Category Archives: Serial Chapter

The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 3: House of Mystery

It’s another action-packed episode. The action is atrociously executed, but there is definitely a lot of it. After a perfunctory cliffhanger resolution, the Clutching Hand sends more thugs after detective Jack Mulhall and his sidekick, reporter Rex Lease (Lease’s professional makes no difference to the plot–he’s just a sidekick at this point). They come after them on motorcycles, so The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand has a motorcycle chase. For a little bit, then it turns into a terrible fist fight with bad everything. Bad direction, bad editing, terrible sound. Just awful sound.

After the fight, Mulhall and Lease finally get to the *House of Mystery*, which isn’t very mysterious. It’s a boarding house. Where there’s a man pretending to be in a wheelchair. He’s also presumably pretending not to be in a terrible wig. He’s probably supposed to be in a wig, but I’m guessing it’s not supposed to be a terrible wig.

Or the House of Mystery is where Mae Busch meets with the psychics. At least they seem like psychics. There’s a lot of characters to following in Clutching Hand and none of them are likable and none of the actors are any good. Mulhall’s got some terrible moments in Mystery, for example. And he’s the lead. He’s supposed to be the hero. You’d want the Clutching Hand to win if he weren’t so terrible too.

There’s a fight with the psychics–but with Robert Walker (I think–there really are way too many characters and all the white guys have brown hair and look the same)–same bad sound effects and editing and so on. Maybe the novel is better? Clutching Hand works hard at being mysterious but it’s a who cares level of mysterious. The filmmakers treat their audience as captives, like they’re being forced to sit through the chapter to get to something they actually want to see.

After the second fist fight, there’s this sequence where Mulhall gets into disguise to go back to the House of Mystery. There was something suspicious about the guy in the bad wig in the wheelchair after all.

There’s a secret passage and a gang hideout and all sorts of stuff under the boarding house.

Sadly Mulhall doesn’t wear the eye patch in his disguise. The eye patch would’ve made it at least silly. Instead, it’s just… not good. At anything.

CREDITS

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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The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 2: Shadows

There are some amusing moments in Shadows; not good moments, but amusing ones. Like when reporter turned detective sidekick Rex Lease trespasses on a boat and assaults the crew members. It’s a perplexing action sequence–the second fistfight in the (very long) chapter–and incompetently cut together. It culminates with Lease’s adversary clearly jumping into the water after being punched in the previous shot. There’s very little point in blaming editor Earl Turner for the terrible cutting. He obviously wasn’t working from very good footage.

Also with the boat fistfight is the lack of diegetic sound. There are some quiet punches looped in, but there’s a lot of silence in Shadows. Usually when there shouldn’t be, like after Lease is poisoned with gas and Jack Mulhall works frantically to save him. Once Lease is in the clear–the chapter runs twenty minutes and every time there’s something dramatic, you just wish it would cliffhang and it never does. But once Lease is in the clear, Mulhall just kind of makes fun of him for not taking the poisoning more seriously. There’s no question as to how or why Lease was poisoned.

The chapter starts with an exceptionally boring cliffhanger resolution, only for a deliveryman to team up with Mulhall and Lease for a car chase. The serial takes The Clutching Hand bit seriously, with the hand appearing out of nowhere (or through special secret, hand-sized passages) to wreck havoc. Or take packages. Anyway, there’s a whole subplot with the delivery guy. And Robert Walker and Jon Hall come back for a scene, because apparently they’re important.

If Mulhall had any good will, he burns through it here. He’s really bad opposite other actors, especially if they’re adversarial. He’s an understated blowhard.

As a spoof or a comedy, Clutching Hand might get some traction. Played straight, it’s just nonsense. Like Lease following suspect Bryant Washburn. Why’s he a suspect? Because he’s… present?

And the Clutching Hand makes an appearance–well, in silhouette because he’s the mystery villain–and gives his orders to his lackies over television. Then laughs manically.

For no apparent reason.

Oh, the car chase. I lost track of the nonsensical car chase with the mysterious moving truck guys attacking the heroes. Shadows is twenty minutes of nonsense flung at the audience.

CREDITS

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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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.

CREDITS

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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Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 15: An Eye for an Eye

An Eye for an Eye is a disappointing finish for Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars but maybe not an unexpected one, not given the serial’s trajectory. The cliffhanger resolution is quick–Buster Crabbe gets away from Charles Middleton due to Middleton’s lack of observational prowess. They’re fitting foes. Neither of them pays attention enough.

While Middleton is going back to turn on the Earth zapping ray, Crabbe and Richard Alexander are wasting time trying to figure out what secret passageway he used. Instead of just going to find him; Middleton thinks they’ll know where he’s headed. Silly Middleton, they have to be told.

Eye also makes it really clear instead of calling Jean Rogers’s character “Dale Arden,” she should just be called, “Dale You Should Stay Here.” Crabbe ditches her again in his effort to save the day.

There are a couple double crosses in the chapter–three, actually–and they change the plotting a bit. Instead of some grand air battle to save the Clay kingdom, instead it’s Crabbe having to rescue his captured friends. Again.

His showdown with Middleton is dramatically inert and lacking in much excitement, especially since it’s truncated by plotting.

The finale uses the same newspaper from the first chapter, only with a different headline, which means poor Donald Kerr is left out of the celebration sequence. It’s particularly unfair since, when he gets to make faces at Middleton (shooting at the good guys with a laser rifle), Kerr has the chapter’s best three seconds.

Eye for an Eye is a bad finish, but Mars has been burning off its goodwill for so long it doesn’t really matter.

Some real bad acting from Middleton here though. Maybe his worst in the serial overall.

CREDITS

Directed by Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill; screenplay by Ray Trampe, Norman S. Hall, Wyndham Gittens, and Herbert Dalmas, based the comic strip by Alex Raymond; director of photography, Jerome Ash; edited by Joseph Gluck, Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, and Alvin Todd; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov), Charles Middleton (Emperor Ming), Beatrice Roberts (Queen Azura), Donald Kerr (Happy Hapgood), Richard Alexander (Prince Barin), and C. Montague Shaw (Clay King).


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