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.

The story actually begins with a fairly exciting bit of action, as we see pilot-in-training Ruth Miller (the lovely Marjorie Wheeler) trying to pull out of a nose dive and finally managing to land her plane, then wheedling her trainer "Bob" (played by an uncredited Joel Allen) into approving her for her license. Rushing to her scientist father's house to give him the news, she interrupts one of his experiments. In short order we also meet his assistant, Dr. Hause, and her fiancee, Jim Hudson, portrayed by a very young Milburn Stone (whom those of a certain age will remember as Doc Adams from TV's Gunsmoke). We soon find out that Doctor Miller is working on an invention called the Paratron, a weapon which could, as usual in this sort of story, change the face of the war.

Of course, it turns out that the Paratron requires a particular mineral to work properly - a mineral which can only be found in Alaska! Soon, our intrepid adventurers are off to the snowy state where they must contend with Nazi spies, avalanches, explosions, icebergs, lots of stock footage, and the usual contentious shenanigans. Again, is it High Art? No. But is it a fun little adventure and a good way to pass a couple of hours on, say, a rainy Sunday afternoon? Definitely.

Let's take a look:

The Great Alaskan Mystery can be watched or downloaded in it's entirety for free at the Internet Archives. (Click here for chapter one.) It can also be ordered on DVD from Amazon:

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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