Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Mysterious Doctor Satan!

Mysterious Doctor Satan is one of those exotic titles that demands more attention. This Republic Serial stars Edwardo Cianelli in the title role, a villain who battles the forces of good to assembled equipment with which he hopes to rule the world. Aside from his henchmen, he has the classic Republic Pictures robot to plod along and slowly attack his enemies.

This is a fun serial, featuring a one-off hero named "The Copperhead", a legacy hero who finds out his real dad was the original Coppherhead an anti-hero western type who took the law into his own hands to accomplish justice, but who is remembered as a criminal. There is apparently the intent to set up the same tension in this serial, but they never actually get around to treating the Copperhead as a baddie. His costume is the simplest ever, a copper cowl slips on his noggin and instant hero. Despite wearing the same clothes, especially some distinctive ties, no one recognizes the hero is Bob Wayne played by Robert Wilcox, at least until the end of the serial when they all feign surprise.

It's the usual ramble of adventures, with multiple kidnappings as the main maguffin is a remote control cell developed by the ubiquitous professor played by C. Montague Shaw. To get the cell Satan's gang murder and kidnap various folks. Eventually they get hold of one and the robot comes into play, robbing banks, and mostly stalking up behind folks and giving them a good crushing. The action is mostly urban with one sequence getting outdoors when the action centers around a mine bought from the classic old coot prospector type.

The action in this one is especially good, with Copperhead doing a lot of really ambitious leaping about. His fighting style seems rather distinctive and acrobatic with a lot of lunging and that gives the fights a really special character. His sidekick is a character named "Speed" Martin played by William Newell, and he does a lot of the fighting too, though not as colorfully as the Copperhead himself.

One really different thing in this serial is an extra female character. There is the usual maiden-in-distress-scientist's-daughter-girl-reporter type played by Ella Neal (about her only major role it appears), but there's this blonde who shows up in a few episodes who is something different. She's an action star all her own. In one sequence on a ship she swings across the boat on a rope and starts a ferocious fight. Later she rides a horse with a great deal of aplomb and even does some trick shooting. Turns out this acrobat is Dorothy Herbert, a famous circus stunt rider and this is her only movie turn. Too bad really as she had some panache, ideal for serials.

Mysterious Doctor Satan is an above average serial with a range of action and some above average acting. The hero is alas a bit of a lunk sometimes and the main damsel in distress seems unsure once in a while, but with seasoned Republic vets on hand in the supporting roles the story romps along with a nice gusto.

This serial started out as a Superman project according to some sources (a Batman project according others) but that fell through. So the new Copperhead was created as something of a transitional character bridging the the heroes of the west with the new and upcoming urban heroes. That's a great idea and I wish more had been made of it in the storyline. There's a juicy back story with the Copperhead, but the action-first nature of serials really stops us from getting into that stuff as much as it deserves.

I highly recommend this one. Here's a look at the trailer.

On another note, I remember an old Daredevil villain named the Copperhead. This was supposed to be some pulp hero gone bad, a blend of the classic pulp tropes. I've always assume the name of that villain came from this serial. Seems like I read that somewhere, but who knows.

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