World War Two is in full swing, and Japan is secretly preparing for a full-scale invasion of Canada’s western coast. To pave the way for this invasion, Japanese Admiral Yamata (Abner Biberman) has established a secret military base inside a Canadian volcano–from which he and his two Axis colleagues, Germany’s Marshal Von Horst (William Vaughn) and Italy’s Count Baroni (Nestor Pavia) supervise a destructive sabotage campaign, using a stealthy new plane called the Falcon to make swift and surreptitious strikes against their selected targets. However, Sergeant Dave King (Allan Lane) of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police leads a campaign of his own against the Axis officials and their fifth-columnist agents, repeatedly thwarting their land and air assaults on Canada’s wartime defenses; he receives valuable aid from a plane-detecting device invented by an American scientist named Brent, and from Brent’s daughter Carol (Peggy Drake)–who takes over the operation of the device after her father is killed by Yamata’s henchmen.
Like G-Men vs. the Black Dragon, which followed it on Republic’s production schedule, King of the Mounties consists almost entirely of an episodic series of battles between a hero and a pair of recurring henchmen (the fifth-columnists Blake and Stark)–battles that usually conclude with a spectacular explosion. The dramatic moments, sequential plotting, and occasional character touches that marked many of Republic’s pre-war Golden Age serials are all eschewed in favor of a non-stop parade of action sequences, with an emphasis on fistfights; this reductive approach to serial-making, would, of course become standard at Republic during the war and in the post-war era.
However, while Mounties marks the beginning of a more formulaic epoch at Republic, it–like the aforementioned Black Dragon–is highly entertaining and extremely well-produced. Though its storyline is rudimentary, writers Ronald Davidson, Taylor Caven, Joseph O’Donnell, William Lively, and Joseph Poland keep it from ever seeming too repetitious–punctuating the villains’ attempts to sabotage dams, bridges, munitions plants, oil fields, and similar targets with their periodic efforts to steal or destroy the Brent plane detector. The writers also make shrewd use of the nifty Falcon plane, bringing it out to enliven the action at strategic intervals, but never over-exposing it.
The writers, director William Witney, and editors Edward Todd and Tony Martinelli weave several stock-footage sequences from Republic’s first Sgt. King serial (King of the Royal Mounted) into Mounties–most notably in Chapter Nine, which reuses the entire cave-smelter fight scene from Royal Mounted and follows it with a motorboat chase also borrowed from the earlier chapterplay. These sequences (and shorter scenes like the horseback pursuit of the truck in Chapter One or the car chase in Chapter Eight) are integrated seamlessly into the new footage–although details like the appearance by Harry Cording (Royal Mounted’s action heavy) or Dave Sharpe’s presence in the smelter fight (Sharpe was in the Army Air Force when Mounties was filmed) will be dead giveaways to those familiar with the first serial.
The new action scenes in Mounties are quite as strong as the older ones borrowed from Royal Mounted; the fights are less acrobatic than those in the first serial (due to Sharpe’s absence), but are more spectacularly destructive, with the participants inventively demolishing sets and props in chapter after chapter. A few of the fistfight highlights include the Chapter One combat between Steele and Terrell inside the abandoned riverboat, the cabin fights in Chapters Three and Seven, the hillside/cliff-edge fight in Chapter Six, the Chapter Eight fight in the munitions warehouse (which makes good use of some precariously stacked barrels and boxes), and the excellent trading-post fight in Chapter Eleven (which takes stuntmen Tom Steele and Duke Green through two rooms–toppling shelves, chucking canned goods through the air, and splintering furniture in the process).
Above, top left: Battling stuntmen Tom Steele and Ken Terrell take a fall from a landing. Top right: A stack of boxes topple during as Steele and Duke Green (not visible in this shot) battle behind them. Bottom left: Steele sends Duke Taylor (and a table) flying backwards. Bottom right: Allan Lane slugs Duncan Renaldo in a fight-scene closeup.
Tom Steele and Duke Taylor take turns standing in for hero Allan Lane in these brawls and many others, with Steele doubling action heavy Bradley Page part of the time; Duke Green doubles the serial’s other principal action heavy, Anthony Warde (Green also doubles minor villain Duncan Renaldo and plays several one-shot thugs). Ken Terrell contributes some impressive action work as well, stunting in his own person and doubling for various one-shot heavies. As in some of the other early wartime Republics (Secret Service in Darkest Africa, Captain America), pitting gymnasts Green and Terrell against brawlers like Steele and Taylor makes many of Mounties’ fights somewhat more visually interesting than the continual battles between Steele and the more physically similar Dale Van Sickel in most of Republic’s later 1940s serials.
