24 November 2008 | catherine-71
An excellent globe-trotting serial
If you like the old cliff-hanger serials, but are generally a step ahead of the plots, this one is sure to surprise you. It begins in Egypt, with camels, horses, and a battle featuring the colonial British versus uprising tribespeople, introduces the cursed coins of Santa Clara, and suddenly shifts to a smuggling plot at sea, then to old California, to the cantinas of Baja California, to the Republic Ranch, back to sea, to a sheep ranch in Mexico (a working ranch, somewhere in Southern California), back to the Republic Rocks, out to sea again, back to suburban Santa Barbara -- it's half travelogue and half adventure, and you never know where it's going next.
There are actually two plots -- one involving the cursed Black Coins and the treasure map imprinted on them, and the other involving the smuggling of contraband into the United States via Mexican wool shipments. Both plots focus around the same batch of people, who are variously trying to collect and/or steal the coins and/or stop or carry out the smuggling.
The film stars the wonderful Dave Tex O'Brien as a young man in a business suit and fedora with the improbable Old California name of Terry Navarro (pronounced Nah-Vare-Oh) and features as his father, Don Pedro Nah-Vare-Oh, the gracious Central European-accented Josef Swickard. Yakima Canutt steals the show many times, not only as the thug Ed McMahon, but also for his stunt work on the horses in the first chapter. Bob (Robert) Walker, as Captain Shark Malone, is strangely romantic and appealing, despite his wickedness, and he also has a strange superpower -- he can knock almost anyone down with just one blow. There is plenty of fist-fighting in this series, some wrestling, an attack on a British fort, a train versus car wreck (the car loses), menacing sharks, a burned down jail, the sinking of a large ship, a tree struck by lightning, and a two-cars-over-the-cliff extravaganza -- a tremendous amount of high-budget action accomplished by the judicious use of stock footage from other films.
Ruth Mix as secret agent Dorothy Dale is an enlivening presence as well -- dashing about in her Arab robes, her Mexican peasant dress, and her slim-tailored city suits. Her secret agent sidekick Prescott, played by former silent film star Ralph Graves, is strangely white-faced and wooden,which makes the sleuthy couple's repeated interactions with Dave Tex O'Brien all the weirder, since they barely introduce themselves to him. Dave gets knocked unconscious somewhere between nine and eleven times, not counting being suffocated into unconsciousness by smoke inhalation once. Snub Pollard has some great comic turns as a hapless aviator and ladies' man. The theme music is stirring. The stock chapter endings -- "What happened to Terry?" "What happened to Dorothy?" are amusing, and all in all this is one roller-coaster of a ride.
Twenty points for Yakima Canutt getting to talk! Ten points for Dave Tex O'Brien doing at least a modicum of his own stunt work. Ten points for Bob (Robert) Walker's facial stubble and boxing abilities. Five points for the sound effect of fingers splashing in a dish pan every time someone is shown swimming. Ten points for the fabulous old moving van that swallows the car. Ten points for the transportation motif featuring horses, boxy sedans, streamlined coupes, motorcycle cops, trucks, a train, and many ship scenes. Enjoy!