Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Serials - Riders of Death Valley (1941)

Well, after last week's trip to Alaska, it seems only fitting that this week we head back out to the heat of the wild west, so why don't we do that riding along with the Riders of Death Valley?

This was Universal's 51st serial of the talkie era, and as you might expect, by that point things had gotten rather formulaic. Nonetheless, Universal promoted this one as the first "Million Dollar Serial". Now I'll freely admit I have no idea how that price compares to other serials of the time, but it's hard to see where they could have expended that kind of budget, unless most of it went to the cast to get them to star in this rather standard shoot 'em up.

Actually, the idea that a large part of the budget went to casting is not all that far-fetched. When you have the likes of Dick Foran, Buck Jones, Charles Bickford, Lon Chaney Jr., Noah Beery Jr. and Leon Carillo all brought together for one serial, you do have the makings of some fine character acting. Unfortunately, those characters are saddled with names like Tombstone, Borax Bill, Butch, Smokey, Tex, and Trigger, along with a script that shows only a  little more imagination than those nicknames.

So, is it a BAD serial? Well, no. The middle chapters do drag quite a bit, but it does pick up towards the end. But compared to last week's entry, it simply doesn't have that "bring 'em back next week" quality that is really requisite for a truly successful series. Especially when one considers the potential that could have been had with that kind of budget and those stars.

But, hey, how about if I let ya have a look at it and then you can decide for yourself. Below is chapter 11 (don't worry, there's actually a pretty good scrolling summary to get you caught up on the essentials), and if you decide you want to watch the rest, they're available here.

 Riders of Death Valley is also available on DVD from Amazon:

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Charade (1963) - What's In a Name?

*** Special Note: It's not often that I really feel a need to put a SPOILER WARNING at the head of one of these write-ups. After all, generally we're talking about films that go back as far as the very earliest days of movie-making Even today's film is nearly 50 years old. So there is a large part of me that says anything in the movie is fair game to talk about. Nonetheless, a huge part of the enjoyment of this movie is the twists and turns that it takes, and there is no real way to discuss it in any meaningful way without revealing at least some of these. Although I've tried to do so without revealing too much, if you are one of those people who truly likes to go into a movie without knowing what's going to happen, you might want to go ahead and watch it (it is available on Netflix "Watch Instantly", at the Internet Archives, and even on YouTube, along with great looking Criterion Blu-Ray and DVD editions) and then come back to read this.

Simply put, though, this movie gets my highest recommendation. If you love thrillers, especially those with a comic twist, I think you'll really enjoy this one. Beyond that, well, if you want to know more, keep reading, but you have been warned.***

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Serials - The Great Alaskan Mystery (1944)

Ok, kiddies, we're taking a step away from the superheroes today for a serial that's very simply just a good ol' adventure story.

Y'know, there are some things you really have to keep in mind when you are watching these old serials. First off, they were not designed to be high art. They were not made to have the highest production values, or to withstand critical analysis or to "stand the test of time" they were simply meant for one purpose - to bring the kids back to the theater the next week. This means they had to have thrills. They had to have a fairly decent mystery that moved along each week, whether or not it was even "internally consistent". And they had to have enough of a cliffhanger to give the kids something to think, talk, and maybe argue about until it was time for next week's show. And The Great Alaskan Mystery, while it may not be The Best Serial Ever, certainly fulfills those criteria.

Unless otherwise noted, all movies discussed on this blog and all associated materials are believed to be in the Public Domain. If you are a copyright holder for any of these materials, please email me. Unless otherwise noted, all material created for this blog by Professor Damian is licensed under a Creative Commons license as described below. Creative Commons License
Professor Damian's Public Domain Treasure Chest by Professor Damian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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