Long available only as a smeary Public Domain dub on VHS, this well-worn 13-part Universal serial has received a significant visual upgrade in a new DVD edition from VCI. (Only Chapter 9 retains the familiar subfusc look.) Alas, nothing could be done with the actual films; they’re still the same cheap-O Kiddie-Matinee fare you may recall, fondly or not. The fun stuff comes right at the opening when Rimsky-Korsakov’s Bumblebee takes musical flight and the story recap scrolls (a la STAR WARS) over a flavorsome miniature of Times Square. Why Times Sq? Then we get two full reels of bad acting, telephone conversations (usually at a desk), stock footage and a minimum of either action or ratiocination. At last, with just a minute or two to spare, we reach the big cliffhanger. The writers obviously had fun thinking these up, but come next week, they’re always solved with a previously unseen cutaway shot of Kato and/or the Hornet jumping off the doomed train/bus/boat/car/horse/airplane just before disaster strikes. It’s hard to imagine today’s kids getting caught up, but there are fanboys for everything, so who knows. They’ll never look better, that’s for sure.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Funny to think that Comic Book & Radio Serial adaptations, once commercial throwaway fodder for Hollywood, now come with budgets in the hundreds of millions. Ah, progress!
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Can serials be high art? They can when Fritz Lang leads us thru four glorious hours of DR. MABUSE: The Gambler/’22. Try the restored KINO edition.