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|Index||15 reviews in total|
This action-packed serial never fails to amaze me--first-rate work by Kane Richmond in the lead and some of the best-choreographed action scenes to be found in any serial; the stunts are sometimes astonishing. Spy Smasher is as convincingly agile a serial good guy as I've seen; his falls from balconies during fights are truly breathtaking. Sure, none of the bad guys lose their fedoras during the intense fight scenes; but if you can't suspend disbelief during a serial, you shouldn't bother watching them in the first place. Several very clever cliffhangers are impossible to explain until their subsequent resolution in the succeeding chapter. The whole serial is stylish, exciting, fun, and even ends, notably, with the tragic death of a beloved favorite good-guy character. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
This is the finest serial ever made. Kane Richmond plays twin brothers battling Nazi agents in America. With expert casting, stunt work and direction this is Republic's finest hour in cliffhangers. The serial never drags and the camera work and doubling creating the illusion of twin is peerless.
The score for Spy Smasher, a variation on Beethoven's fifth symphony,
is a fabulous reminder of the era in which this classic serial was
While Spy Smasher is certainly one of the top 5 adventure serials ever made at Republic, it also is a rousing WW2 propaganda film. Check out the title sequence -- three dots and a dash appear on the screen, coinciding with the first four notes of Beethoven's fifth. Three dots and a dash are Morse code for the letter "V," made famous by Churchill's hand sign as a determination to defeat the Nazis and their cronies. Twin searchlights in the title sequence freeze into another V. The coded messages abound in Spy Smasher--even on Spy Smasher's belt buckle.
The action here is top notch, the cast capable, the stunt work great (as always at Republic) and the special effects likewise. If you like Republic serials (Zorro's Fighting Legion, Adventures of Captain Marvel, etc.) you MUST take a look at this one. It is one of the very best. Kane Richmond later went on to play the Shadow in a couple of films, one of which featured a killer who pulled his victims to their deaths off of balconies using a bullwhip, a stunt which was first seen in Spy Smasher. One thing I love about this chapterplay is the acknowledgment that we would not win the war without suffering losses. Great pacing, great action, great serial!
The Movie Serial, at least since the advent of sound, has always been
considered a sort of poor relative of the feature, if not an out and
out bastard cousin. They were always sort of viewed with the cartoons
as being strictly made for the Matinée, the juvenile trade. As a
result, there really is no "CITIZEN KANE" of Serials. SPY SMASHER comes
To be sure,it is a product of Republic Pictures' "thrill factory"*, and has plenty of stock footage of explosions, fires, floods and other assorted calamities through out.All of these are skillfully woven into the final product. It still has a bright, vital out of doors look;as well as convincing indoor sets. It also has an excellent cast which is headed by energetic,athletic Kane Richmond. Next to Buster Crabbe, Mr. Richmond is probably the best leading man in the Sound Serials. He was also prolific,having been in several other serials.
We have over 100 Serials in VHS or DVD formats in our household.This one is a top notch film,period. See it, but don't expect any 'Camp Humor". It's just not there.**
NOTE* Republic adapted it from the popular comic book feature appearing in WHIZ COMICS. It was property of Fawcett Publications, whose CAPTAIN MARVEL was previously brought to the screen by Republc, in 1941.
NOTE **See also SPY SMASHER RETURNS (1966), the edited-down feature version made for Television.
I do so love to watch professionals at work.
When you watch "Spy Smasher," you see a genre and a studio at the top of their form. Everything in this serial clicks and hums along like a well-oiled machine. The plot is exciting and as logical as it need be, the music fast and inspiring, the cliffhangers harrowing, and the acting professional and dead-on. It's Republic Studios at the height of their game, ancestor to the big action flicks of today, and sheer pleasure to watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One reviewer, who clearly didn't pay much attention to the serial, says that Spy Smasher falls off a building and dies...then in the last chapter DOESN'T die. Well, that's plain silly. If anyone just watches the movie (I mean, you don't even have to pay super-close attention), you will see that it is Spy Smasher's twin brother Jack, who has donned the costume, gets shot and falls off the building. He does indeed die! But he isn't Spy Smasher! His brother Alan is...and has been the entire serial. His twin brother is no last chapter reveal...he's there from Chapter One. Wake up before you write a review...or at least watch the movie.
The old-time movie serials should never be judged by the same criteria
of other films, even those made at the same time period. The serials
were invariably outrageous, over-the-top, often ridiculous. But unlike
Adam West's 'Batman' the serials were never self-conscious or
deliberately campy. Although many serials featured a mildly humorous
characters such as Jimmy Olsen or Whitey Whitney to provide occasional
comic relief, on the whole, the actors and directors played everything
straight and extremely earnest, no matter how absurd the situation or
the scene. They did their best at every test.
The old movie serials were made with practically zero budget and at a forced-march pace, shooting in two days what would take 6 months under modern conditions. Those factors, combined with the primitive special effects then available and outdated cinematic conventions, give movie serials a look and feel unlike anything made in the last 52 years.