Though the set-smashing fights in Mounties are much more numerous than those in King of the Royal Mounted (or in most of Republic’s other Golden Age serials), director Witney doesn’t allow them to crowd out other varieties of action; sequences like the fight between the Falcon plane and King’s aircraft in Chapter One, the encounter between a Mountie motorboat and a Japanese bomber later in the same episode, King’s horseback pursuit of a runaway station wagon in Chapter Two (which begins with an equestrian leap over an impromptu Japanese roadblock), the gun battle at the barn in Chapter Six, and the terrific shootout on the hillside in Chapter Eleven are staged and executed just as memorably as the fistfights. The serial’s Chapter Twelve climax is also outstanding–featuring a gunfight in the Axis’ leaders’ darkened headquarters, a hand-to-hand struggle between King and a pair of Japanese soldiers, and a narrow escape from molten lava in the burning Falcon plane.
Chapter Eleven’s gunfight at a picturesque cabin perched atop a dam is first-rate as well; this scene was shot inside the beautiful San Bernardino National Forest, as were the aforesaid boat/plane duel, the well-staged ambush and shootout in Chapter One, the excellent chases in Chapters Six and Seven, and almost all of the serial’s other outdoor scenes. King of the Royal Mounted, of course, was also filmed in the Forest, making it easy for Republic to economize by recycling many of the earlier serial’s shots of characters racing through the pines–as during the previously mentioned car and truck chases, or the Chapter Three forest fire scene.
Above left: King clambers across a moored one-time riverboat (a real structure inside the San Bernardino National Forest) to surprise the villains in Chapter One. Above right: A shot from the gunfight by the cabin-on-the-dam in Chapter Eleven.
Some of Royal Mounted’s cliffhanger scenes pop up in Mounties too, although most of these are utilized as in-chapter action (like the near-fall into the bubbling vat or the car crash), not chapter endings. The terrific oil-well fire sequence from King of the Texas Rangers provides the conclusion of Chapter Six–but Mounties still features a high percentage of memorable original cliffhangers, among them the boat/plane collision at the end of Chapter One, the station-wagon/explosives-truck collision in Chapter Two, the truck’s crash into the power unit that concludes Chapter Eight (reused frequently in later Republic serials), and the amazing sequence at the end of Chapter Eleven that has a station wagon hitting the cliffside boulder on which King has taken cover, knocking Mountie and boulder over the cliff. The miniature work in these scenes is superb–being supplied, as usual, by Howard Lydecker and his brother Theodore (the latter is uncredited on screen, for some reason). The Lydecker expertise is also evident in the handling of the Falcon Plane; the miniature representing this ship is quite striking, as are the shots of it cruising into its volcano hangar.
Above left: A truck supposedly containing the hero goes kaboom as it strikes a power unit at the end of Chapter Eight. Above right: A station-wagon strikes a decisive blow on a boulder (and, apparently, on the hero) at the end of Chapter Eleven.
Allan Lane is just as good here as he was in his first go-round as Sgt. King–calmly authoritative most of the time (as when he laconically tells the Axis bigwigs that they’re “under arrest” in the final chapter), but conveying genuine anger when the situation calls for it (witness his expression when Professor Brent is shot). As in King of Royal Mounted, he uses facial expressions to suggest that King is strategizing and pondering courses of action, even in the midst of battles; he also looks and sounds genuinely tired or shaken after fights or narrow escapes.
Like Ralph Byrd in the Dick Tracy serials, Lane is the only good guy on screen for much of Mounties’ running time–although William Bakewell, as his aide Corporal Ross, takes part in several of the action scenes. Bakewell, who suppresses his characteristically stuffy manner, makes a likable enough sidekick, albeit a bland one (Robert Kellard, who filled the supporting-hero role in King of the Royal Mounted, had much more personality). Leading lady Peggy Drake, on the other hand, is a better and more personable actress than Royal Mounted’s Lita Conway–but has very little to do, disappearing for chapters at a time and only coming to the fore when the plane-detector is utilized by the heroes or sought by the villains.
After Lane, the actors who receive the most screen time in Mounties are Bradley Page and Anthony Warde, as henchmen Blake and Stark; both of them are excellent. Page–an accomplished portrayer of gamblers, politicians, crime kingpins, and other slick types in innumerable B-films–is unflappably smug and urbane throughout, convincingly devising plans on his own and conveying coolly formidable intelligence. Warde is thicker-witted but more physically intimidating as his partner in crime–scowling bad-temperedly as he suggests “blasting” King, smirking evilly as he starts an oil-field fire, and generally behaving in viciously thuggish fashion.
