Professor Arnold has discovered a wonderful metallic element derived from a meteorite (weren’t they all?!) and uses it to control his 7-foot robot. Unfortunately, twisted genius and former colleague Professor Ernst plans to grab the robot as part of his evil plans…
Movie serials obviously made good financial sense for the studios. Hopefully, ticket buying audiences would keep coming back for more each and every week. But 15 chapters at roughly 20 minutes each was an awful lot of screen time to fill, especially when you didn’t have much plot or a decent budget. This was Columbia’s 26th serial and they had yet to engage the fearsome writer-producer-director trio of Plympton, Katzman and Bennet, although all were already working in the genre. Once they got into their groove the studio’s output notably improved but that was later on. At this point their product was flimsy at best.
It may seem a little churlish to highlight some of the inconsistencies in the story when this was simple entertainment made for young kids but they are probably the most interesting aspect of the final result. For a start, how did Professor Ernst just happen to have a house full of secret panels, which link to underground tunnels? The most useful of these actually comes out in the back of Thor’s cage in the local zoo. Thor is a gorilla and Ernst uses him as a weapon in his dastardly scheme. Why? Well, I don’t know really. He doesn’t do anything that Ernst’s goon squad couldn’t do. Somehwat inevitably, Thor is played by Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan, a man whose entire career consisted of playing cowboys and jumping around in a monkey suit. Thor is actually a fairly frisky fellow and I couldn’t help but think that Corrigan may have been getting his own back on some of the actors, who were literally yanking his chain.
For once, our heroes (the Prof, his beautiful daughter, valet/chauffeur Flash and hunky Ken Morgan) actually get the police involved and they do save the day a couple of times. But, having said that, they are pretty clueless and the patrolmen seem quite happy to take Morgan’s orders, even if he is just the representative of a manufacturing company! Ernst learns our heroes plans by bugging their lab. His method? Have one of his goons dressed as a street sweeper stand outside their window and listen in! Genius.
George MacReady stands out as ice-cold villain Ernst, giving a far more credible performance than the material really deserved. He went on to a long and distinguished career as a character actor, the highlight of which was probably his portrayal of the Brigadier General in Stanley Kubrick’s classic ‘Paths of Glory’ (1957). Robert Lowery, here playing the unstoppable Ken Morgan, went on to become the big screen’s 2nd Batman in the serial ‘Batman and Robin’ (1949).
The biggest downside here is the depiction of Professor Arnold’s dim-witted and cowardly manservant, Flash. Although it was probably a welcome paycheque for black actor Willie Best, it can’t have been pleasant to play a character that stupid, being patronised that much by clever white people. It’s not pleasant to watch and it can’t have been pleasant to play.