Cliffhanger corner: ‘The Fighting Devil Dogs’ succeeds despite flaws
When you actually stop to analyze it, “The Fighting Devil Dogs” is not a very good serial.
It is 12 chapters overloaded with stock footage from “S.O.S. Coast Guard,”
“Dick Tracy,” “Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island” and other sources. It contains two recap chapters and some weak candidates to choose from as the mystery villain, The Lightning.
Yet, despite all these drawbacks, “The Fighting Devil Dogs” is one of Republic’s best loved and exciting serials.
I believe this is because of its two leads — Lee Powell and Herman Brix — as well as the flamboyance in action and costume of The Lightning.
The plot finds Marines Tom Grayson (Powell) and Frank Corby (Brix) combating The Lightning’s mad attempt to conquer the world by using the electrical torpedoes he has created through his ability to harness electricity.
It seems The Lightning has minions everywhere, yet the two Marines still manage to successfully thwart each of his nefarious schemes.
Another reason for the serial’s success is its pacing. Republic’s serials were known for their action and stunt work and “Fighting Devil Dogs” excels at both. The action seems to be continuous, despite the pair of economy chapters.
The musical score by Alberto Colombo also makes the episodes appear as if they were moving at a quicker tempo.
The uncredited special effects, and the reuse of stock footage of the futuristic Wing from “Dick Tracy” are added bonuses that elevate the chapterplay.
Each chapter advances the plot and the action as Grayson and Corby slowly and tenaciously battle closer and closer to unmasking The Lightning.
And when he is unmasked, the suspect is a logical choice for the meglomanical madman.
I am convinced that George Lucas had seen this serial and it influenced his costuming choice for Darth Vader in “Star Wars.”
“The Fighting Devil Dogs” was the third collaboration for directors William Witney and John English, and they were still developing the style that would basically mature a year or two later in such releases as “Daredevils of the Red Circle,” “Zorro’s Fighting Legion” and “Drums of Fu Manchu.”
You can find many faults with “The Fighting Devil Dogs” for the reasons I stated above, but one thing you can ever call it, is dull.
“The Fighting Devil Dogs”
1938, Republic Pictures
3 stars out of 4
1. The Lightning Strikes
2. The Mill of Disaster
3. The Silent Witness
4. Cargo of Mystery
5. Undersea Bandits
6. The Torpedo of Doom
7. The Phantom Killer
8. Tides of Trickery
9. Attack From the Skies
10. In the Camp of the Enemy
11. The Baited Trap
12. Killer at Bay