FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*
According to Wikipedia, when "Wharton Studios" released a serial called THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE in 1914-- simultaenously imitating the successful PERILS OF PAULINE and adapting one of the "Craig Kennedy" novels of the period-- its villain the Clutching Hand "was the first Mystery villain to appear in film serials. The concept was widely used for the remainder of the format's existence."
I haven't seen EXPLOITS or any other "Craig Kennedy" flm/TV adaptations, but none of the hero's previous encounters with the villain in any medium bear on the 1936 serial, which starts from zero, as this version of Kennedy encounters the version of The Hand with no reference to previous history.
Like many serials this one turns on the attempts of heroes and villains to obtain a rare scientific secret, in this case a formula for making artificial gold (presumably one that's relatively inexpensive). Doctor Paul Gironda, father of Vera (no "Elaine" here), is kidnapped by the goons who serve the Clutching Hand, who appears only as a shadowy silhouette extending a hand ready to strangle his enemies.
To be sure, though the silhouette's stalkings may seem somewhat risible today, director Albert Herman and his writers deserve credit for keeping on-theme, for there are quite a few moments in which someone gets throttled by a hand whose owner is off-camera. It isn't always the Clutching Hand himself doing the choking, but it's nice to see a consistent leitmotif.
There isn't much other content to HAND. The action-scenes are occasionally lively, but never in any memorable manner. The Hand is a low-tech villain, and his best death-trap involves an electrical device set to fry the heroic Kennedy. The same device spells the villain's doom in the last chapter; it's hard to say whether this was another leitmotif, or just a lack of inventiveness.
In my review of THE JADE MASK, I mentioned that I wouldn't consider minor advancements in modern technology to be "marvelous" in nature, and patently the same applies to this gold-making discovery. Kennedy himself, though touted as a "scientific detective" in the original novels, is just a regular detective type here.
In some other serial-reviews, like THE WHISPERING SHADOW, I've noted that the villain often became "the narrative center" of the serial, while the hero came up second-best. But while "the Clutching Hand" remains a minor name with which to conjure-- if only because of its place in the history of cinematic villains-- this serial's narrative is centered upon the endeavors of hero Craig Kennedy and his assorted aides.