When reclusive prospector John Laurie is murdered, Sergeant Tom Clancy (Tom Tyler) of the Royal Canadian Mounted investigates–and finds a knife belonging to his brother Steve (Earl McCarthy) at the scene of the crime. Steve, a farmer who’s recently had a property-line dispute with Laurie, flees to the wilderness when he learns he’s suspected of the murder; the Sergeant is sure of his brother’s innocence, but must bring him in before he can start to hunt for the real killer. The killer in question is actually Pierre LaRue (Leon Duval), the henchman of local trading-post proprietor Black MacDougal (William L. Thorne); MacDougal knows that Laurie recently discovered valuable pitchblende deposits, and ordered the prospector’s murder to clear the way for a takeover of these deposits (by means of a forged land grant). However, MacDougal was unaware of the existence of Laurie’s daughter Ann (Jacqueline Wells) when he concocted this scheme; the girl unexpectedly arrives in town looking for her father, which means MacDougal and LaRue must remove her too in order to safely acquire her father’s property. Their attempts to kill her are repeatedly thwarted by Sergeant Clancy, who soon realizes that the men behind these mysterious attacks on the girl are also responsible for the framing of his brother.
Clancy of the Mounted was one of the many “lost” early-1930s Universal serials until 2012, when collector Robert Mohr purchased Clancy’s first six chapters from an Ebay seller and made them available on DVD. Unfortunately, the seller didn’t have the second half of Clancy, and the serial’s remaining episodes are still lost as of this writing–which means the following review will be an incomplete one.
Clancy takes its title and its opening quotation from a poem by Robert W. Service, but its screenplay–the work of Ella O’Neill, Harry Hoyt, and Basil Dickey–is original. Like the storylines of most of Universal’s other early-1930s serials, the main plot of Clancy is simple and small-scaled, but easily captures the viewer’s interest through the incorporation of many strong character moments. Most of these arise from the affectionate relationship between hero Tom Clancy and his brother Steve–which is not just used as a pretext to get the hero into a struggle with the villains, as in so many later chapterplays. Instead, it’s established elaborately and movingly in the unusual opening sequence, in which Tom presides over the delivery of Steve’s child–giving a genuinely poignant air to the ensuing sequences in which Tom reluctantly but firmly pursues the fugitive Steve through the wilds; this pursuit is concluded (in Chapter Three) with another moving scene in which the two brothers re-establish their trust in each other. The scene in which Ann Laurie grimly demands to confront her father’s supposed killer, then reacts with shock and disbelief when she learns that Steve (whom she’s already met and befriended) is the suspect in question, is nicely dramatic as well; Ann’s commiserations with Steve’s worried wife also add a welcome human touch to the serial.
It’s impossible (for obvious reasons) to say anything too definite about Clancy’s overall narrative structure. The first two-and-a-half episodes do an adroit job of balancing Tom’s manhunt for Steve with the villains’ efforts to exterminate Anne–but, once the manhunt is ended by Steve’s surrender, the script narrows its focus to the plot against Ann, leading to a somewhat repetitious series of attempted murders, kidnappings, and ensuing rescues during the next several chapters. However, these episodes also contain signs that the plot is soon going to stop spinning its wheels and branch off in new directions: Clancy begins to lay plans for an investigation of the renegade Indians who’ve been serving as LaRue’s accomplices, and (in Chapter Six) starts to voice suspicions of LaRue himself. The references to the shady trapper Slade, whom Ann and Tom both wrongly suspect of involvement in John Laurie’s murder, but who is shown (when he finally appears in Chapter Six) to be involved in other crooked dealings, also promise further interesting developments. With the second half of Clancy still missing, there’s no way of knowing how thoroughly O’Neill, Dickey, and Hoyt exploited these plotting avenues, but they certainly seem to have given themselves enough story material to satisfactorily fill out their remaining chapters.
The action scenes in the surviving segments of Clancy are mostly unspectacular, but are consistently well-handled by director Ray Taylor; I’d venture a guess that Cliff Lyons, who doubled Buck Jones in Universal’s Gordon of Ghost City the same year, handles at least some of the serial’s stuntwork, like the transfer from the horse to the runaway wagon in Chapter Three. Tom Tyler’s nicely ferocious grapple with “Slade” in Chapter Six is the only extended hand-to-hand combat in the existing footage; most of the action scenes consist of horseback pursuit scenes–including Tom’s chase after Steve in Chapter Three and the running gun battles with the villains in Chapters One, Three, and Five. These horseback gunfights, like those in the aforementioned Gordon and other Universals of the period, carefully deemphasize deadly violence; the few characters who do get hit by bullets make a point of getting up and staggering away afterwards. However, the briskness of the chases that accompany the gunfights, and the skill with which they’re photographed and edited, still gives these galloping combats an energetic and exciting aura–and help to distract from the fact that nobody is really hitting anything, despite the frequent gunfire.
