The best thing you can say about this old-time serial is that you sure do get a lot of old-time serial for your buck. Of course, after sitting through it for about ten minutes of its 244 minutes, it becomes quite clear that the worst thing you could say about this old-time serial is that you sure do you get a lot of old-time serial for your buck.
Those familiar with Cap from his comic book adventures will be disappointed to learn that instead of saving the free world from the machinations of the Red Skull or some other scourge of war and death, he is reduced to fighting a constipated Lionel Atwill who is still using the same monocle as he did in Son of Frankenstein.
That might be okay since Lionel has adopted a supervillainish moniker and calls himself the Scarab. If that conjures images of a guy dressed up as a supercool beetle or something you would be wrong. Lionel just calls himself that for no great reason.
He does sometimes leave a little scarab collector’s broach at the scene of a few of his crimes early on, but that gets pretty expensive and he quits doing that after awhile, resorting to just showing people the broach in his office and putting it back in his desk for later use.
The other thing you’ll notice about the Scarab is that his motives seem to shift to and fro depending on what chapter we’re in. Initially, he is intent on getting revenge on all the people that were on some expedition with him because once they got back home he feels like he got the shaft as far as the credit for the discoveries they found. A bit on the whiny side if you ask me, since he still has his easy job directing the Drummond Museum.
In theory, his scheme is quite simple: kill all the showboats that stole the credit that was rightfully his. And he gets a good start by using his purple death drug that hypnotizes people into killing themselves.
But then he abandons this scheme and resorts to increasingly convoluted methods to off his enemies. A standout is of course the infamous “blow gun from the rooftop” assassination attempt on some scientist. It’s a one of a kind blowgun that ends up falling into Cap’s hands and provides valuable clues about the Scarab, leading one to think that there isn’t really enough going on at the museum and that the Scarab is merely concocting these crazy schemes to alleviate his boredom.
Sometimes though, the Scarab seems to lose his focus and abandons his efforts to get revenge on these guys. (There seem to be about a hundred people he’s after because he’s always killing everyone, but immediately announces he’s going after someone else after successfully killing someone. He is so good at wiping these old farts out that he actually starts going after the brother of one of the guys he hated!)
The he moves on to some scheme where he’s trying to steal all these scientific inventions. There’s the time he goes after the Electric Fire Bolt. Then you had the time he stole the life restoring machine and brought back to life his second in command. But the best scientific gadget he gets his hands on is the Giant Vibrator!
This thing vibrates matter and causes buildings to collapse, but elicits lots of laughs when you hear lines like “who told you about my vibrator?” and “with his vibrator, he could bring this city to its knees!” It goes without saying that everyone, especially Captain America’s girlfriend Gail, is saddened that the Giant Vibrator was used for evil and ultimately destroyed along with the plans for it.
This goon that plays Captain America, Dick Purcell, isn’t really the prime physical specimen you would expect in a crime busting superhero, and sports a rather beefy midsection that isn’t helped by his tight costume. I don’t like to watch a superhero in a fight scene and hope that he doesn’t stroke out or something.
If you think I’m lying about the importance of conditioning, all you need to know is that Purcell dropped dead of a heart attack the same year this serial was released after playing golf! And I was supposed to buy that he could survive multiple explosions, being thrown down a mine shaft, falling out of a building, and escape a runaway tractor?
Also, is it just me, or is the reason that most superheroes can fly or swing around on webs or have Batmobiles is that guys in silly-looking costumes look even sillier when they’re driving down the road in their Packard?
You’re not going to get four hours worth of enjoyment out of this one, even if you’re looking for laughable superheroics from an out-of-shape guy with as much personality as the robot truck he hijacks somewhere along the way.
Aside from the crappy version of Captain America (no shield, uses a gun, fat slob) the Scarab isn’t an interesting or charismatic villain and his various plots grow tiresome after you sit through about four different ones, giving the serial a repetitive and padded feeling, while robbing things of a cohesive story line.
Maybe this kind of stuff was tolerable a hundred years ago when you only had to sit through one fifteen minute chunk a week, but watching all of the chapters one right after leaves you feeling you like you had an unwanted run in with the Giant Vibrator.
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