The Masked Marvel (1943)
Film review #393
Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet
SYNOPSIS: Warren Hamilton and Martin Crane hire The Masked Marvel to stop Mura Sakima, the head of a criminal organisation who is sabotaging projects for the war effort. When Hamilton is murdered by one of Sakima’s henchman, The Masked Marvel hires a group of investigators to help stop Sakima before he can destroy any more of America’s military technology…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Masked Marvel is a 1943 movie serial. The serial starts off with explosions. Lots of explosions. As various installations are blown up, the insurance company that insures them is having to pay up. Suspecting the Japanese spy Mura Sakima behind these attacks,, the chief executives Warren Hamilton and Martin Crane hire The Masked Marvel to find and stop Sakima. When Hamilton is murdered by one of Sakima’s henchman, The Masked Marvel hires four investigators to help with stopping Sakima, and along with Hamilton’s daughter Alice, they try to hunt Sakima down. The story is fairly standard, but executed quite well: there is a variety of action sequences with some well executed stunts. The serial takes place during World War II, and so the danger of the story having an impact on the war adds to the drama. Sakima as a Japanese spy also reflects this, as the Japanese were seen to be the U.S.’s main enemy. Unfortunately, this being 1943 means that Sakima is played by a white actor who is made to “look” Japanese with all the typical stereotypes you would expect (This is not without precedent, The Batman serial the same year also does this). This really does make the serial feel very dated.
One of the more novel twists on the format is that instead of the main villain being one of the ‘good guys’ in disguise with their identity concealed until the end, this time The Masked Marvel’s identity is the one that is hidden, the only clue being he is one of the four investigators that the Masked Marvel himself hired. This is a refreshing change on one of the staples of the format, although not entirely without precedent (the same idea was used in The Lone Ranger serial a few years earlier). The identity of the Masked marvel doesn’t really have much of an impact on the plot, but it’s a bit of extra fun trying to guess who he is. You may think that it would be easy to determine who the Marvel is, as he only wears half a face mask, but each of the four investigators wear the exact same suit, and the masked marvel puts on a different voice so there really is no way to determine who he is (his voice is dubbed over by a different person altogether). The body type also doesn’t help because whenever the Masked Marvel is on screen, he is played by stuntman Tom Steele. As the serial progresses, two of the investigators die so it slowly narrows down the suspects, which is again unusual for a serial to have such developments that impact on the story as a whole. Martin Crane takes a more typical role of being part of the protagonist’s team who is secretly working for Sakima without being discovered until the very end. Overall it’s a mixed bag of the usual tropes with a few twists to set itself apart.
One of the strongest points of the film is the stunts. As mentioned, the professional stuntman Tom Steele plays The Masked Marvel and gets into some pretty energetic fight scenes as he flies across sets and tackles various henchmen. It’s a shame his name doesn’t appear anywhere on the credits, as he does a great job. The cinematography also offers some interesting angles that add some dramatic flair to some scenes. There’s some bad as well, especially with the dummies that are used whenever someone ‘falls’ off a building or a cliff. In one of the cliffhangers, one of them falls from a building and you can clearly see its arm rip off as it hits the building on the way down, which is pretty funny. Given the quick turn-around for these serials (around three weeks from the start of filming to completion), any mistakes made were generally not re-shot because of the tight schedule. Overall, The Masked Marvel is a good serial that mixes things up slightly in terms of story, and also delivers high energy action. However, some dodgy effects and racial stereotyping hold the serial back and make it quite dated.