Film reviews

#452 – Ace Drummond (1936)

Ace Drummond (1936)

Film review #452

Directors: Ford Beebe, Clifford Smith

SYNOPSIS: International Airways are planning to open a new air route through Mongolia, however, their airplanes are coming under attack by a mysterious villain who calls himself “the Dragon.” Ace pilot and G-man Ace Drummond is called in to investigate and put a stop to The Dragon’s plans to secure a secret mountain of jade for himself…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Ace Drummond is a 1936 Universal Pictures serial comprised of thirteen chapters, based on the comic strip of the same name. The comic was created by Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, one of the most famous U.S. pilots in World War I. The serial starts out with attacks on numerous airplanes owned by International Airways, who are working to establish a new air route through Mongolia. Ace Drummond, a pilot and “G-man of the air,” is called in to investigate the incidents, which are being masterminded by a criminal organisation led by a man known only as “The Dragon.” From there, the serial unfolds in a typical fashion, with Ace and his friends taking on The Dragon’s henchman in fistfights, shootouts and in the air. There’s plenty of story elements that fill the serial, and the story has a direction as situations change, which is something that many serials don’t do. The main plot of the serial is still a back-and-forth between the heroes and villains, but there’s some development with the characters and variety of settings that keep things relatively interesting. The plot concerning an airline and a secret mountain of jade isn’t the most exciting story, but there’s enough going on to not worry about the end goals.

The characters are a very typical cast of serial characters, starting with the youthful action hero Ace. There’s nothing too special about him, but he does sing…the exact same song nearly every chapter. It’s something to make him a little unique I guess, but other than that he’s just the standard lead. Peggy Trainor is the sole female character that is looking for her kidnapped relative, which is one of about only three roles that female characters got in these serials. Jean Rogers, who plays Peggy, also played Dale Arden in the Flash Gordon serial in the same year. The rest of the supporting characters are pretty unremarkable. A lot of the serial is set in a monastery, where many monks live alongside the Grand Lama. I assume that it’s supposed to be Buddhism in all but name, but I don’t think any effort was taken to accurately represent the culture, as with any non-American culture in this era. There are, at least, some of the Asian characters actually played by Asian actors, although the Grand Lama and some of the more prominent Asian characters are white actors made up to ‘look’ Asian. The Dragon doesn’t really do much as the villain: he communicates through some kind of spinning fan (I don’t know how it works), and he is suspected to be one of the people working with the airways, but that element of mystery is fairly commonplace. Each chapter ends with a pretty cool looking dragon model breathing fire as he proclaims “The Dragon commands it!” As mentioned, there’s a good variety of settings that the serial takes place in. The plane fights are decent, and the fight scenes are fairly well choreographed. The acting is decent from the main characters, but a bit stifled through some of the other characters. One more unique thing about is that the intro of each chapter begins with a recap of the previous one in the form of a comic strip, which is reminiscent of Ace’s origins.

Overall, I would say Ace Drummond is a decently crafted serial that while doesn’t provide anything spectacular from the characters or setting, still has a decently flowing story and enough action to elevate it above the average quality of these serials.