Professor Kittridge has invented a revolutionary new submarine engine in secret. When he is murdered by a foreign power, the race is on to track down all the components and the blueprints to put them together. Agents from Washington find themselves up against a sinister criminal mastermind, who will stop at nothing…
Wonderfully convoluted movie serial from Universal Studios, which makes up for what it lacks in logic with sheer pace and action. Wooden good guy Dennis Moore locks horns with criminal mastermind the Mysterious Mr M, who communicates by the medium of long playing record. This infuriates underling Edmund MacDonald who actually came up with the identity as a cover for his own nefarious schemes, and is less than chuffed when someone appropriates the title and starts giving him orders. MacDonald is Anthony Waldron, a man presumed dead by the police (we never find out why they’d be interested one way or the other!) and living in a secret laboratory in his grandmother’s basement. He has control of Granny’s money by use of his confederates Danny Morton and Jane Randolph, who keep her dosed up with a chemical from Africa called Hypnotrene, which they also use on people for purposes of mind control. You see, it’s all perfectly feasible!
The plot is the usual round of chases for individual elements of the Professor’s invention; sometimes mechanical components, more often than not plans or formulas. One of these is a radar device, which, rather brilliantly, the villains miniaturise into an earpiece for more mind control purposes! Moore is aided by insurance investigator Pamela Blake who, mostly, acts as the ‘damsel in distress’ but does get to land an aeroplane single handed, despite having no experience as a pilot. lt always amazes me that insurance investigators, journalists, and the like are often allowed in on investigations concerned with matters of national security, but I guess it was government policy back in the 1940s.
Universal obviously weren’t as well known for their output of movie serials as Republic or Columbia, but they made a fair amount. Usually, they were not on such outlandish subjects, so it’s nice to see them making an exception and delivering a decent effort, packed with the usual bouts of fisticuffs and cliffhanging chapter endings. The presence of Moore in the lead is a weakness though, and sidekick Richard Martin seems to have had the same personality bypass.
On the bright side, however, MacDonald is excellent in the role of the ruthless Waldron, and it’s nice to see Randolph playing something other than the goody two shoes heroine menaced by the ‘Cat People’ (1942). Veteran character actors Joseph Crehan (370 credits!) and Byron Foulger also appear. Foulger gets a little something to sink his teeth into for once, instead of just being strangled by Karloff in the opening minutes of ‘House of Frankenstein’ (1944).
Rather unusually, we don’t get captions at the start of each chapter (or a voiceover) to summarise what went on the week before. Instead, we get a short dialogue scene – usually featuring Crehan as the local police chief – which brings us up to date on what’s just happened. The wider story is recapped later on each week thanks to painfully over-explanatory dialogue between other characters. ‘Submarines as big as ocean liners’ is not usually a common subject for conversation in everyday life but crops up with surprising regularity here!
One of the better later movie serials with more than its fair share of explosions, crashing automobiles, energetic bouts of fisticuffs and last minute escapes. Thoroughly entertaining.