The Purple Monster Strikes (1945)
Film review #392
Directors: Spencer Benet, Fred Bannon
SYNOPSIS: A rocket ship from the planet Mars makes a landing on Earth, and the astronomer Professor Layton goes to investigate. he finds a man from Mars as the only passenger on the ship and takes him to his observatory, where he learns the man is actually the first part of an invasion force come to conquer the Earth. After killing Layton, he has the ability to possess his dead body and attempt to get his prototype rocket ship design finish so he can use it to return to Mars and lead the invasion. The only person that can stop him is Layton’s assistant Craig Foster, accompanied by Layton’s niece Sheila.
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Purple Monster Strikes is a 1945 movie serial. The opening chapter sees a rocket ship crashing to Earth and Professor Layton going to the impact site. There he finds a man from Mars who it turns out to be the first of an invasion force sent to conquer the Earth. The Martian kills Layton and through the use of gas from the Martian atmosphere, is able to possess Layton’s dead body whenever he wants, which he does in order to get Layton’s rocket ship prototype finished, which is the final key to the invasion, as the Martian rocket ships are unable to return to Mars. Learning of the plans of the “Purple Monster”, Layton’s assistant Craig Foster and Layton’s niece Sheila must find a way to foil the Purple Monster’s plan to steal the rocket ship plans. The story unfolds in keeping with almost every other film in the serial format, with each chapter presenting a new scheme from the Purple Monster and Craig and Sheila attempting to foil it. The ability of the Purple Monster to possess Professor Layton’s dead body is a little dark, but it keeps it family-friendly by not dwelling on the details too much. The back-and-forth between the Purple Monster and Layton also adds an interesting dynamic between the characters. The cliffhangers at the end of each chapter are quite ambitious too, and full of high speed chases and explosions. You always know that they’ll result in someone escaping death at the last second, but it still puts some effort into pulling it off.
The characters themselves are a pretty dull bunch. The usual archetypes are all here: the main young white cowboy-esque hero, the token woman, the scientist, the mysterious villain and his henchman: there is nothing inspiring about any of them. We sometimes see the Martian emperor being contacted by the Purple Monster, and his assistant shows up near the end, but neither of them really offer anything exciting or interesting. The whole business with the Purple Monster being able to possess Layton really ties in with one of the main tropes of these serials of the enemy spy hiding in plain sight, and who could be anyone, which really ties into the paranoia around enemy spies in the U.S. during wartime. Other than that though, the cast is rather forgettable.
Overall, while The Purple Monster Strikes has some good special effects and fast-paced action scenes, its characters are dull and bland, and fail to stand out in the format. I think it sits comfortably in the middle of these serials: nothing special, but nothing catastrophically bad either. Being directed by two of the most prolific serial directors, Spencer Bennet and Fred Bannon, they certainly knew what they are doing, but they’re obviously doing it to create a stable source of income rather than trying to innovate at this point into the format’s history.