2013: DAY 48 – FIVE BEST CLASSIC MOVIE SERIALS!
Well one of my passions in these first 50 days of the new year, has been classic movie serials. The inspiration for filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, to name a prominent two, movie serials were the pre-television answer to moving pictures’ sequential entertainment. Inspiration for films such as STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES.
Unlike a standard big budget film,that offered a big complete story, the serials were about giving viewers bite-sized and tasty morsels of thrills and adrenalin inducing entertainment to keep viewers coming to the local movie-house on a weekly basis. And the hallmark of the serial’s formula of thrills was the cliffhanger. A formula that has only relatively recently been put to good effect on television in shows such as 24 and BREAKING BAD.
But to see this formula at its best you have to experience it via the best of classic movie serials. Unfortunately given the formulaic nature of serials, and the challenges of strict deadlines, and limited budgets, movie serials could often fall into the rut of inane writing, insipid direction and repetitive and sloppy cliffhangers.
The majority of serials I have so far tried, fall victim to the foibles outlined above. However five that do not, that stand out as GREAT serials of the 20th century, that I find incredibly entertaining being introduced to them here in the 21st, are….
ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL -Wow. Just wow. This is not your father’s Superman. This dude has no compunction about killing bad guys. And it is just a plain entertaining thrill ride.
SPY-SMASHER- Add World War II, A masked crimefighter against the Axis, and add some of the best fight scenes and most energetic cliffhangers and you have this serial. The best of the best.
MYSTERIOUS DOCTOR SATAN- How cool is this villain? So cool that he gets top billing in this serial over the costumed hero?!! A great serial.
THE CALL OF THE SAVAGE- Tarzan eat your heart out! Some jaw dropping animal stock footage highlights a fun serial that imagines a different kind of jungle boy. Fun and entertaining with great cliffhangers!
FLASH GORDON:SPACE SOLDIERS- The original 1936 serial (originally just called FLASH GORDON, followed by two sequels the 1938 MISSION TO MARS, and the 1940 FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE) has everything that later versions aspired to but never quite achieved. It is imaginative, fun, audacious, manic, sexy, thrilling and generally balls to the wall good.
Despite the limitations of the day as it relates to special effects, men in suits, lizards with bits added to stand in as dinosaurs, wobbly ships on strings, this serial has something that transcends all these glaring flaws, it is just popcorn chewingly fun! With Flash and his compatriots racing from one hair-raising, adrenaline inducing adventure after another. A combination of insanely imaginative and compelling writing, married to breakneck direction, and whole-heartedly embraced performances adds up to a whole that transcends the admittedly suspect sum of its parts.
And did I mention sexy? Flash at any given time has at least three gorgeous and scantily clad females vying for his attention. The most gorgeous of who appears but briefly in the abode of the Shark Men. Latin and clad in white, you’ll know her when you see her.
And getting back to the jab about men in suits. This serial has one of the scariest men in a monkey suit ever put to film! (and I’ve seen my share!:)) It really is awesomely impressive, and a hugely thrilling and memorable cliffhanger. If there was an academy award given for monkey acting, this guy should have got it. :).
All in all, I have to say one of the best things I’ve seen in this two thousand and thirteenth year of our lord, is this throwaway weekly serial from 73 years ago!! I highly recommend it!
So there you go. In no particular order five of the greatest movie serials ever!
These 12 to 15 part serials are some of the best examples of a medium, of a type of cinematic entertainment that the ascension of the age of television in the 50s brought to an end. However, much like Old Time Radio of the same period,the late 30s to the early 50s, these shows may be past, but thanks to the digital age they are not forgotten and more… are readily available (if you know where to look) so the lucky newcomer is able to sample these treasures of a bygone age at their leisure.
Sample yours today… here: