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


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