Monday, August 15, 2011

Daredevils Of The Red Circle!

I've had this serial cued up all summer waiting to get around to watching it. It has a very good reputation and I wanted to save it for a day when I could really dive into it fully. Now it's a twelve chapter serial and so has a shorter running time, so watching it in a single day isn't too arduous, though of course you have to remember these things are not designed to be viewed in that fashion.

Still taking that into consideration, I was let down by the production. There's nothing especially weak about it, and it does have several strong elements, but the whole of it left me unimpressed by and large.

The strongest feature is Charles Middleton as the main villain "39013". That's his prison number and his imprisonment is the reason he's taking revenge on Miles Mander, the other standout actor in this story.

If you want a summary of the plot here's a link that does an excellent job. I'm just going to assume you know the story at this point, so be careful of spoilers.

The three daredevils of the title are all decent leading men types with Charles Quiqley clearly tagged as the main guy of the trio. My personal fave was Herman Brix of Tarzan fame, who plays a quiet strongman akin to Renny of Doc Savage fame. David Sharpe as the acrobat of the team is perfectly okay too.

And that's the problem. The movie is perfectly okay, but it never really rises above that unless Middleton is on the screen. The story is actually the main culprit. The three daredevils are only seen in the circus, their claim to fame for one chapter (not counting a repeat chapter later in the serial) and spend nearly all their time not fighting thugs lounging around a comfortable and small mansion.

There is little aside from their physical natures to distinguish the heroes, and they all three run to just about any event rarely breaking up for any length of time. Why have three heroes, if you are not going to take advantage of it. That's a weakness.

The narrative structure of the story is too simple. The three heroes detect a problem, investigate, fight thugs, and get caught just before the reel stops. The next chapter solves that problem and begins the cycle over again. No two chapters extend a threat or even a locale, and the story gets repetitive. And they seem to spend chapter after chapter after chapter running through factories; it needed to change up a bit.

The mystery of the person sending the "Red Circle messages" is also pretty lame, and the solution didn't work for me at all.

And finally I have to say that "Snowflake", the black servant in this story, included of course for comedy is a pretty awful example and his every scene is difficult to endure, not because of his talent, but because of how he is regarded in the story as an utter buffoon. It's a shame really, even by the standards of movies of the time.

Most of the really good serials I've seen have stories inside stories, but this one does not, despite a good enough cast to have done so easily. It's got some good fights, some decent stunts, and whatnot, but what it lacks is a narrative complexity that draws the viewer in. The death of the little brother was a surprise and a good start, but sadly gets forgotten until the very end.

This was a diverting entertainment, but it is not at the top of the list of my favorite serials.

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