SECRET AGENT X-9 (1937)
Article 2743 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-9-2008
Posting Date: 2-15-2009
Directed by Ford Beebe and Clifford Smith
Featuring Scott Kolk, Jean Rogers, David Oliver
Secret Agent X-9 must track down a master thief who has stolen the Belgravian crown jewels.
This rather average serial was listed in the Willis guide as having fantastic elements on the strength of the title of its second chapter: THE RAY THAT BLINDS. I can understand that deduction; given the ubiquity of death rays in the era and the fact that the title of the serial implies spy action, I’d expect a weapon-ray of some sort myself. However, on inspection, the “ray that blinds” turns out to be nothing more than an ordinary light shined into the eyes of a driver; I remember it being referred to as an ‘x-ray’ of sorts, but I don’t remember whether it’s in the serial itself or some writing referring to it. Its primary use in the movie is to shine through some paintings in the hopes of finding a concealed receipt that leads to the stolen jewels. This doesn’t quite cut it as science fiction content, in my humble opinion. However, the movie may also be borderline fantasy; the existence of Belgravian crown jewels implies that there is a country called Belgravia out there, which goes under the classification of mythical kingdoms, even if the movie doesn’t spend any time there.
As I said before, this serial struck me as pretty average. The story is passable, but hardly great. Of the things I noticed most, there are moments when it has the most atrocious dubbing that I’ve ever seen in an English-language film; apparently, they tried to add voices from some of the silent stock footage they used. It also has more than its fair shares of lying-cliffhangers; for those who need to be refreshed as to the difference between cheating cliffhangers and lying cliffhangers, the former edit in new footage between the pieces of footage you saw in the previous episode, whereas the latter completely omits footage that was part of the cliffhanger, such as moments when the hero clutches his chest after a gun goes off, and falls to the ground. And seeing Lon Chaney Jr. in this one as a henchman, I can’t help but feel how fortunate he was that his career took off like it did; I’ve known a few serial heroes whose careers took them on to greater things, but I know very few serial henchmen who were that fortunate.