Tag Archives: James Diamond

The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman)

While The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand doesn’t start strong, the first chapter certainly isn’t any indication of how bad the serial is going to get over its fifteen chapters and five hour total run time. It’s never Amazing, there are rarely Exploits, but there is some Clutching Hand. The Hand himself is the mystery villain, always shown from behind or in shadow. The hand shows up as a threat to various characters, sometimes a shadow with a… well, a clutching hand. Sometimes the clutching hand will strangle someone, sometimes it’ll grab a piece of paper. It’s always silly but by the end of the serial, it’s no longer dangerous.

Probably because it never goes ahead and kills any of the annoying cast.

Clutching Hand‘s lead is Jack Mulhall. He’s a master detective, or so he and everyone (and the opening title scrawls) keep saying. But he starts getting duped in the first chapter. His plans are usually dumb and never work out. He regularly lets suspects go free and never calls in backup for when he raids the gang hangout. There’s only one gang hangout. It’s a sailor bar with a bunch of offices upstairs. Both the Clutching Hand and nondescript criminal Jon Hall use the bar for their base of operations. So there are lots of fist fights in the bar. Lots of them. Like probably half the chapters have fist fights in the bar. Eventually involving Mulhall in makeup. Though no one at the bar remembers anyone so it’s unclear why the makeup is so necessary.

Mulhall’s got to wear makeup because he’s trying to find a missing gold formula. Scientist Robert Frazer has discovered a way to turn metal into gold, exciting his corporate overlords and various other peoples. The same night he discovers the formula, he gets assaulted, is apparently dead, but then is kidnapped. Clutching Hand is looking for the gold formula, which also goes missing, and Frazer.

It really is thirteen chapters of those searches too. There’s one main subplot in the serial, involving ex-con Robert Walker (who is pals with Hall) and Frazer’s possible widow, Mae Busch. Walker and Hall are always mysterious, at least until they come across some mysterious guys scamming Busch. But daughter Marion Shilling? She gets nothing to do the whole time. She kind of gets to date reporter Rex Lease, who drafts himself as Mulhall’s sidekick, but there’s no story to their relationship. Clutching Hand is five hours of thin plot contrivances.

Unfortunately, it’s not just fisticuffs, plot contrivances, car chases, and whatever other stupidity the two screenwriters and two adaptation writers come up with. It’s bad enough I’m curious how much of that badness came from Arthur B. Reeve’s source novel, but… you know… not really. Five hours is already way too much time to invest in Clutching Hand.

With a couple exceptions, every chapter is just Clutching Hand spinning its wheels and killing time. Someone has the formula, let’s chase them, no wait, they don’t have it. Same goes for Frazer. Someone sees him–or not, really, Mulhall and Lease spend a lot of time just chasing old men–he’s not really there, or he’s a young guy disguised as an old man, Mulhall and Lease lose track of him because they’re really bad at the detective game. Over and over and over again.

You’d think Busch’s subplot with Walker or the con men would be a relief, but no. Busch gets zip to do in her scenes. It’s always the guys, who are just plodding through the plodding scene. When Clutching Hand actually has decent–read, not godawful–pacing, at least it doesn’t go on forever. It usually just goes on forever. The acting, of course, doesn’t help. Everyone’s bad. Mulhall and Lease get laughable after a while. Busch doesn’t make an impression. Shilling certainly doesn’t. Ruth Mix, as Frazer’s secretary, is kind of likable. She’s unlikable or trying, which goes for in Clutching Hand.

For intrigue, Clutching Hand relies mostly on the Clutching Hand talking to his legion of agents via television monitors–I think Mulhall has a scene where he barges in on him mid-villainy conference and both neglects to identify his enemy or call the cops about the gang hangout–or Frazer’s corporate overlords plotting for their outrageous fortune, once they get the gold formula back. On and on it goes. For hours. In the exact same places. Lease almost gets poisoned twice while loitering around Mulhall’s apartment. The last few chapters–finally–introduce a new setting (a boat), but it doesn’t make much difference. It’s not like the locations are inherently bad–well, they are bad but the sets inadequacies don’t matter anywhere near as much as Herman’s weak direction. The constant fist fights are always terrible, only ever amusing when they get really stupid. Like Lease shooting up the sailor bar with a couple revolvers.

The serial’s resolution manages to be stupid, incomplete, and exasperating all at once. Clutching Hand isn’t one of those serials where you could basically skip everything except the first, second, penultimate, and final chapters. There’s nothing important in the second or penultimate chapters here. Just more nonsense. Of course, one should skip Clutching Hand entirely. It’s wholly terrible (though, in all fairness to Herman, his bad direction is nothing compared to the script or the acting).

