well done that you sometimes can’t tell where the new sound ends, and the original sound track begins. Grood did the voice for Robert Frazer, and is so spot on, you would swear it is Frazer.

  8. I have no objection to open discussions of serial DVDS here; I rarely compare and contrast video quality in my reviews, since I’m more focused on critical analysis, but I agree that it’s important for fans to know where to locate good prints of these serials. VCI is definitely the most all-round dependable producer of serial DVDs; Alpha’s stuff is often of uneven quality, and generally inferior to VCI’s–although Alpha’s print of the Galloping Ghost is excellent. Dr. Grood did do a good job with Daredevils of the West and many other serials, but their prices are usually higher than VCI’s or Alpha’s; Grood can also be very erratic when it comes to returns or shipping schedules.

  9. Thanks for the suggestions! I had Overland Mail and Flaming Frontiers in my queue, so Overland Mail is up next. I just finished re-watching The Miracle Rider, so I would usually switch it up to another type of serial … but I’m a big Noah Sr. and Jr. fan. I’m surprised to find another serial that features them together. I’ll save further comments for Sr.’s Villain page.

  10. Michael, I think you will enjoy OVERLAND MAIL. Somehow it just works for me. Lon Chaney Jr, Noah Beery Jr, and Don Terry make a great team together.

  11. Jerry, you haven’t posted any reviews here for over a month. I hope everything is going well with you.

    Best,

    Lovable Pa Stark

    • Hello, Pa. Thanks for asking about me; I’m doing OK–just working hard on completely revising and publishing the Character Actors sections right now, which hasn’t left me any time to put up any new reviews; I will return to reviewing eventually.

  12. Hi Jerry! I’m a Grandson of John Merton, and Nephew of Lane Bradford. I can’t thank you enough for your extensive research into the careers of my family, and so many other wonderful actors. Please know your work is very, very much appreciated! Sincerely, Rick Sparks

    • Thanks for the “thank you,” Mr. Sparks; delighted to hear from, and to know that you enjoyed the pieces on your family. If you have any anecdotes or other information to add about your grandfather or uncle, please feel free to add them in the comments sections on the pieces; I’m always eager to learn more about these actors from their own relatives.

  13. Well this is a real cliffhanger. Thanks so much for your thoughtful and insightful reviews of these cinematic poor second cousins we are so fond of. I have enjoyed them and the comments very much. Have a great summer, and we’ll see you again in the fall. In the meantime I’m going to try and dig up those final six chapters of Clancy of the Mounted I put down in the basement a few years back :) .

  14. Howdy Jerry. Just found out about your site from The Classic Horror Forum Richard Jones FINAL PASSINGS post.
    Love me some serials. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. God bless you and yours, Dan

  15. Jerry – your in depth reviews have really changed the way I watch serials now. One thought I had recently was just how frequent a plot device loss of consciousness is. Besides the obligatory girl-gets-knocked-out-in fight-scene requirement, or good-guy-gets-knocked-out-so-bad-guys can escape, so many serials use either unconsciousness or loss of individual humanity as a part of the plot. Killer Kane’s amnesia helmet, Daka’s zombies, Flash I’s Draught of Forgetfulness, Dale Arden’s loss of memory in Flash II, Red Grange’s pal’s amnesia, Dick Tracy’s brother, C. Montague Shaw in Undersea Kingdom, Fu’s Dacoits, Radio Patrol’s hypnotized bad guy, various hypnotized subjects of Victor Poten, Scarab’s cigars, and a Mascot serial (I forget which one) where John Wayne was driven around unconscious for about two full chapters, for example. Seems to pop up quite often.

  16. Really like your reviews. Learning so much. I would like to know if it is possible to have a section on
    all those character people, some of whom I have just heard of but never can find a picture of, so when I see
    them I can put a name to. I know this will be a huge job. You list so many in your reviews but where do
    I find pictures of them? Have tried a lot of sources, to no avail. Thanks for letting me ramble.

