The Clutching Hand (1936)
Film review #424
Director: Albert Herman
SYNOPSIS: Dr. Paul Gironda has discovered a formula for turning ordinary metal into gold, a discovery that prove very valuable for the corporation he works for. Before he can reveal this discovery however, Dr. Gironda is kidnapped by a criminal known only as “The Clutching Hand,” and master detective Craig Kennedy is assigned to the case. Along with his journalist friend Walter Jameson and Gironda’s family, must find the professor and bring down the criminal plans of the clutching hand once and for all…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Clutching Hand is a 1936 movie serial composed of fifteen chapters. It is based on the Craig Kennedy detective novels, most specifically, the final one that was written by their author Arthur B. Reeve. The film starts off with scientist Dr. Paul Gironda finishing a formula for synthesising gold. However, before he can reveal the formula to the board of directors for the company he works for, he is kidnapped, along with the formula. Detective Craig Kennedy is assigned to the case and along with his friend, journalist Walter Jameson, they work to find Dr. Gironda and stop the criminal mastermind known only as “The Clutching Hand” from obtaining the rest of the formula. The setup is a very familiar one in the serial format, and offers no surprises. The main problem with the story is just how boring it is. With a runtime of just over five hours, there needs to be plenty going on to keep the viewers interest, but there really isn’t. The constant back-and-forth between trying to rescue Gironda and finding the missing pages of the formula gets old fast, and there’s no real variety to the scenarios that play out on screen. Sometimes the serial just spends time explaining something that’s going on, which really drags. There’s a secondary plot concerning a criminal who has just been released from jail and his connection to Gironda’s family, but I didn’t even notice it while watching. At one point Gironda is rescued, only to be kidnapped again on his way home; it is really dull and repetitive.
The characters are again just the usual types as you see in these serials. Most of the time you’re just watching men in suits talk or throw punches at each other without much distinction. Craig Kennedy perhaps breaks the mould a little, in that he is not the young, dashing hero you would expect, but a more rough-looking, middle-aged detective. Gironda’s daughter and wife are the two female characters, who exist to either be kidnapped or provide secretarial duties. The Clutching Hand himself takes on the role of the masked villain whose identity is not revealed until the final chapter, and issues orders through a screen to his numbered henchmen. Again, nothing extraordinary there. The other minor characters are not worth remembering, as they serve little purpose other than to fill out the fight scenes.
The serial reminds me a lot of the Blake of Scotland Yard serial of 1937, in that it was produced by an independent company under similar constraints. But when the big studios were putting out serials like Flash Gordon in 1936, there’s no way these smaller serials would be of interest. There’s very few sets in this serial; and the constant re-use of a hotel setting where secret meetings take place makes you feel like you’re going around in circles watching the same thing play out in the same place chapter after chapter. The action scenes are dull and unchoreographed, with the film clearly being sped up to make it look more exciting, but the near-complete absence of any background music and the lack of choreography that shows when people fall over before they are even punched means it’s not very believable. The car chases have no interior shots of the passengers, and thus feel disconnected from anything plot-wise. Perhaps the only interesting part of the serial is the very end when (spoilers) The Clutching Hand is revealed to be Dr. Gironda himself, who apparently made up the formula for synthesising gold in order to recoup his massive losses on the stock market. It also turns out that his daughter is actually not his daughter at all, but that of the criminal Mitchell who we saw released at the beginning of the serial, and Gironda tries to find a way of disposing of him before he can learn the truth. This plot, while actually interesting, doesn’t really go anywhere, and has little impact on the main story. As the gold formula was a fake the whole time and Gironda wasn’t actually kidnapped, then you can conclude that the whole story was essentially pointless, and there is no payoff for watching five hours of this back-and-forth. I would advise skipping The Clutching Hand, it is a dull and poorly produced serial that, while having a few good ideas, simply doesn’t compete with the behemoths of the serial industry.