Hey, this is what to watch if you want the supreme junk food: not cereal, but a serial. That ’30s-’40s pre-TV short subject to get the kids into the movie theater. I’m not old enough to remember Flash Gordon, Mr. Moto, etc., in that original venue, but, ironically, serials reappeared as afternoon and late-night TV filler well into the ’50s and ’60s.
With about a half-hour run-time, serials had to pack in a bunch of action/adventure, plus pick up the story from the previous episode, and provide a bridge to the next. Plenty of historical or just stereotypical givens: 1940s, black and white, short subject, no-name cast, mystery, crime, sci-fi, mad scientists, espionage, and plenty of cops. I’m getting stoked just thinking about it.
Our Mr. M. (or Wetherby to the unsuspecting, both played by Byron Foulger) actually hijacks the plot from notorious criminal mastermind Anthony Waldron. From Africa, Anthony brings a drug which he uses on his grandma, Cornelia (Virginia Brissac). That’s so he can set up shop in her basement.
Waldron sounds like a guy who plays D&D 24/7, and emerges from the basement only to scarf fast-food, but dare not change his musky t-shirt. Well, Waldron actually has a cool plan, plus he’s kind of a rapper dude. Plus the cops think he’s dead, so he’s really off the grid. If he can find out who the late (there’s that nasty drug again) Dr. Kittridge’s partners were, he can construct the muscle-car of submarines.
There’s complications. No, grandma doesn’t make him mow the lawn or kill spiders; this is real bad-guy stuff. The cunning Kittridge was smart enough to isolate each of the sub’s contributors. Only Kittridge knew who they were. So finding just one is a dead end. By this time, you’re probably wondering…so what? What about Mr. M.? Ok, he’s the other bad guy.
[For the facts of the synopsis above, I’m indebted to the blog filmsofjerryblake. Another note: This outline applies to the overall story, not just this episode reviewed here. So, some characters, such as the grandma, don’t appear.]
Good thing that Agent Grant Ferrell (Dennis Moore) and Detective Lieutenant Kirby Walsh (Richard Martin) get wind of the plot. Also, on the good guys side, we find insurance agent Shirley Clinton (Pamela Blake). We’ll see how the cookie crumbles.
At the mansion, down in the lab, Anthony discusses the sub plans with Kittridge. The doc tells him that Shirley has retrieved the documents from a bus depot locker. Her bus is going to be intercepted by aircraft.
So, we soon see her on that bus; the plane and a car all hurtling along, pretty much swarming around each other. Sure enough, the flyboys cause a mash-up, as they land on the road right in front of the bus.
The plane is more or less demolished, but the bus runs off the road, into a lake. Then one bad guy covers the other guy, who breaks into the bus–I guess he’s after Shirley, the lone passenger. Meanwhile, the guy in the ’38 Tudor sedan has to stop–the wreckage blocks the road. By some wizardry (stock footage?) The car has changed to a ’41 Fordor police car.
A gunbattle develops between the lookout guy and the plainclothes cop; the bus raider, unobserved, is making off with a briefcase–the girl’s ok, I suppose. That dude hijacks the police car, while the cop dukes it out with the the other bad guy. Shirley appears from the roadside, telling the cop that the carjacker made off with plans for the “generator.”
At the police station, the detectives try to wring info out of the captured bad guy. That is, who’s in on the heist of “Parts of the invention…that Mr. M. has.” Wetherby, acting as the guy’s attorney, arrives to bail his client. The captain wants to talk to Wetherby about Shreck (the prisoner); seems the culprit had papers linking him to the Waldrons.
“The mysterious Mr.M. must be clairvoyant” says the captain. That’s because, according to their intel, M. already has the generator. Another good point, actually a question, this time from Shirley: “who arranged for you to defend Shrek?” And, from Wetherby, another evasive answer, it was set up via “an anonymous note.” A coincidence? Not so much.
Kirby and Ferrell will tail Wetherby. Good thing, actually; because a gunman pops up from the recesses of Wetherby’s enormous Packard. “Mr. M. would like some information” says the dastardly guy. About Shrek, etc. Wetherby’s not as wimpy as he looks, as he refused to pull over, and turns the tables by reaching for his gun. Scratch one tough guy.
In their police car, the good guys manage to pull over Wetherby. He tells the truth about the confrontation and killing; he admits he needs police protection. Back at the lab, the bad guys discuss the situation; they’re sort of compromised with Shrek in jail. Anthony says that Kirby is in their pocket, so, no big deal.
The mysterious letter from Mr. M. self-destructs. Apparently, whoever sent the letter has all the angles covered. Plus, M’s got the generator. So, Waldron gets on the short wave and ‘orders’ Kirby to tell Shrek not to talk. This is said in a sort of mesmerizing voice. Wetherby is supposed to help Kirby secure Shrek’s escape. I’m a little confused, as I thought Wetherby had posted bond a while back.
Wetherby, his feet chilling to frostbite, tells Ferrell that he’s got a death threat from the likes of M. He’s toast unless Shrek is delivered to him that night. Now the cops get a record (a 78-rpm job, no tapes then) which, in the usual creeky, whispery bad guy voice, confirms that “a innocent man will die” unless Shrek walks. Thanks for the update, Mr. M.
So, Kirby’s plan is to call the blackmailer’s bluff by producing the prisoner, but under guard. This will bring up some interesting stuff: first of all, doesn’t M. realize that Shrek will be escorted? And, more importantly, who’s side is Kirby really on? The plot does thicken.
So, Kirby and Ferrell accompany Shrek to Wetherby’s, with an officer posted outside. But, man, these criminals are a clever lot: Shrek blasts Wetherby with some micro poison missile or something from his lighter. Well, scratch the middleman. Maybe he’s not dead…
Next surprise are the ambulance guys; they’re in on the Mr.M. deal too. One of them puts Ferrell out of action. Looks like Kirby is on the dark side. Ferrell comes to, and expects help from his partner, but Kirby shoots him.
That’s our cliffhanger: the closing credits tell us “See Parachute Peril…Chapter 9 of The Mysterious Mr. M. At this theatre next week”
This was actually only 18 minutes long. I can’t believe how much I’ve written here: non-stop action, which, of course, is the point. Whatever loose-ends we’re left with (Shirley didn’t do much, for example), would, no doubt, get tied up in subsequent episodes.
The acting wasn’t bad at all. I realize the good guy/bad guy ethic is in full force, but there’s room for nuance. Most significantly, Kirby, a not insignificant character, has compromised himself, big time. Of course, we really don’t know much about any of these characters, or what their motivation is.
No time for any of that fluff, there’s a plot to plow through. Despite the extreme limits of this genre (or maybe because of these constraints), this quick episode not only manages to entertain, but does it with style.
This was a vintage vehicle heaven for Farmermouse: all the cool pre-war Fords, the Packard, even the bus. Seven deadly lighters for this serial. 7/10.