    Dickson

    • Thanks for the comment, Dickson; as you can see, I’ve covered some prominent character players in the Character Actors section linked from the top of the page, although obviously that’s very far from comprehensive. My reviews often feature screencaps of some of the supporting players featured in the serial, and might be of help; if you’re looking for information on a particular name or face, feel free to ask here in the comments section and I’ll be happy to see if I can ID the actor in question. That’s the best I can do at present, I’m afraid, but sometime in the future I’ll be adding substantially to the Character Actors section (as well as the Heroes, Heroines, Villains, Sidekicks, and Henchmen sections)–and might also add a gallery of actors who didn’t do enough serials to warrant a whole section.

  17. I discovered your fine writings years ago and have been a fan ever since. There is nothing like reviews from “Jerry Blake”- fair, penetrating, while instructive on what makes this bygone genre so much fun. It was through you, for example, that I was made aware of the stylish, low-angle camera work of “Captain America.” Keep up the brilliant work; this site is a treasure trove!

  18. I followed a thread for Carlos (Charles) Stevens and read the info on your website. The statement made that he was a grandson of Geronimo is fictitious and might have been used to create his image and get acting work. His mother Eloisa was a Michelena whose parents emigrated from Sonora, Mexico to Solomonville, AZ. Eloisa married George Stevens who served for a while as Sheriff of Graham County and who was previously married to an Indian woman who died in 1882 long before Carlos was born.

  19. Hi Jerry: I just found a link to an audio commentary to accompany a viewing of Island of Doomed Men (starring Robert Wilcox) produced by a Peter Lorre fan. I have enjoyed these special features when they are on dvd’s but I had never thought of creating a commentary on separate media to play along with a film. It seemed like an interesting wrinkle on reviewing films and given your wealth of knowledge I wondered if you had ever seen this approach and what your thoughts might be on its utility in adding to the enjoyment of viewing serials.

    I think it could afford a different view from the printed word, much like the film Spider and the pulp Spider (no comparison!). Alerting the viewer to locations, stuntmen, mistakes, stock footage and its origins, etc.as the scenes appear might be fun and informative.
    Mike

    • Creating unofficial serial commentary tracks via separate media does sound like an idea that would indeed be both fun and informative–provided the commentary didn’t wind up featuring the painful attempts at wisecracking “humor” that I’ve heard on some fan-created serial commentary tracks (I name no names). I’d love to someday hear a commentary on a serial delivered by some encyclopedic expert like Ed Hulse. However, to do such a recording, either with comments by myself or by someone else, I’d have to first get a handle on the technology involved, not necessarily an easy task for someone who’s not exactly a master of hi-tech. Nevertheless, I will add the idea to my list of projects to be considered someday down the line, when I’ve finished all my written reviews.

  20. Thanks for your response, It seemed like quite a novel idea to me, but then again I am often surprised by the obvious. I didn’t know fans had attempted a humorous version. An encyclopedic source would be terrific since there is a fair amount of information out there not gathered in one place. For me though the written word is more comprehensive, thorough and illustrative, and your reviews are all of these.

    • Well, the two tracks I’m thinking of weren’t intended as completely humorous, but the people who did them kept lapsing into “funny” voices and trying to make jokes; the result wasn’t pretty. Thanks for the kind words about my writing, by the way; it’s always encouraging to hear that my efforts are being enjoyed–particularly after having to slog through a mess like Young Eagles!

  21. That was a tough one for sure, but I found some parts to like. Got a huge kick out of the exhibitor’s lament! I hope Dr Stedman’s books see the light of day again. He seemed to share a critical viewpoint similar to Tuska. Both looked at unrealistic characterizations in westerns, Tuska with heroes and Dr Stedman with Native Americans. His book on the serial was outstanding, and I’d love to read the two volumes of the Companion. Keeping my fingers crossed.

  22. I am Dr. Stedman’s son Craig. I found this by chance. I have been dealing with his estate. As part of that process, his notes and electronic files are now in the possession and control of my brother Eric. I know all his recent books exist because I made sure to preserve them. There are even extensive materials for ones he couldn’t finish but were almost ready. They could be printed as I am sure he would want them to be but it must go through Eric who -as you probably know – can be reached at his Serial Squadron website.

