Say, Pat, do you think Dad will be sore at me for coming along?
It's a little late to be worrying about that now, Terry. You know, your father will be so happy to see you that he won't think about bawling you out until later.
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OK, I know that serials in the 40s were definitely B-features, but this is plain awful, especially in view of the fact that it was (loosely) based on one of the best comic strips of all time, chuck full of atmosphere, romance, great characters, and fine artwork. The entire serial seems to be one long running chase punctuated by fist fights every few minutes. The best part of each episode is the rapid-fire narrated preview of the next chapter.
As the serial begins we find Terry and Pat Ryan disembarking and heading upriver through jungles and zebras and hippos (oh my)...er...wait a minute, wasn't the comic strip set in China? This appears to be Malaya or India, or the hills of the Columbia back lot with a few potted palm trees, so right away we lose the exotic setting of the original. We never see a single Chinese junk, much less any pirates, unless you count the guys in cheap beach robes who chase our heroes around for 15 chapters.
William Tracy at age 23 does a pretty fair job with the role of Terry, trying hard to act young by letting his voice crack every little while and maintaining a high level of enthusiasm, and Jeff York is passable as Pat Ryan, given the material he has to work with. That's about it. Dick Curtis as Fang is the worst inscrutable Oriental villain ever, Allen Jung as Connie has ludicrous rubber ears, the Dragon Lady (Sheila Darcy), supposedly an Asian temptress, looks and talks more like she's from Cleveland, and the high priest looks like a Shakespearian actor who wandered onto the wrong set. The worst sin of all is that they have Big Stoop talk! Every Terry fan knows that he never uttered a single word, and his lines are all throwaway anyhow, so why do that? The villains all talk like extras from a cowboy movie, and, yep, there's good old Charles King, bad guy of a hundred westerns, as a member of the gang, with a guy in a raggedy gorilla costume thrown in for good measure. (Now that I think about it, he gets more footage than most of the other actors.)
You can try treating this as high camp and laugh it up for a few chapters, but it gets old in a hurry as there's no real mystery and nothing very new happens. I've always wondered why someone like Steven Spielberg didn't grab this great story and give it the full Indiana Jones treatment; maybe someday someone will, but until then we have only this really bad rendition to live with. Maybe the TV series in the 50s was better, I haven't seen it, but somehow I don't think so.
Hang onto your secret rings, fans, we may yet see the real thing.
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