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James W. Horne
Chapter 1 finds Daily Flash newspaper reporter Brenda Starr (Joan Woodbury), and her photographer, Chuck Allen (Syd Saylor), assigned to cover a fire in an old house where they discover the wounded Joe Heller (Wheeler Oakman),a gangster suspected of stealing a quarter-million dollar payroll. The dying Heller tells Brenda that someone took his satchel of stolen money and he gives her a coded message. Kruger (Jack Ingram), the gangster who shot Heller, escapes to his gang's hideout with the bag but discovers it is filled with paper rather than money. The gang, knowing Heller gave Brenda a coded message makes many attempts on her life to get her to reveal where Heller hid the payroll money. But thanks to Chuck and Police Lieutenant Larry Farrel (Kane Richmond), she evades them for thirteen weeks/chapters, until Pesky (William 'Billy' Benedict), a Daily Flash office boy manages to decode the Heller message. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I love it. I get to be the first person to ever post a review of this. Woo-hoo! Anyway, here we go! Sam Katzman's first Columbia serial may well be the best one he ever put out. Which is a funny thing to say, since Dale Messick didn't care for any of the screen incarnations of her famed newsgal. But trust me, if you've seen the Brooke Shields version, this one is about 200 million times better (not that that's a hard thing to do mind you).
The hunt is on for a $250,000 payroll robbery. The police are looking for it, and--mostly just to be annoying--so is ace reporter Brenda Starr (Joan Woodbury) and comic relief photographer Chuck (Sid Saylor). The best clue is a guy named Joe Heller (Wheeler Oakman). As the serial begins, Heller is trapped in a burning building. Henchman Kruger (Jack Ingram) guns him down and sticks Brenda in a closet so she'll burn. Lucky for her, boyfriend Lt. Farrell (Kane Richmond) manages to rescue her. And we're off and running! Brenda has her usual knack for getting into tight situations--exploding mines, burning buildings, and the like. Chuck bounces between useless and useful, thereby making it hard to hate the character like so many other comic relief characters. Lt. Farrell constantly ends up berating Brenda and Chuck and their editor.
Behind it all is evil George Meeker as Frank Smith, the owner of the Pelican Club. Smith gives his orders to henchman Kruger, Muller, and Schultz (Ingram, Anthony Warde, and John Merton respectively) while getting his orders from a mystery villain known as The Big Boss. The Big Boss is one of those mystery villains like the Leader in The Green Hornet--a voice on a radio. Pay close enough attention and you can figure out his identity early on, btw. Well, I could, anyway.
Along the way, Lew Heller--Joe's twin brother (Wheeler Oakman again!)--shows up and tries to muscle in on the action. He eventually enlists the aid of weaselly Toothpick Charlie (Ernie Adams), a character who would apparently sell his own grandmother for the right price. Charlie plays every possible side of the fence, making him one of the more amusing characters in the serial. Oakman's Heller is also a great character, a guy as outrageously self serving as they come. First he wants Brenda to help him cut a deal with the police when he thinks he's killed someone. Then when he finds out he doesn't have a murder rap hanging over his head, he gleefully points out that he doesn't need Brenda after all! The cliffhangers vary in quality. Some are pretty good (Brenda falling off the roof of her apartment building). But this serial also has quite a few "plot" cliffhangers in it. For instance, in one chapter, Brenda has been kidnapped by Kruger. As he's driving along, Oakman sits up in the back seat of the car and pulls a gun on Kruger. Hmmm....
Once in a while, Columbia put out a serial with very few fistfights in it. This is one of those times. Unlike some of the other occasions (Chick Carter anyone?), this one manages to stay involving. Though it is kind of odd seeing Kane Richmond in a serial and waiting until Chapter Ten for him to start slugging it out. Then again, that is a pretty good fight (with Anthony Warde on the roof of a building while John Merton tries to shoot at him!). However, the dialogue is so rich in this that the lack of slugfests doesn't matter as much. Best line: "There's too many honest cops in this town to suit me!" For a Katzman, this isn't a cheap looking affair at all. This is actually one of those serials that it almost looks like some money was spent on it. Wallace Fox (The Vigilante, Jack Armstrong) handles the direction quite capably, keeping the serial moving in a most satisfactory way. All in all, this is a fun, well done serial. I wonder what Dale Messick's problem with it was.
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