Manhunt of Mystery Island (1945)
Film review #446
Directors: Spencer Gordon Bennet, Wallace Grissell, Yakima Canutt
SYNOPSIS: When Professor William Forrest, the inventor of a revolutionary new scientific device, is kidnapped, his daughter Claire enlists the help of private detective Lance Reardon to find him. They trace his whereabouts to a private island in the Pacific, co-owned by four individuals. The island is terrorised by Captain Mephisto, a long-dead pirate who is actually one of the owners, who uses a fantastic machine to take the form of his ancestor Mephisto. Lance and Claire have to stop Mephisto from forcing Professor Forrest from finishing his scientific device, which will allow Mephisto to wreak havoc on world industries…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Manhunt of Mystery Island is a 1945 Republic Pictures serial comprised of fifteen chapters. The serial starts out with Professor William Forrest being kidnapped and forced to finish a new scientific device by the evil Captain Mephisto, who wants to use it to wreak havoc across the world’s industries. Forrest’s daughter Claire enlists the help of private detective Lance Reardon to help find him, leading to them travelling to “Mystery Island” somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. There, they meet the four co-owners of the island, and discover the legends of Captain Mephisto, who used the island as his base some two hundred years ago. When they learn that it is he who has kidnapped the professor, they work on finding his secret base and rescuing the professor. The story has many of the usual set ups that these serials do, and the sheer mix of these tropes, while overbearing at times, at least makes the serial interesting. Each chapter advances the plot in some way and has some sort of consequence for the characters, so it feels at least the story is going somewhere, rather than going around in circles for fifteen chapters, which some of these serials do. There’s chases across land, sea and air, and a decent variety of cliffhangers to keep the excitement going too.
The most unique thing about the serial is the premise of the villain. The identity of Captain Mephisto being one of the four co-owners of mystery island isn’t anything surprising, but his “disguise” is not a disguise at all, but is able to change into the body of Captain Mephisto, who is his ancestor, by using a machine that alters his body. It sounds like something that could have been from the Assassin’s Creed franchise. While this is a unique setup for this serial, it does beg the question why “Mephisto” need Forrest’s device when he has a machine that can literally alter his entire body. Surely he could sell the idea and live perfectly happy for the rest of his life? It certainly seems more revolutionary than the device that he is forcing Professor Forrest to build. If he built it himself, surely he would be smart enough to finish Forrest’s invention himself rather than forcing him to do it? It’s probably best not to think too hard about the plot of these serials. The rest of characters are fairly standard, with the usual male lead and sole female character, Claire, who as usual is the daughter of one of the the characters (women in these serials are usually either related to another character, or work as a secretary or reporter). One thing worth mentioning about her character is that she is a lot more active and involved with the story than other women ins serials, who usually just get kidnapped or hang about at their home in the background. Although there’s some of Claire being kidnapped, she plays a somewhat equal role to Lance, as she accompanies him on many of the dangerous setups, and has to escape many of the same perils. She doesn’t get involved in any of the fist-fighting, but she gets to handle a pistol a fair few times, which again is noteworthy because many of the women in these serials are completely passive and have no effect on events. The minimal number of main cast means that a lot of the action centres around Lance and Claire, giving them much more to do and making them feel more like lively characters.
Being released at the mid-latter end of the serial’s lifespan, it makes use of more advanced special effects and setups than some earlier ones. There’s a lot of re-suing footage, such as Mephisto’s transformation sequence which is the same footage used in every chapter. However, there’s not much stock footage, and the action sequences in boats, cars and airplanes involve the characters, rather than clearly being stock footage from other serials. any of the cliffhangers are fairly creative, although their resolutions are typically anti-climatic, with character just walking away from falling off the side of a cliff without so much as a limp. It’s also pretty funny characters seemingly plunge to their deaths when they are clearly stuffed dummies that flail all over the place. On a side-note, I think this is one of the films George Lucas would have seen as a child, as some of these cliff-hangers are replicated rather faithfully in the Indiana Jones films. In particular, the cliff-hanger to chapter thirteen, which sees Lance and Claire trapped on a suspension bridge and Mephisto cuts the ropes from one side, forcing them to seemingly plunge to their doom, is almost identical to the climax of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Overall, Manhunt of Mystery Island is a decent serial that, while it’s a mish-mash of many different serial tropes and set-ups, produces a well-flowing story and some unique elements which will keep viewers entertained. Certainly a better than average serial.