At long last I have gotten to see the Republic movie serial Spy Smasher. I've long read that this was perhaps the best serial ever produced. The Fawcett comic characters were served quite well by the serials of the time, with Captain Marvel being another serial which is held in extremely high regard. After seeing this epic adventure I can attest that it is a cracking good yarn with some of the absolute best action I've ever seen in any serial, or any movie actually.
Spy Smasher is played by serial veteran actor Kane Richmond who does a masterful job of filling in a costume which is remarkably accurate to the comic. Admittedly the costume is one of the easier ones to recreate, but it's always nice to see fidelity to a source when it's feasible. Spy Smasher battles Nazi spies, specifically a mastermind named either "The Mask" or "M1" depending on the circumstance. This villain is a Nazi U-Boat commander who communicates with a network of domestic henchmen who perform various villainous acts in the twelve chapters of this story.
And each chapter is an absolute hoot with some creative threats to democracy well established and eliminated thanks to the bravery of Spy Smasher Alan Armstrong and his twin brother Jack. The weakness in this serial is that while the individual chapters are as exciting as can be, the overall story is exceedingly episodic without a strong unifying thread which builds throughout. The villain is no mystery, which is the usual chicanery that ties the chapters as in Captain Marvel, but this time we get the visual trick of two heroes who look exactly the same. It comes into play in several chapters and is ultimately key, but is not necessarily a core thread throughout.
The Spy Smasher serial is a wild and raucous romp with some stellar action. Republic is properly renowned for its fisticuffs and this one might be the best I've ever seen with the stuntmen supplying some of the most nimble and athletic battles I've witnessed on screen. (And all done in camera. Amazing!) Add to that some really dangerous leaps and motorcycle riding and you have a hectic but satisfying adventure.
One clever irony is that the spies use a television station (led by serial vet Tris Coffin) to spy on the government officials, especially since TV is what killed off the serials in the end. Television a tool of the Nazis? No commentary there of course.