The final thing a modern person should know before watching an old serial is that 1940's movies had a more realistic vision of the male body than modern Hollywood. The men of this era had survived the depression (and later, WWII). When they were hungry, they ate meat and potatoes. The tough guys of this period lifted barbells and did push-ups, but they didn't have Soloflex, Nautilus, implants or steroids. Think about the last time you went to the beach: how many real world guys were built like Daniel Craig? In summary, it is best to watch the old serials from the perspective that you are looking at some kind of alternate reality, so as to suspend some of the prejudices of the modern cinema. Or perhaps as though one were a tourist in a foreign country: rather than seeing the differences as bizarre or deficient, but instead as being novel, interesting, and sometimes wondrous.
I have seen about 20 serials in my life, and 'Spy Smasher' is hands-down the best. Kane Richmond made an excellent hero and pulled off the double (or is it triple?) role very nicely. The action is well-paced, the special effects and sets, are, by serial standards, excellent. The fight scenes, cliff-hangers, and escapes are all the absolute best I have seen in any serial. The creativity and ingenuity used to choreograph the fight scenes are truly wondrous. If you are familiar with the 'Indiana Jones' films, you can literally see numerous instances where Spielberg borrowed and extrapolated from Spy Smasher.
And although the fight scenes are masterfully choreographed and have great stunt-work, they are much more plausible (therefore more interesting) than the kind of CGI/steroid-assisted stuff you see in modern action movie, in which human beings no longer seem bound by any biological or physical limits, being instead endowed with the powers of a video game.
There are a number of dramatic surprises as well, including some understatedly somber moments. Without spoiling too much, I will say that mortality is a factor.
The opening credits to each chapter, which feature the Morse Code signal for Victory, the opening notes of Beethoven's 5th, and an image of searchlights crossing the sky, accurately evoke the Churchill/Roosevelt mentality of the dark early days of WWII, the summoning up of righteous courage. This undercurrent of the real war, the outcome of which could not yet be known, gives Spy Smasher a resonance not found in other serials. But despite the influence of the historical moment, Spy Smasher is still predominately an escapist joy ride. Which is a good thing.
10-year-old boys must have really gobbled this up when it was a brand-new serial back in 1942. Even now it has the power to involve and entertain with its narrative flow, frequent spurts of action, and that pounding musical introduction from Beethoven's Fifth. Best of all it has Kane Richmond, (born in Minneapolis in 1906), who has all the looks and manner you want in a serial hero. He also has amazingly tough skin. In Chapter One he's captured by the Nazis, bound against the wall of a Gestapo dungeon, and given a vigorous whipping across his bare chest -- but hardly seems to suffer so much as a paper-cut! Actually, this is one of those floggings where the whip is never shown touching its victim. Instead, the impression of a flogging is given by means of editing together various visual elements. In any case, this scene ranks 18th in the book, "Lash! The Hundred Great Scenes of Men Being Whipped in the Movies."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the best serials of the 1940s, Spy Smasher combines action and clever cliffhangers with a superb double role for its star, Kane Richmond, as well as an enjoyable cast. Richmond stars as twin brothers Alan and Jack Armstrong during the period just before and immediately into US involvement in the Second World War. Jack is fiancé to Eve Corby, the daughter of the recently-appointed director of foreign intelligence, Admiral Corby. Alan is a former news writer who faked his death in France during the Nazi conquest in order to begin building a network within the Resistance that will help him fight the Nazis on their own ground.
Now, however, he must fight them in the US, as a Nazi intelligence officer, known as the Mask for his use of a mask when communicating with collaborators in the US, has hatched a scheme to flood counterfeit money into the US, the first of a series of sabotage efforts that bring out the intervention of Spy Smasher and Jack in a series of encounters with the Mask's henchmen.
The running battle with the Mask's men, however, leads to tragedy, as Eve is kidnapped and an attempt at rescue proves fatal, leading to Eve's discovery of Spy Smasher's identity and eventually to a final showdown with the Mask amid a Nazi submarine attack on a US industrial base.
Spy Smasher is a rather good chapterplay. It features a rather obscure
character from Whiz Comics (the same book that spawned Captain Marvel).
From an adaptation point of view, it isn't very good, but then very few
comic book-to-screen adaptations are all that true to the source
The cliffhangers are all acceptable and explainable from chapter to chapter (using the "they-don't-show-us-all-the-action" angle)...and the storyline is action-packed. The villain, The Mask, is a typical one spawned of both serials and comics of the times. There also doesn't seem to be a lot of stock footage use (though there is a bit of footage reuse in later chapters).
Kane Richmond isn't too much of an actor, but he is quite adequate here as the dashing identical twins and Spy Smasher. The rest of the cast isn't too noteworthy...nor do they have performances of any real note.
This is definitely a good example of a good movie serial...12 chapters that are worth the time to watch.
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