Bruce Gentry (1949)
Film review #530
Directors: Spencer Gordon Bennet, Thomas Carr
SYNOPSIS: Bruce Gentry, a charter pilot, has gone to see his friend is Dr. Benson, but the scientist is kidnapped by a mysterious gang led by a man known only as “The Recorder,” who wants Dr. Benson to work on their “flying disc” machines to unleash an attack on the country. Bruce teams up with Paul Radcliffe, an industrialist, alongside ranchers Juanita and Frank, in order to rescue Dr. Benson and put The Recorder’s gang out of action…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Bruce Gentry is a 1949 film serial based on the comic strip centred around the character of the same name. The film opens up with Bruce Gentry, a charter pilot, who gets into a fistfight with a gang of henchman less than a minute into the runtime. When Gentry’s friend Dr. Benson is kidnapped by a criminal gang to work on their inventions. Bruce teams up with Paul Radcliffe, an industrialist, and ranchers Juanita and Frank, whose land contains a mine where materials where Plutonite can be found, which the gang need to complete their machines. Together, they all try to rescue Dr. Benson and stop the criminal gang, led by the mysterious “Recorder.” The fifteen part serial has all the components that are very typical of the format, with each chapter revolving around the back-and-forth between the good guys and bad guys as they scheme and counter-scheme one another. It’s formulaic, but no less so than any of the other serials of the time. The use of airplanes as one of the focal points of the serial, and the main character being a pilot was again a popular choice of serials, as they were firmly in the public’s imagination after the second world war, and were seen as heroes. Unfortunately, there’s not much plane action in this; merely travelling from one destination to another, and usually not making it, as Bruce typically has to jump out of the plane at the last second to avoid being killed in typical cliffhanger fashion. There’s no dog fights or combat in the skies, which is something other serials do, so it is going to pale in comparison to others, and it feels like more could have been done instead of the forgettable schemes we get. The plot barely moves forward at any point, and is stuck at the initial stalemate between the heroes and villains until the final chapter.
The cast of characters is pretty bland: Bruce Gentry is a typical male lead (as with nearly all of these serials), but he doesn’t have anything special or interesting to set him apart: he just flies a plane occasionally. The rest of the characters are also unimportant: Paul Radcliffe, who hires Bruce to investigate the criminal gang, wants the secret of the flying disc’s that the gang uses for himself, but keeps that a secret. This could have led to an interesting side story, but it’s never really followed up. There’s Juanita, the one female character (apart from Paul’s secretary) who has some fight in her, but usually just falls into the role of being kidnapped every other chapter. Frank is completely ineffectual, and just serves as another pair of hands, and the henchmen are completely unremarkable. The Recorder, the mysterious villain who leads the criminal gang, is only heard through voice recordings (hence the name I guess), and while his identity is kept secret throughout the serial, his eventual reveal comes long past the point of being invested in this serial.
As mentioned, the serial does little to try anything new, and the lack of action that isn’t just fistfights makes everything very predictable and dull. One noteworthy element is that this serial is the first time a “flying saucer” was featured on screen, with the criminal gang’s “flying discs” being their main weapon. They are mostly seen as a traditionally animated object flying towards the screen, which does look a bit out of place, and could probably achieved without resorting to animation and creating something so distractingly different to the rest of the serial. This technique was done in other serials, most notable in the Superman serials, but this was typically for when Superman had to fly, which would have been difficult to film in such low budget, low-tech conditions. In Bruce Gentry, I’m sure they could have just used a model to the same effect. Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet, who directed by so many similar serials, Bruce Gentry has all the pieces of a typical serial, but fails to offer anything in terms of an exciting plot, interesting characters, or unique sci-fi premises. I’d rank it below average, but definitely not the worst of the movie serials (only because there are some really bad ones).