Ghost Patrol (1936)
Director: Sam Newfield
Film review #473
SYNOPSIS: Professor Brent has invented a machine that can stop internal combustion engines from a distance. The leader of a group of bandits kidnaps him and forces him to use his invention to bring down aircraft so they can rob them. Federal agent Tim Caverly is sent in to investigate and rescue the professor, and when the local bandits mistake him for outlaw Tim Toomley, he assumes his identity in order to get closer to the bandits and uncover their plan before they bring down the next plane…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Ghost Patrol is a 1936 film. The story centres around a device that is able to bring down planes from a distance by stalling their engines, and a gang of bandits that has kidnapped the inventor and forcing him to use the machine to bring planes down, so that they can loot the wreckage. Government agent Tim Caverly is sent in to investigate and rescue professor Brent, who invented the device. Encountering the bandits who are responsible, they mistake him for Tim Toomley; a noted outlaw, and Tim plays along in order to get closer to the bandits and find out where the professor is. The film is basically a western with the added sci-fi element of this machine that can stop internal combustion engines. It’s called a “radium tube,” and a lot of the inventions in these films are named after radium, or fuelled by it for some reason. Anyway, at just under an hour long, there’s not too much in the way of content to talk about: the pacing is slow, and there’s just a lot of horseriding and dialogue that moves along the story at a slow pace. Everything is quite predictable and unsurprising, and a swift resolution at the end doesn’t provide much of an exciting climax. The plot reminds me very much of a film serial, which would probably have found a way to stretch the story into three years of a back-and-forth between the characters, while adding nothing of value otherwise.
The characters themselves are pretty forgettable and bland too. Tim Caverly/Toomley is a standard gun-slinging cowboy with no real personality. His sidekick serves as a bit of comic relief, and the sole female character delivers a good performance, but ultimately serves very little purpose other than being the daughter of the professor (the only purpose a vast majority of female characters have in films at this time). The villains are, as well, a rather forgettable bunch.
There’s not much that is remarkable in terms of the film’s production: most of it looks like repurposed sets and props from any western from the era. The machine looks quite cool and complex, but we don’t really see much of it: in fact, the professor and the machine don’t show up until after halfway through the film. The lack of any accompanying music also makes the film feel empty, and there’s a mismatch in the audio, which means you can hear when the film is on a set from the echo in the audio to when it is outside on location. Also, I’m not sure what the title “Ghost patrol” is referring to, as there’s nothing remotely ghost-like or much patrolling done at all. Overall, Ghost Patrol is a fairly forgettable film with unremarkable characters, a story you’ve seen before, and a setting in an oversaturated western genre that even with a sci-fi twist fails to stand out.