Film review #458
Directors: Spencer Bennet, Fred F. Sears
SYNOPSIS: The elite group of air pilots, The International Brotherhood, led by the heroic Blackhawk thwart threats to the country without the use of weapons. They are tasked with stopping a foreign spy and her various schemes, leading to a series of daring adventures.
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Blackhawk is a 1952 serial comprised of fifteen chapters, based on the comic series of the same name. The action centres around the group of air pilots called The International Brotherhood, a group of former WWII pilots led by the heroic Blackhawk. They are assigned the task of bringing down a foreign spy named Laska, who is working for a mysterious Leader. The story revolves around Blackhawk and his boys foiling Laska’s plots which are fairly varied throughout the fifteen chapters. There’s no real overall plot other than just stopping Laska; there’s some smaller plots concerning death rays and recovering new energy sources which would be the full plot to some other serials, but this one condenses each of these plots into two or three chapters, which keeps things somewhat varied and interesting, as some serials that hinge around just one of them get stale very fast. However, having very little to tie the whole serial together makes it suffer a lack of direction. On the other hand however, it’s just good guys chasing bad guys, and that’s all it needs to be. If you’re watching a serial, you won’t be expecting a complex narrative, and they’re mostly for younger viewers as well, so they just want to see the good guys fight the bad guys, and on that point the serial has enough action to make it interesting enough. You also have three or so chapters in Mexico in a more self-contained story, which would have been an optional part for cinemas to purchase depending on whether they bought either the twelve chapter or fifteen chapter version of the serial (a fairly standard practice at the time).
The heroes are a group of former WWII air pilots that work together to take down foreign enemies in their planes. They also make a point that they don’t use guns or weapons, but never explain why. Perhaps it’s something they did in the comics. The head of these pilots is Blackhawk, who is a very typical protagonist, being the young-ish, stocky man who gets to throw plenty of punches. The rest of his team don’t have much character themselves, and just serve as an extra pair of hands for piloting planes and throwing fists in a fight. The villains are also fairly forgettable, with the usual cast of henchman identified as working for the “Reds,” signifying the shift in America’s enemies after WWII. Laska, who serves as the main villain is played by Carol Forman, who played quite a few similar lead female villains in serials such as The Black Widow and Superman. She knows how to play the role, but her character is never given any motivations or depth, and simply serves as a simple villain. There’s also a mysterious Leader who gives Laska her orders, whose identity is kept secret until the very end. He only appears very sporadically, and his identity has no impact on the story. In fact, I didn’t even recognise his character as it was one that was apparently killed off early in the serial.
Produced in 1952, after both WWII and the peak of the serials, Blackhawk has little to offer the genre. With serial veteran Spencer Gordon Bennet being one of the directors, the fight scenes are decently co-ordinated, and there’s some variety in the shots, but nothing too special. A lot of the climaxes of the chapters seem to end up in factories for whatever reason, but there’s some aerial combat too and the usual vehicles going off cliffs. As mentioned, the serial was released after the peak of the format, so there’s nothing special to write about. Even the spike in the popularity of war heroes as characters in serials that started after WWII was starting to wain in 1952 in favour of looking to the future with science-fiction and the space race. As such, this is the last serial that focused on air combat and planes. Overall, Blackhawk is a pretty standard serial, but fails to offer anything special.
Radar Men from the Moon (1952)
Film review #389
Director: Fred C. Brannon
SYNOPSIS: After a series of devastating attacks across the planet, Commando Cody is assigned to travel to the moon in a rocket ship to investigate the theory that the attacks are being launched from there. While there, he finds that the ruler of the moon Retick has been ordering the attacks in order to pave the way for a full scale invasion of Earth, and only Commando Cody and his friends can stop it…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Radar Men from the Moon is a 1952 movie serial comprised of twelve chapters. The first chapter opens showing aerial attacks across the globe, destroying vital infrastructure. Commando Cody and his friends are visited by a government official who believes that the attacks are originating from the moon. Cody has also come to the same conclusion and coincidentally his friend ted has just finished building a rocketship that can fly to the moon. Cody and his friends travel to the moon to investigate, where they find the leader of the moon, Retik, has ordered the attacks to prepare for a full-scale invasion as the moon’s atmosphere is evaporating and making it uninhabitable. Cody manages to steal one of their ray guns and take it back to Earth, while one of the Moon’s inhabitants, Korg, who is stationed on Earth, tries to get the ray gun back and stop Cody along with his hired goons. The fundamentals of the story have been done in many serials before (Flash Gordon, Brick Bradford etc.) so it’s nothing really original, and it’s got all the usual action scenes, chases, cliffhangers and the like. I’ve reviewed so many of these serials now they all somewhat blend into one, and it takes something special to draw my attention. As I have mentioned before, this is the sort of thing you could get away with at the time, as there was no home media or way to rewatch them, and as these are mostly aimed at a younger audience, they may not have seen the older ones, so it was easy to get away with it. With the onset of television at this time though, people could start watching this serial format at home rather than going to the theatre every week, so serials would become less and less popular, although not too many people would have televisions, so the serial format had a few years of life yet. By this time though, the tropes of the format had been well and truely done to death.
This serial is the first to feature Commando Cody, who would have another serial a year later. The flying rocket suit he uses however, was featured in the 1949 serial King of the Rocket Men. There’s no continuity between the two, but as mentioned the younger audience would probably not have watched the previous serial, but may recognise the imagery, as it was quite a unique suit, and the flying mechanics and effects were something new. Radar Men from the Moon re-uses a lot of the rocket suit footage from that film of him flying through the air and such, which again it could be gotten away with at the time. The rest of the characters are the usual cast for the format: one female, a sidekick, the villainous henchman and the alien leaders dressed in bizarre clothing so you know they are alien. There’s some interesting props and sets when the cast are on the moon, with vehicles and underground bases, but that’s the only thing that really stands out. Overall, Radar Men from the Moon is just another standard sci-fi serial. Nothing horrifically bad about it, but nothing to set it apart from all the others that do the exact same thing. Just another one for the pile I guess.