    My father would be smiling now knowing what he loved so much is being discussed and that he is not forgotten.
    He suffered tremendously last year but he never despaired or gave up on wanting to write more on the serials -even when it was obvious that he would never write again. For those of you who knew him -I thank you for being his friend and sharing his interests.

    • Mr. Stedman, thank you very much for taking care to preserve your father’s books, for posting to let us know their current status, and for your kind comments about the site. I had the honor to assist Dr. Stedman in preparing some of those books, and–as I’ve said elsewhere–it was his Movie Serial Companion that inspired me to re-launch this site; as long as I can, I’ll try to ensure that serial research and reviewing maintains a presence on the Internet.

      Daniel J. Neyer

  23. Hi, First time poster here. My usual site handle is Sgt King because I’m a 31 year retired military Master Sergeant and my favorite serial is King Of The Royal Mounted.
    Your interesting and detailed critiques of serials are first class and very well thought out.
    Thank you so much for this site, all the work you put into it and it certainly IS been read and followed!
    Didn’t you and I meet at one of the Newtown Serial Fests?
    Sgt King of Ohio..

  24. Jerry,
    My father Gene Rizzi was in “Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe” (1940) and “The Green Hornet” (1940) and “Junior G-Men” (1940). Are you aware of any other serials he may have been in? I believe he did Charlie Chan serials and westerns as well from 1937 to 1943. I would certainly welcome your input.

    Allen Rizzi
    Etowah, NC

    • Thanks very much for commenting here and on the Green Hornet page, Mr. Rizzi; I’m afraid that the three serials you name are the only ones I’ve seen your father in; the only other movie I’ve noticed him in is The Saint In Palm Springs, one of the RKO “Saint” B-mystery series; he pops up there as a bartender working with the villains. The Internet Movie Database claims he was also in To Be Or Not to Be, with Jack Benny, as one of the Polish RAF pilots; I’ve seen that movie, but can’t recall spotting him–however, if he is in it I’m sure he can probably be found in the scene in which the assembled pilots give the Stanley Ridges character messages to take to Poland.

      Your father made a very good villain in the serials he was in, and I wish he’d made more serial appearances; I wish I had more information on him to give you. If you have any stories about his film-making experiences or anything else, please feel free to share them with us here.

  25. Jerry,

    Thanks for getting back to me. After plying heavies in serials, my father made several movies including To Be Or Not To Be, Ten Gentlemen From West point, China Girl, Crash Dive, The Destroyer and The Outlaw. In Howard Hughes’ The Outlaw, he played the stranger who draws on Billy the Kid. As most know, this movie was cut and heavily edited before it was released. In the final version, my father’s character seems to come out of nowhere; before the cuts, his character was introduced at the beginning of the film and developed until the shootout.

    Here’s an interesting side note of interest. As most would agree, Howard Hughes was a little peculiar. He insisted on retaking the scene where my father gets shot over two dozen times! Each time, my father had to endure a spring loaded sling that jerked him backwards into a wall. That’s a lot of physical abuse for one small scene.

    Another quick note about my father: He was a concert violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra before going into radio and films. In the movie Ten Gentlemen From West Point, he was asked to play “country fiddle” for one scene. That always seemed ironic to me.

    Before going into theater and movies, my father was involved with serial radio broadcasts such as The Shadow. He also briefly played with the Fox Studio Orchestra that supported sound tracks for various movies.

    I am still trying to locate the radio broadcasts as well as some of the other serials in which I believe my father appeared.

    • Again, thanks very much for that wealth of additional information, Mr. Rizzi. That’s an interesting anecdote about your dad’s experiences on The Outlaw; I recall reading about how Howard Hughes did a similar thing to Robert Mitchum during the making of the film His Kind of Woman. Hughes kept ordering retake after retake of a brief scene where Mitchum got beaten with a belt by one of the villains; “peculiar,” to say the least.

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