Page and Warde’s bosses are played by an excellent group of character actors, but enjoy far less time in the spotlight than their two emissaries. Abner Biberman fares the best as Yamata; though he participates in almost no active villainy, he gets several opportunities to be sneeringly confident and coldly precise as he outlines plans or issues orders, and receives an unusually memorable final scene. Unlike most Caucasian actors, he’s also able to believably portray a Japanese with only a minimum of makeup, thanks to his peculiar facial structure. As Yamata’s Nazi associate, the curtly sinister William Vaughn (who also acted under his real name of William von Brincken) gets to suggest a few villainous ideas of his own, but is mainly restricted to expressing approval of Biberman’s schemes; Nestor Pavia, as the pompous Italian agent, is also underused, but does indulges in some enjoyable blustering.
Douglas Dumbrille, who played memorably sly and dignified heavies in A-films ranging from The Lives of a Bengal Lancer to A Day at the Races, is sadly wasted as Harper, the crooked trading-post proprietor who relays the Axis officials’ orders to Blake and Stark. He gets no chance to concoct plots, threaten the heroes, or affect a pose as a solid citizen (all of which he did remarkably well in so many other films); instead, he remains a glorified messenger boy throughout the serial, almost never interacting with the other players and spending most of his screen time on the radio or the phone. Duncan Renaldo is also wasted as Dumbrille’s shifty but similarly inactive clerk Pierre, though he receives one good furtive moment in Chapter Eleven; Renaldo does a solid job in this atypically villainous part, but would have been better suited to the assistant-hero role played by William Bakewell (in the comic strip on which Mounties was based, Sgt. King had a regular French-Canadian sidekick, Corporal Laroux–the sort of character Renaldo could have played in his sleep).
George Irving, Gilbert Emery, and Russell Hicks (distinguished stage and screen performers all), are cast (respectively) as Professor Brent, Mountie commissioner Morrison, and Canadian military official Marshal Carleton. Irving is killed off in the first chapter, Emery pops up sporadically to issue orders to Allan Lane, and Hicks appears only in the first and last episodes; all are suitably dignified, but none of them are on screen long enough to justify their prominent billing (Irving is listed fifth, Emery second, and Hicks third!)
Allen Jung is good as a diminutive but toughly determined Japanese officer named Sato, who figures prominently in Chapters Ten and Eleven; other Japanese soldiers are played by Paul Fung, Pete Katchenaro, and Kam Tong–all of them, like Jung, genuine Asians, instead of the less convincing made-up Occidental actors found in so many wartime serials. Carleton Young, Jay Novello, Stanley Price, and Hal Talifaferro all appear as Canadian henchmen, as do the members of the serial’s stunt team; Tom Steele and Duke Taylor can be seen as Mounties as well as thugs. Perennial Republic bit player Arvon Dale has more dialogue than usual as another Mountie, while clear-voiced radio announcer/actor John Hiestand is very assured as a Mountie chemist. The venerable Francis Ford appears briefly as a trading-post proprietor who’s gunned down by Bradley Page, Norman Nesbitt (as in almost all his other screen appearances) is a newscaster, and Forrest Taylor pops up as a stationmaster.
Mounties happily recycles large portions of Cy Feuer’s excellent score for King of the Royal Mounted; the memorable opening-credits march from Royal Mounted is played over Mounties’ titles as well, while other themes and cues from the earlier serial are present on the serial’s soundtrack–its existing portions, anyway (see the note on the print below).
King of the Mounties noticeably foreshadows Republic’s later and weaker chapterplays in its corner-cutting use of stock footage, its underuse of its brains heavies, and its high percentage of fistfights; it could fairly be designated as the studio’s first post-Golden-Age serial. However, the expertise of Witney, his stuntmen, and his production team still makes Mounties a remarkably good show.
A Note On Prints: King of the Mounties has unfortunately not survived in intact form; all extant prints are missing more than half the serial’s soundtrack and a few minutes’ worth of picture (in Chapter Three). The “restored” DVD edition put together by Eric Stedman of the Serial Squadron website is by far the most satisfactory available print of the serial; Stedman bridged the Chapter Three picture gap with stills, supplied missing dialogue (derived from the serial’s original script) via subtitles in the soundless portions, and underscored said portions with orchestral arrangements of appropriate pieces of Republic serial music (taken from James King’s old Cliffhangers recording).