Blake of Scotland Yard (1937)

Article #1403 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-16-2005
Posting Date: 2-15-2005
Directed by Robert F. Hill
Featuring Ralph Byrd, Herbert Rawlinson, Joan Barclay

A super death-ray has been invented that will guarantee world peace (or so the plot claims), and it is up to Blake of Scotland Yard to make sure that the weapon doesn’t fall into the claws – er, hands of that master criminal, the Scorpion.

Some thoughts on BLAKE OF SCOTLAND YARD.

1) There was a 1927 serial of the same name as this one. I don’t know if this is a remake of that one, but I do know they were both directed by the same man. I also know this; one advantage that the silent serial had was that, being silent, it didn’t have to contend with the obstacle of having to deal with the British accent, whereas the sound version doesn’t have that privilege. However, this being a serial, it probably didn’t have a wide stable of actors to choose from at casting time. The upshot of this is that, with the exception of Dickie Jones (who plays the child), none of the actors even attempts a British accent. The serial tries to compensate for this problem by having someone say “Righto” every once in a while. It doesn’t work.

2) The lack of British accents does create one bizarre little phenomenon. When you hear the phrase “take them to the yard” said with a British accent, you know they mean Scotland Yard. When you hear it with an American accent, you think they’re being taken to the grassy area behind the house. I have visions of all the criminals in this serial handcuffed to a swingset.

3) One odd thing about this serial is that the title character is the grey-haired older man (Herbert Rawlinson), and the inventor of the death ray is the young, virile serial-hero type (Ralph “Dick Tracy” Byrd). This is a switch from the usual serial casting. Still, that doesn’t prevent Byrd from getting better billing than Rawlinson.

4) Actually, the grey-haired old men here do their share of the fighting, which is a bit of a novelty. On the down side, the fighting is pretty bad. I’m sure I see some examples of what I call “arm fighting”, in which characters fight each other not with their fists (someone might get hurt) but with the insides of their arms. This style is about as convincing as the movie’s British atmosphere.

5) During the opening credits, Joan Barclay has a surprisingly snooty expression on her face (though not in her performance). I wonder if this is another attempt to add to the British atmosphere. It doesn’t work.

6) Back when I covered PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE, I posed the question about the existence of a French dance where the male violently throws the female to the floor. This is the other place where I’ve seen that dance; chapter three of this serial features a dance in a French cafe where a man in in a striped shirt slaps around his female partner and repeatedly throws her to the floor, to the polite applause of the onlookers. In POTRM, this action took place in a wild dance hall and looked choreographed, so I didn’t find it very offensive. Here it looks unchoreographed and comes off as mean and sadistic, with the audience applause only making it seem that much uglier. Quite frankly, this was the most unpleasant scene I’ve ever seen in any serial, and I don’t recommend it. (And thanks to all who identified the dancing in question as “Apache Dancing”).

7) The Scorpion wears a black cloak, a black hat, a mask, and claw shaped glove. Why does he wear the latter when it obviously impedes his ability to use his hands efficiently? My only answer is that it must have been the trend; since three other people impersonate the Scorpion during the length of the serial, I can only come to the conclusion that the Scorpion costume must have been an easy commodity to come by, and it just wouldn’t have seemed complete without the claw.

8) If you pay attention to the opening credits, you’ll notice that five characters are listed. Four of them take active and prominent roles in fighting the Scorpion throughout the serial. The fifth is a secondary character who doesn’t really appear to be taking a major role in the proceedings. So why does he get a prominent credit? If you think about this for more than two minutes, you’ll figure out something that you’re not supposed to know until the final episode.

9) All right, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to believe that there is an elaborate network of underground passages that link the villains’ hideout with the basement of the home of Inspector Blake. I just want to know who decided that this secret network of underground passages needed to be furnished.

10) Actually, this is one of the weaker serials I’ve seen in some time. My worst problem with it is the editing; it’s so badly constructed that I have a difficult time figuring out what’s going on from one moment to the next. It’s not the worst offender I’ve seen in that regard, which is my way of saying that at least this serial is better than THE CLUTCHING HAND, if for no other reason that at least with this one, I have some vague idea of what is generally going on.


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