The horseback chases and the serial’s other outdoor sequences (like Tom’s dismounted tracking of Steve in Chapter Two) are shot in the woods near Lake Sherwood, on the Universal ranch, and elsewhere on the Universal backlot–where the studio’s older Western town set serves as the settlement of Old Fort. All of these settings make attractive and perfectly believable rural-Canadian locations–once one adjusts to the conspicuous absence of the San Bernardino National Forest locales featured in every other sound-era Mountie serial. The Canadian atmosphere is also augmented by judiciously placed stock shots of Northern fauna such as moose, elk, and wolves. Lake Sherwood itself is utilized in the excellent canoeing sequence in Chapter One–which has heroine Ann getting chased out onto out dangerous waters by Indian attackers, Steve jumping from a cliff in an attempt to help her right her out-of-control craft, and both of them getting submerged in rapids for the episode’s cliffhanger (the rapids appear to be stock-footage-derived, but the stock is incorporated very smoothly).
The canoe cliffhanger is juxtaposed with Tom’s apparent shooting from his horse by Indians; Chapter Two also concludes with a double cliffhanger in which Tom is apparently shot by Steve’s friend Bordeau and Ann is pitched from a cliff by a misbehaving horse. Most of the subsequent cliffhanging perils are faced jointly by hero and heroine; the most memorable of these is the conclusion of Chapter Four, which has Tom, Ann, and a prisoner crossing a suspension bridge that’s struck by lightning. The “live-through-it” resolution of this cliffhanger is unimaginative but makes sense enough, while the similar resolutions of the Chapter Three wagon crash and the horsefalls in Chapters Two and Five are a little less believable–though not in the same unbelievable league as some of the resolutions in other Universal chapterplays.
Tom Tyler’s characteristic combination of imposing seriousness and unassuming friendliness is perfectly suited to Clancy’s title role; he’s properly stern and grim when pursuing his investigations, or when refusing to give rein to his personal feelings about the case–but is also likably easygoing and good-natured in lighter interchanges with his brother or with the heroine; his modestly reflective air after he’s delivered the baby in the first chapter is particularly appealing. Jacqueline Wells–who was billed as Diane Duval in her previous serial, Heroes of the West, and would later change her name yet again (to “Julie Bishop”) is equally appealing as heroine Anne; as in West, she’s delicately pretty in appearance but energetically spunky in demeanor, though she comes off as more thoughtful and responsible than in that earlier chapterplay. Earl McCarthy (who sadly died of a heart attack not long after Clancy’s release) does a good job as the harried Steve Clancy, managing to successfully convey nervousness and emotional conflict without seeming whiny or wimpy (always a difficult task for portrayers of wrongfully accused young men).
Above left: Tom Tyler is stunned by the discovery of his brother’s knife at the murder scene, while Tom London tries to talk him into giving up the investigation. Above right: Jacqueline Wells tells the seated Rosalie Roy of her determination to track down her father’s killer.
The serial’s heavies are less interesting than its protagonists. Leon Duval acts entertainingly swaggering and sinister as Pierre LaRue, but his performance is undercut by his overdone and unconvincing attempt at a French-Canadian accent, and by his rather ludicrous appearance; he’s given longish hair to make him look like a backwoodsman, but the hair–when combined with his clean-shaven face and his heavy eye makeup–winds up making him look more like a silent-screen vamp than a ferocious outlaw. William L. Thorne comes off better as the brains heavy MacDougal; his self-assured speaking voice and dignified but flintily crafty appearance are well-suited to his respected citizen/secret villain role. However, he has almost nothing to do but engage in periodic plotting sessions, and doesn’t directly interact with Tyler until Chapter Six. He probably became more prominent in the missing later episodes–not only because Tyler presumably got closer and closer to unmasking him as the serial progressed, but also because the script continually foreshadows a serious falling-out between Thorne’s character and Duval’s–who keeps pointedly reminding his boss that he expects a “feefty-feefty” split.
William Desmond has a meaty character role as the well-meaning but troublemaking lumberjack Dave Moran, who initially urges Steve to flee, later whips up a mob to spring him from jail, and loudly berates Tom for his “inhumanity” in arresting his brother. Desmond, who gives much freer range than usual to his natural Irish accent, delivers an entertainingly boisterous performance in this somewhat atypical part. Francis Ford is also good as Sergeant Clancy’s gravely authoritative but fair-minded commanding officer; old friends Edmund Cobb and Tom London make multiple appearances as two of Clancy’s fellow-Mounties–the former stalwart and serious, the latter stalwart and genial.
Rosalie Roy has prominent billing but not much screen time as Steve’s concerned wife; still, her performance is likably sympathetic, while the very presence of her character (and of the above-mentioned baby) lends yet more emotional weight to Steve’s plight. Veteran screen Indian Artie Ortego figures prominently in the first two chapters as Steve’s rather lawless but thoroughly loyal “breed trapper” friend Bordeau; Al Ferguson pops up briefly as another trapper, and the remarkably ugly Steve Clemente has an extended showcase as a renegade Indian in Chapter Four. The actor who plays the shifty Slade is uncredited and unfamiliar to me, but Slade’s Indian accomplice Wolf Fang is portrayed by none other than Frank Lackteen–who quite possibly had more screen time in the complete serial, but only appears long enough in the incomplete version to seemingly knife Tyler at the end of Chapter Six.
In its current fragmentary condition, Clancy of the Mounted makes for somewhat frustrating viewing, cutting off as it does after Chapter Six. However, it’s more than good enough to make one wish for the discovery of its remaining episodes; here’s hoping that I can someday thoroughly revise and update this review.