Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ace Drummond!

Ace Drummond showed up on Turner Classic Movies this summer, appearing irregularly on Saturdays. It's a 1936 movie serial based on a comic strip which was written by famous aviator Eddie Rickenbacker and was drawn by Clayton Knight. It stars the usual All-American strong-chinned hero which appeared regularly in popular fiction.

In this serial Ace (John King) shows up in Mongolia to help the International Airways group complete an around-the-world flight schedule. They are being blocked by a mystery villain named "The Dragon" who operates a few secret bases and has at his command a squadron of airplanes capable of deadly attacks. Ace joins up with mechanic Jerry (Noah Beery Jr.) and a youngster named Billy (Jackie Morrow) to fend off the attacks. Along for the ride is the lovely Jean Rogers (as Peggy Trainor) as the damsel in distress but who has remarkably little to do in the thirteen chapters. She hangs around with Billy a lot and they get into the same messes more or less.

Noah Beery Jr., John King, and Jackie Morrow
To be honest this early serial (Rogers appears in this one right after her turn in the more famous Flash Gordon) suffers from some really ramshackle storytelling and the final chapters really fail to deliver on the meager promises of the early installments. King looks the part, and in fact gives off a young Doc Savage vibe in his jodhpurs and tie, but overall he lacks charisma. The producers insist that he sing some song written for the serial in nearly every chapter and it really undermines his tough guy image. Singing cowboys I'm used to, but singing aviators are another matter.

Jean Rogers and John King
 There are several red herrings put forth in the serial as to the identity of The Dragon, but actually it's pretty easy to see who it actually is. As with most of the action flicks of this era, some racism creeps in, actually the usual stereotypes about Asians. Notably among the villains (played by the likes of a young Lon Chaney Jr.) are many white guys posing as Mongolians or some such. They are mercenaries I guess, but they insist on cliche clothing throughout the story.

Overall it's a a typical distraction, but ultimately a failure as the elements of the story fail to really catch on.

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