Sea Raiders (1941)
Film review #415
Directors: Ford Beebe, John Rawlins
SYNOPSIS: A gang of kids living by the harbour get wrapped up in a nefarious plot by a foreign agent to steal a new “torpedo boat” that is to be sold to the American government. The boat has been invented by Adam, who is Billy’s older, who is also the leader of the gang. When the plans for the boat are stolen, a local G-man named Brack Warren believes the kids are to blame, and tries to hunt them down. Billy decides that the only way to clear their name is to try and find who stole the plans and get them back before they are captured and Brack sends the kids to the desert…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Sea Raiders is a 1941 movie serial and the second universal serial featuring the group(s) of young actors known as the “Dead End Kids” and the “Little Tough Guys.” Junior G-men, the first serial was released the previous year. The story centres – as the title suggests – around the sea, where an unknown assailant termed the “Sea Raider” has been destroying ships carrying wartime supplies to America’s allies in Europe. Billy and his gang of street kids are causing trouble and trying to avoid getting caught by local officer Brack Warren, who wants to ship them off to the desert. Billy’s brother Tom has been developing a new torpedo boat that be sold to the government and shipped to its allies, but little does he know his friend Captain Carlton is secretly working with a foreign agent to steal the boat for his own country. When Tom’s workshop is broken into and his blueprints are stolen, Warren suspects Billy’s gang is behind the theft, and they decide to prove their innocence by tracking down the real thieves. The story is fairly similar to the usual serial format, but like its predecessor, deviates somewhat by having the lead characters not be a square-jawed, cowboy-esque white male, but instead this gang of rogue, slang-talking kids who constantly cause trouble. and rebel against authority. The plot flows nicely, and although it falls into some typical tropes of the format, it switches up the locations and perils enough to keep things interesting.
The kid characters, as mentioned, do eschew the typical lead roles, but their characters are almost identical to the ones they played in Junior G-Men. The young actors only play this very specific role though, but it is confusing that this isn’t a direct sequel, and even more so that the lead kid Billy is again playing a character named Billy (whose real name is also Billy). A lot of what I said about the characters from my review of the previous film featuring them still stands: the characters initially come across as rather unlikable, in that they are constantly causing trouble and stealing from people. It’s a bit more toned down in this film though, and their relatives dismiss their antics as mostly harmless. A lot of their antics are also directed at Brack Warren, a local police officer, who provides more of a comic relief role in his inability to apprehend the kids and his general incompetence, so the kid’s actions don’t seem so bad. Other than the main cast, the supporting cast are more in line with a typical serial, with a villain that is pretending to be the heroes friends, backed by a foreign agent (although the name of his country is not mentioned, he is obviously German). The theme of the serial around bewaring foreign spies and standing up for your country are typical of wartime serials, and like its predecessor, this one is perhaps aimed at younger viewers who like the kids in the serial are troublemakers, but can still support their country.
There aren’t too may serials with a focus on the sea, so that makes the serial stand out a bit more (The only other one I have seen is S.O.S. Coast Guard). This setting brings with it a lot of chases on the sea and even fights with sharks and an octopus. The camerawork is fairly decent, and the shots at sea are well done and convincing for the time. On the negative side, I noticed that the twelve chapters are a little shorter than usual. Given that the beginning of the chapter is a text-scrolling recap of the previous chapter, then there is playing the end of the previous chapter for the cliffhanger and it’s resolution, you are basically getting less than fifteen minutes per chapter, which if you’re going to the theatre every week seems like a bit of effort for little in return. On the other hand though, this means that the chapters are quick and fast-paced, so you’re not bored with scenes of pointless dialogue of characters explaining the plan they’re about to execute. Like it’s predecessor, Sea Raiders offers something a little different in the format: not too much, but enough. The story is familiar, but well-paced, and the action sequences are well done. The lead kids are a little erratic and difficult to root for when they act in their spiteful and rough manner, but they settle into the role of heroes well enough when confronting the real villains. Similar to Junior G-men, it’s worth a watch if you’re a fan of the format (although it doesn’t really work as a format nowadays), and would have been entertaining back when it was released too, I imagine.