A 12-episode serial. The government of Marovania hires the wicked Boroff to manufacture a powerful gas that causes mass disintegration. Boroff is en route to Marovania with a boatload of arnatite to make the gas when his steamer runs aground off the California coast. Boroff soon commits a murder. The Coast Guard, led by Lt. Terry Kent, must hunt Boroff, figure out his plan and where the arnatite is, capture and dispose of any gas Boroff manages to make, and protect the safety of civilians, including Terry's special friend, ubiquitous reporter Jean Norman, and her chatty photographer, Snapper McGee. Aiding Boroff is his slave Thorg, a formidable giant. Kent must often use his fists. Written by
Above-average Republic serial with strong hero/villain pairing and expert staging
SOS COAST GUARD (1937) never flags throughout its entire run of twelve chapters. Nearly every episode offers something new and different, be it a chase involving two cars and a motorcycle in one episode or one involving speedboats and tommy guns in the next. Most of it is filmed on location in all sorts of picturesque Southern California coastal sites. As the hero, Ralph Byrd (Republic's own Dick Tracy) seems to do a lot of his own stuntson land and at sea. He clambers around rocks, flies a plane, goes out in boats, rides a motorcycle, runs around rooftops, jumps off of them and when he has to fight, he plunges right in, getting into furious scraps with a host of different henchmen. And it's never the typical movie fight in which opponents trade telegraphed punches. It's pummeling, tussling, shoving, grabbing, rolling, kickingmessy, like a real fight.
The hero and villain (Bela Lugosi) are well matched. They're both smart and proactive. The villain's always one step aheadas it's gotta be for a serial to last 12 chaptersbut Byrd is no dope and he catches up pretty quickly. The villain uses lots of henchmen, divided into different teams for different tasks, so Byrd's not fighting the same bad guys in every episode. Also, unlike most serial heroes, Byrd's not afraid to call in police or Coast Guard backup. One great scene has the henchmen staking out a lab where a scientist is trying to analyze the villain's disintegrating gas so he can find a method to counteract it. Byrd's got several policemen protecting the lab. The lead henchman comes up with a clever plan to get Byrd out of the way, find a ruse to get past the police, get into the lab, kidnap the scientist and get him out without arousing the cops' suspicions. Usually, scenes like this rely on wild coincidences or highly improbable circumstances, but the plan used here actually makes sense and one has to give the bad guys credit for using their heads. It makes the whole thing so much more dramatically interesting when the hero faces genuine challenges.
Bela Lugosi plays the villain, Boroff, a criminal mastermind trying to develop disintegrating gas to sell to foreign powers for use in the coming war. Lugosi plays it straight, without any of his usual over-the-top mannerisms, and he's very effective. He's well supported by the actors playing his men, who look and move like actual thugs and not pretty boys from Central Casting.
If I have any complaint it's that the idiot comic relief, inept photographer "Snapper" McGee, gets way too much screen time and is the only element that actually slows the serial down. Also, some of the cliffhanger endings are a little on the cheating side. In one ending, Byrd ducks into the cockpit of his plane as a water tower falls on top of him. At the beginning of the next episode, it shows that he escaped injuryby ducking into the cockpit of his plane! Not exactly worth waiting a week for. This actually doesn't bother me because the rest of the story is so filled with action and thrills that the cliffhanger endings really don't matter much.
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