Action trumps acting in ‘The Masked Marvel’
No one watches an old movie serial for the acting, nor for the plot.
Serials thrived on action and special effects.
Explosions, chases and fights were the grist that kept serials grinding.
That is why “The Masked Marvel” (1943, Republic Pictures) is one of my favorite serials.
This 12-chapter World War II serial pits the mysterious Masked Marvel against the nefarious Japanese agent, Sakima.
The mystery angle is not the identity of the villain — as it was in so many chapterplays — but that of the Marvel.
He was one of four insurance investigators called in to hunt down Sakima and bring him to justice. As in many serials, you have to wonder why this job of national security was placed in the hands of insurance investigators instead of the FBI.
No matter, serials were aimed at the Saturday matinee crowd, and it was wartime, so these four investigators were elevated from sorting out fender-benders to bringing enemy agents to bay.
The four actors who portrayed the insurance investigators — David Bacon, Rod Bacon (no relation), Bill Healy and Richard Clarke — couldn’t perform their way out of acting school.
Their main function was to stand in for stuntman Tom Steele, who doubled all four men during fight sequences as well as wore the mask of the Masked Marvel.
Yet Steele did not receive any screen credit, neither for playing the Marvel nor for the henchmen he portrayed in a couple of episodes.
The most ludicrous bit of casting was comic actor Johnny Arthur as Sakima. Arthur is best known for playing Darla Hood’s easily exasperated father in a few “Our Gang” comedies. He gives his all as the evil Oriental, but you can’t really take him seriously.
It may seem I am disparaging “The Masked Marvel.” Nothing can be farther from the truth. This is an exciting serial with some spectacular cliffhangers: The gas tank explosion at the end of chapter one, the car driven into the railway handcar at the end of chapter 10 and a truck crashing through a warehouse wall and plunging into the water at the end of chapter six.
The chapterplay also contains a cliffhanger rare for a serial; one that ends in suspense instead of a “death” as Sakima believes he has discovered the identity of his masked nemesis.
He’s wrong, of course, since that happens at the finale to chapter four. You have to wait until the last scene to learn the Marvel’s real identity. Watching the serial and trying to guess is part of the fun of this entertaining chapterplay.
THE MASKED MARVEL
Chapter 1: “The Masked Crusader”
Chapter 2: “Death Takes the Helm”
Chapter 3: “Dive to Doom”
Chapter 4: “Suspense at Midnight”
Chapter 5: “Murder Meter”
Chapter 6: “Exit to Eternity”
Chapter 7: “Doorway to Destruction”
Chapter 8: Destined to Die”
Chapter 9: “Danger Express”
Chapter 10: “Suicide Sacrifice”
Chapter 11: “The Fatal Mistake”
Chapter 12: “The Man Behind the Mask”
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