Tuesday, March 29, 2016


FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Despite the above lobby card's allusion to a "mysterious curse," said curse is entirely metaphorical: "the evil that men do," and that sort of thing.

Columbia made serials with two rather obscure-even-in-their-time heroes-- modern-day cowboy-hero The Vigilante and heroic aviator Hop Harrigan-- in the two years before 1948's SUPERMAN made it to theaters. I strongly suspect that this was the result of some sort of "package deal" between DC Comics and Columbia: if Columbia wanted the company's "big gun," they had to adapt a couple of smaller pistols first.

Admittedly, the Golden Age Vigilante, being a superhero who was revived a few times in later eras, has remained on the radar of dedicated comics-fans. But his stories were simple fare, and his visual appeal came down to a nicely designed cowboy-costume (with a bandanna-mask to hide his face), a cool motorcycle, and a daily occupation-- that of a cowboy-crooner-- that at least wasn't the usual "bored playboy."

So there wasn't a lot for Columbia to get wrong about such a simple character. Plotwise, the serial's story-- consisting of the hero trying to find out why a gang of thieves are set on stealing a set of valuable Arab horses-- is pretty much like the stories of the comic book, though in serial-form, the simple story has to be padded a lot to last 15 chapters. Columbia chose to give their Vigilante a rather ordinary white shirt rather than the comics-character's double-buttoned blue attire, and the choice makes the serial-hero less than visually appealing. This Vigilante also rides his motorcycle a few times, but it's not exactly a recurring visual motif. The bad guys are humdrum, including the gang's hooded leader X-1.

On the plus side, the action is nicely staged and the sets are clean and distinctive. The serial's best assets are star Ralph Byrd, who brings a breezy charm to the Vigilante and his alter ego (who's a government agent this time) and leading lady Ramsay Ames, who strikes a small bow for women's lib by playing a character who's a skilled trick-rider. Not a bad serial but not exceptional in any way.

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