THE SECRET CODE (1942)
Article 1976 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-12-2006
Posting Date: 1-9-2007
Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet
Featuring Paul Kelly, Anne Nagel, Trevor Bardette
A policemen is taken off the force for having become undependable, and he ends up joining a Nazi spy ring. However, it’s all a trick; the policeman is actually on a secret assignment to get the Nazi secret code. However, when the only other man who knows of the secret assignment is murdered, the policeman must succeed in his operation in order to clear himself. Even his alternate ego, The Black Commando, is thought of as a criminal.
I’m sure everyone caught the misspelling in the classification above by the movie’s title. I just thought it might be interesting to compare serials to cereals, or this one, at least. I think there are some similarities; cereals are mostly processed from the same ingredients so that most of them are pretty similar, and personally, I think the same could be said of serials. This one has some good ingredients; it takes the “Blinky McQuade” concept of a good guy pretending to be a criminal in order to get inside info, and it also uses the concept of “The Spider” in that the masked hero is considered a criminal by the law. What makes it rather unique is that here our hero can fall back on no law-abiding persona, and this definitely ups the ante on his part. It’s really not until the second half of the serial that he manages to convince anyone that he’s really working on the side of good.
Unfortunately, this serial is also like a box of Raisin Bran where all the raisins have fallen to the bottom of the box; you have to get through half of the box before you get to the good stuff. As usual, the first episode is pretty strong, but after that it falls into a purely routine pattern, in which the hero hears of a Nazi plot, but, because the spies don’t trust him, he is either being watched or locked in a room while the sabotage is occurring. He must escape, get into costume, stop the sabotage, and return back to where the gang left him so they won’t suspect that he is really The Black Commando. It’s not until he convinces his best friend of his true intentions that more variety is added to the plot line, but things pick up strongly in the final half. And the final fight in the serial shows a surprising amount of humor; it’s the only final fight I’ve seen in a serial that features a pie in the face.
The main reason I made the cereal comparison, though is that this one, like many cereals, has a free prize inside. In this case, after we have reached the cliffhanger, we have a short sequence featuring Major Henry Barton (Selmer Jackson) showing us how to crack secret codes; each episode is dedicated to a different kind of code, and it illustrates how to crack them and often how they are hidden. I found these sequences immensely entertaining, and I looked forward to them more than I did the actual serial.
As for the fantastic content, this serial features a few science-fiction style inventions, with the most obvious being a goofy-looking machine that the Nazis use to crack their secret codes.