The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936)

The_Clutching_Hand_(1936)‘….in 15 Thunderbolt Chapters!’

Dr Gironda has invented a formula for creating artificial gold, and is kidnapped by mysterious arch-criminal The Clutching Hand. An interested government appoint super-detective Craig Kennedy to recover both the scientist and his priceless formula.

Muddled and rather drab movie serial from independent producers Weis & Mintz, enlivened by its ridiculously melodramatic villain and his maniacal laugh. Yes, it’s the one that’s been spoofed by every satire and comedy bad guy since. Unfortunately, the remainder of the proceedings are not nearly so much fun, mostly revolving around so-called ‘super detective’ Craig Kennedy disguising himself as a sailor and hanging out at dubious dockland dive ‘The Harbor Hotel’. Maybe he had another agenda rather than just catching the bad guys as it takes him until Chapter 13 to actually raid the place!

On the other hand, his adventures do help to establish some of the common clichés that the movie serial format adopted over the next 20 years or so. Firstly, there’s the ’whodunnit‘ element; the mysterious villain who has to be unmasked in the final chapter. We know he’s someone we’ve already seen, but just who is he? In this instance, I guessed right, because it really couldn’t be anyone else. Then there’s the high level of fisticuffs, here rendered with furious bouts of seemingly improvised ‘arm punching’ in the bar of the ‘Harbor Hotel’. There’s a large number of dull car chases, and The Clutching Hand sits alone in the dark with his hat on and gives orders via TV.

There’s also some strange hoo-hah going on about the missing scientist’s wife and her frequent visits to ‘The Colonnade’ a kind of temple in the grounds of the house. There she receives instruction in ‘The Seven Steps to Perfection’ from a couple of mystics, who turn out to be con men after her jewellery. It’s stapled into the main plot after a while, but there are so many tough guys in suits and hats running around already that it’s quite hard to keep up with who’s who in the incredibly muddled and laboured plot.

The Clutching Hand (1936)

‘I’m fed up with being a completely irrelevant sub-plot, let’s go get a beer…’

There is some enjoyment to be had from the half-baked script, though. We’re repeatedly told that the Clutching Hand and Kennedy are arch-enemies, but we’re never given any context, or backstory. There’s a messenger who wanders in and out of the action for no reason whatsoever, some flimflam about Gironda being an invalid (why?) and the Clutching Hand trying to smuggle him out of the country on a ship. I’m not sure why he tries that, but I suppose it’s just what you do with a kidnapped scientist.

Charles Locher is billed 15th as one of the hoodlums, but actually got his name above the title on a re-release just the following year, By then, he changed his name to Jon Hall and become a sudden star as the lead in John Ford’s south-sea adventure flick ‘The Hurricane’ (1937). Also a fair way down the cast is stuntman Yakima Canutt, whose career took off when he became John Wayne’s double, and later included working as stunt co-ordinator on many big Hollywood films, like ‘Gone With The Wind’ (1939), ‘Rio Bravo’ ‘ (1959) and ‘Spartacus’ (1960). There’s also an uncredited performance by Richard ‘Dick’ Alexander as the ship’s first mate. Alexander amassed a total of over 300 minor appearances, mostly in Westerns, but fans of movie serials are likely to remember him as Prince Barin to Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon.

This serial is of some historical interest when placed in the context of the rest of the genre, but, as entertainment, it’s pretty thin stuff.

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