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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Raiders of Ghost City is a decent western serial that has an interesting premise and the unusual casting of Lionel Atwill as the villain. The plot is set during the last days of the American Civil War where Union Army Captain Steve Clark (Dennis Moore) is dispatched under cover to Oro Grande California to stop a series of gold raids being perpetrated by Confederate Army Captain Clay Randolph (Regis Toomey), who was a West Point student with Clark. What no one knows, not even Randolph, is that the raiders actually work for saloon owner Alex Morel (Lionel Atwill), who is posing as a freelance spy for Randolph. In actuality Morel is a Prussian (ie German) secret agent who is secretly transporting the gold to his own country instead of to the Confederacy, his country wants to buy Alaska from Russia before anyone else knows it's on the market. This is a pretty complicated serial with lots of double crosses between Morel and Randolph and then Morel and his own men, who don't know he is a spy, plus a mystery informant hidden amongst the good guys who lets Morel know everything they do. There are also some great plot twists like the war ending after the half way point of the story and Randolph switching sides because even though he fought against the Union, he is still an American. The action is fast and furious with lots of shoot outs, fist fights and horse back chases. But the real draw is Atwill, who snaps out lines with cultured glee and contempt at every turn, a true high light is his scene where he uncouples a train car with the hero in it so that will slide back down a mountain and crash. He nonchalantly wipes grease off his hands while casually commenting to a fellow conspirator about the unfortunate accident that has just happened to their enemy. Nobody in film was ever cooler.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film could only be made in 1944 when we learned coincidentally
enough when we were fighting Nazi Germany of a secret Prussian plan to
steal American gold and then use it as a down payment to pay for Alaska
from Russia and gain a foothold in North America. We were assured that
at the very end of this serial because it was only through the work
done by the secret agents involved here that we even learned Russia was
looking to peddle Alaska that the facts never reached the history
books. But now we've opened the archives and this serial tells us what
dastardly folks the Germans were back when there wasn't even a united
I have to give credit to the folks at Universal for imagination if nothing else for this fanciful tale. I'm somewhat amazed that this scheme was starting to jell in 1865, you'd think they'd have put the plan in motion during say 1862 when it was still unclear whether we would have two countries. And never mind the firm support that Prussia did give the Union cause diplomatically which is in the history books.
No less than Abraham Lincoln himself assigns Dennis Moore to go west like Errol Flynn did in Virginia City and find out what's going on with these gold shipments being robbed. At the same time Joe Sawyer is assigned to investigate a murder of a Wells Fargo agent who is also leading lady Wanda McKay's dear old dad. Fate teams all three of them together.
The villains are Virginia Christine who is best remembered as Spencer Tracy's housekeeper in Judgment at Nuremberg and Lionel Atwill. At least Atwill could have said that he actually has a western in his film credits. He's a properly elegant saloon owner of a place in California called Oro Grande where all this is taking place. Christine is a saloon singer in the vein of Marlene Dietrich. Both drift in and out of German accents as the serial progresses.
The events of those last days of the Civil War are woven into the plot including the surrender at Appomatox and the assassination of Lincoln. In fact the Prussian agents use the Lincoln assassination as a means of stirring up the Modoc Indians so they can get away with their loot. It seems as though the great white father in Washington was supposed to send them a telegram and the Indians when they didn't get it took it as a Dis and went on the warpath. That also didn't make the history books.
I suppose we should be grateful this wasn't put in and yet another reason given for the Why We Fight series. This has to be seen to be believed.
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