Monday, March 7, 2011

Blackhawk - Fearless Champion Of Freedom!

Reed Crandall

I've been wanting to see the serial Blackhawk forever and a day. I passed up picking up a VHS copy way back in the 90's, and I've regretted it ever since. Now at long last I can report what it was like to have seen this 1962 Columbia serial.

It was just okay!

Now that's poor commmentary on a movie I've yearned so long to see, but it happens to be the miserable truth. I wish it had been better, but it was just okay. Now to be honest I'd read reviews which spoke of this movie's lackluster nature, but I guess I'd hoped against hope that I'd disagree when I at long last saw it. I don't.

The story is pretty standard for a serial. The Blackhawks are pitted against "The Leader" and his gang of saboteurs who seek to steal a few big secrets such as a ray gun device in some early chapters and then later a secret fuel dubbed "Element X".
Blackhawk (Kirk Alyn) and his comrades, most notably Chuck (John Crawford) battle the Leader, a typical serial anonymous type and his gang led by Laska (Carol Forman).

Harvey, Crawford, Alyn & Vallin

The story begins rather well actually as Stan (Rick Vallin)is kidnapped and replaced by his twin Boris. This section is apparently inspired by this comic book story. There follow a few chapters dealing with this confusion, then the story switches abruptly to a Doctor Rolph (William Fawcett) who invented some ray device and we spend a few chapters spinning around on that maguffin. Finally around chapter six or so the main plot unfolds and Element X is introduced and the gang attempts to steal it sending Blackhawk and Chuck to Mexico for several chapters. At the beginning of this story, there is a pretty terrific series of explosions at an oil field. Blackhawk and Chuck return to the U.S. just in time to rejoin the rest,and to tie up all the loose ends.

Laska Gets Drop On Blackhawk

They try to wedge in a little flying into this saga, but frankly it always seems to be an afterthought and the only action appearing to be a dogfight is when the animated robot saucers from Columbia's Superman serials show up for an exceedingly brief attack. Most of the serial is spent in cars on back roads as the two groups endlessly punch at one another.

Blackhawk and Chuck get the most screen time, as Chuck becomes the go-to sidekick. Stan gets a lot of attention in the first several episodes, as does Chop (Weaver Levy). Olaf (Don Harvey) shows up for a few key fights, but mostly is relegated to second tier status. Andre (Larry Stewart) is in it all the way, but does little but run around a bit and fly some airplanes when an extra pilot is needed. Hendrickson (Frank Ellis) is barely in this movie, always in his mechanics gear and he gets a few scenes, being key to only one sequence really.

Press Book

Early chapters have the five Blackhawks running around in a gang a lot, but later they seem to break up more. That's good, because frankly all of them together is a bit of a mess. It's a shame a more complex plot giving all of them some real work to do couldn't have been worked out, but then I guess that would've required spending some real some money, not something Columbia or Sam Katzman were known for doing on these serials.

Carol Forman Gets Cuffed

Carol Forman is adequate as the femme fatale of the story, though she seems unusually stiff in the early going. She gets a tad more personality as the story unfolds as her role as a woman leading some ignoble men comes to be a real problem for her. The government she works for is not identified of course, but there is some talk of being loyal to the "party" so I guess in 1952 there was little doubt who that signaled.

Kirk Looking Macho

Kirk Alyn is pretty good in the lead role, looking the part, but his mincing way of running while making Superman seemed arguably graceful. Here it comes across a bit girlish in places. It's a problem especially when contrasted with John Crawford who comes across with classic screen machismo.

Blackhawk is a decent serial with some solid actors going through the serial paces. It's a bright saga told exclusively in the daytime, and features a few fun stunts along the way. But it seems to get tired before it reaches what amounts to a climax. It is notable that there was not re-run chapter in the later stages which indicated some more money being spent I guess, but frankly that just meant more time in Mexico where the story sort of grinds to a halt a bit.

I recommend Blackhawk. It's a decent serial, but not one of the best by any means. I did note that Reed Crandall, the regular artist on the series, though not the creator got mention on the credits. Here's the trailer.

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