Mandrake the Magician (1939)

Article #729 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-14-2003
Posting Date: 8-11-2003
Directed by Sam Nelson, Norman Deming
Featuring Warren Hull, Doris Weston, Don Beddoe

A scientist who has developed a radium machine is kidnapped by an evil villain known as The Wasp, and Mandrake sets out to catch him.

I had reached episode ten of this serial when the tape I was watching broke, and I had to set it aside until I could get a replacement. In the interim, I watched THE CLUTCHING HAND, an experience which made me appreciate this one a lot more than I did at first, if for no other reason than the relative clarity of the storytelling. On the plus side, Warren Hull makes for a somewhat charming hero, particularly during the magic act in the first episode. However, I didn’t care much for the fact that this serial seemed way too familiar; several serials I’ve seen lately all had the same plot set-up; scientist with a new invention and a beautiful daughter is captured by a masked villain who largely sits at a desk and communicates to his minions via a two-way TV set, who go out and have fistfights with the hero until the last episode. All right, all serials aren’t like this, but that whole plot has become just a little too common for my tastes. I’m also disappointed that the serial barely uses the most obvious gimmick of the story; outside of occasionally throwing a smoke bomb, Mandrake rarely uses his magician’s tricks throughout the course of the story, and this is where a lot of the fun should have been. And the movie gets a big demerit for the narrator’s blatant lie at the end of episode eleven (he makes a claim about the nature of a car accident that appears in the preview for episode 12 that turns out to be totally false); it’s the type of deception that makes cheating cliffhangers look fairly benign.

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