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

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 15: The Lone Hand

I was expecting Clutching Hand to have a bad ending. It was inevitable. But I didn’t expect them to entirely ignore one of the major plot threads. If Clutching Hand has two plot threads, which it spends fourteen chapters suggesting are intricately connecting, The Lone Hand entirely ignores one of them. It’s astounding. Especially since the chapter uses visual motifs from the plot thread only to forget about their existence moments later.

It’s incredible.

And bad. It’s incredibly bad.

Sadly, it seemed like it wouldn’t be so bad. I mean, the final twist is really dumb and it’d be hard to not make it terrible, but I thought they’d spend the chapter with fisticuffs. They start with a lot of fisticuffs. It seems like they’re going to focus on them and not rush to “wrap” everything up in the last nine minutes.

But rush they do. There’s some weird romance implication at the end, just because they need to keep the cast around perhaps, and there are two or three subplots entirely resolved in ninety seconds of exposition. Now, at least one of those subplots wasn’t clearly a subplot until the the last scene in Clutching Hand. Fifteen chapters, five hours, not a subplot until the last two minutes. The writing is excruitatingly, unimaginably bad.

Real bad acting from Rex Lease here. It’s amazing how bad the actors have gotten as the serial’s gone on. Clutching Hand could be a case study for a film overstaying its welcome. Immediately overstaying its welcome.

The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand has been an awful serial. But The Lone Hand is a particularly awful end to that awful serial. Nothing between the first chapter and the last one matters. They couldn’t even pretend the subplots had heft.

I’m so glad it’s over.

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 14: The Silent Spectre

The Silent Spectre surprised me. I didn’t think Clutching Hand would be able to surprise me after they did the boat stuff–and there’s a lot more ship-based fisticuffs this chapter–but then it goes ahead and surprises me the very next chapter.

I had no idea lead Jack Mulhall could be so exceptionally bad. He’s had some dreadful moments throughout the serial, but this chapter features his easily worst moment. He’s got to pretend he thinks Rex Lease has reunited Marion Shilling with her long lost (since the first chapter) father, played by Robert Frazer. Only we know Lease hasn’t reunited Shilling with him because Lease got hijacked and beat up for the invalid Frazer.

Mulhall’s “performance” in the scene is stunning. It’s so bad it’s laugh out loud funny, which is sort of perfect for the penultimate Clutching Hand. It’s so bad it’s mocking you for watching it.

Though a lot does happen in the chapter, maybe more than in any chapter other than the first. There’s the big fight on the boat, then there’s the Frazer-napping–evil businessman Bryant Washburn and vague gangster Jon Hall team up for that one–then there’s Mulhall confronting Washburn and Hall. Oh, and there’s Lease coming back for a minute to give Mulhall the news. There’s a second car chase (the first car chase ends with Frazer getting kidnapped and Lease getting pummeled), there’s Mulhall laying a trap, there’s a shootout, there’s a Clutching Hand note mocking Mulhall–which Mulhall hides from everyone else because he’s apparently aware he’s a joke of a detective–there’s a lot. Especially considering how long the boat fight lasts.

Who knew Clutching Hand could be so action-packed? I knew it could be idiotic, but not action-packed idiotic.

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 13: The Mystic Menace

I stand corrected. Clutching Hand does do something with the ship. There’s a large scale fist fight between Jack Mulhall, Rex Lease, and their pals and the mutinying crew of the ship. It’s not good–though there are some decent stunts–but it’s there. I was wrong.

I was right, however, about the resolution to Robert Walker’s subplot with suspected widow Mae Busch being a waste of time. Thirteen chapters of nonsense for a pointless explanation. If Clutching Hand had mysteries or suspects or victims, Busch and Walker’s thread could’ve been any early red herring. Instead, it’s the main red herring except the guy dressing up like the old man.

The Mystic Menace has no mystic menaces–unless it’s some metaphor for exterting brain power on the chapter, which also has some of the serial’s most numbskulled narrative choices. First, the cliffhanger resolution. Mulhall survives his car accident. He’d been chasing murderer Jon Hall–who Mulhall caught immediately after committing murder last chapter–only for Hall to go back to his office and Mulhall to go back to his lab. He doesn’t… call the cops or anything. Just cleans himself up after the car wreck and compares Walker’s fingerprints to… Walker’s fingerprints. They identify the man as himself.

The chapter has another visit to the sailor bar. Another fist fight in the sailor bar. More with the mysterious Clutching Hand talking to his goons upstairs in his secret hideout (in the sailor bar, where Mulhall has been). After Mulhall and Lease search the place–delayed a half dozen chapters from when they should’ve–they find a cufflink matching the initial of the missing man they’re trying to find.

Lease has to tell Mulhall the inital matches the kidnapped man’s name. Because even though he’s a master detective, the script uses him as the audience dummy. Explain it to Mulhall, explain it to the audience. It’s pretty impressive how condescending Clutching Hand can be to its audience, given the script and its twists and turns are abject drivel.

But, hey, they had a big action set piece on the ship. It was lousy, but it was big.

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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