blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 1: Who Is the Clutching Hand?

Who Is the Clutching Hand? opens with Robert Walker getting out of prison. The warden warns him not to be a recidivist; Walker tells him he’s going to keep being a crook, he’s just not going to get caught.

Is Walker the Clutching Hand? Who knows.

The action then moves to a boring board room meeting with CEO Mahlon Hamilton yelling at his staff. Is he the Clutching Hand? Who knows.

There are a lot of characters momentarily introduced in this first chapter of The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand but no one gets much emphasis. Walker eventually gets into a bar fight where Jon Hall, as his criminal buddy, gets introduced. The bar fight has the same cheap factor the rest of the serial has going against it, but at least it’s energetic. By the end of the chapter, there’s barely any energy.

After Walker and Hamilton get introduced, it’s Robert Frazer’s turn. He’s a scientist (who works for Hamilton) and he’s just discovered a way to turn any material into gold. He has a lab at home (or near it, it’s somewhat unclear) so he can get visitors like Rex Lease, the reporter who’s romancing Frazer’s daughter, Marion Shilling.

Hamilton and Shilling don’t get introduced until the action has jumped ahead to the evening, when Frazer is giving secretary Ruth Mix dictation of the formula for gold-making. Not the whole thing, but some of it.

Then, after she leaves the room, someone attacks him. But they’ve turned out the lights so we can’t see who. Lease tries to intercede but gets knocked down some stairs–he just catches a glimpse of Frazer on the floor, apparently dead. They call the cops real fast and discover the body gone–it takes the cops to get back into the room–so Lease calls his pal, deductive detective Jack Mulhall in to investigate.

They find a note to Mulhall threatening him to stay away, signed “The Clutching Hand.” Turns out The Clutching Hand is some kind of master villain who Mulhall has tangled with in the past.

If this first chapter is any indication, Amazing Exploits doesn’t have much going for it–probably very few amazing exploits. Technically it’s… low mediocre. Nearly adequate? It’s cheap. Frazer’s big house–oh, right, turns out Walker has it in for the doctor–anyway, he’s got a big house and there’s a lot of action around it. However some exterior shots of the house are clearly poorly altered interiors (like the front door). Then there are exterior shots, which cinematographer James Diamond can’t really shoot, and Earl Turner jaggedly cuts together with the interior shooting to poor effect.

And the car chase, though not plotted poorly, isn’t well-executed.

Plus no one seems very smart (especially the cops). Mulhall’s supposed to be a genius, but he falls into a trap at the end of the first chapter so the big brain on Mulhall is in question. Also, Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald​’s script just writes him as a Sherlock Holmes knockoff and not one to take seriously. Occasionally the script does have a gem of a line, however, and it’s a shock.

The cast’s not in it enough to make much impression (Shilling and step-mom Mae Busch are currently set dressing), the direction is no great shakes, the mystery isn’t mysterious. So far Amazing Exploits is anything but.


Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).


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