26 September 2000 | Barney Bat
Republic's most underrated serial
HAWK OF THE WILDERNESS, from 1938, is Republic Pictures' most underrated serial. It has as strong a plot as ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL, made three years later, yet MARVEL is Republic's most popular and famous serial, while HAWK is hardly ever mentioned.
Yet the plot, actors, directors, production crew, and stuntmen are as good here as in Republic's other serials. The plot, based on a book by William A. Chester, goes like this. Dr. Rand, a renowned scientist, along with his Indian servant, wife, and infant son, embarks on an expedition to the Artic in search of a mysterious island inhabited by the ancestors of the American Indians, who migrated from the island to the mainland, although some of them still live there. Nearing the island, the ship is wrecked, and Dr. and Mrs. Rand drowned. However, Mokuyi, the Indian servant, manages to gain the shore carrying the baby. Twenty-four years pass, and the baby grows into a strong, brave, young man, called Kioga(Hawk of the Wilderness)by the island Indians, most of whom, led by the evil witch doctor Yellow Weasel, oppose the strangers, with the exception of a young brave named Kias who befriends Mokuyi and Kioga.
Meanwhile, in civilization, a note in a bottle, cast overboard by Dr. Rand at the time of the wreck, is finally discovered, but by the notorious smuggler Salerno. Salerno and his men, tempted by the mention of wealth in the letter, go to Dr. Munro, an old friend of Rand's, and offer to sign on as his crew in an expedition to see if any of Rand's party survived. Munro, his daughter Beth, Allan Kendall, a wealthy young man, Bulbul, another scientist, and George, Munro's Negro butler, sail to the island with Salerno and his crew. On arrival, Salerno and his men mutiny, murdering the captain Munro had hired. Salerno's gang return to the ship, leaving the Munro had hired. Salerno's gang return to the ship, leaving the Munro party stranded. Shortly afterward, Yellow Weasel and his Indians launch an attack on them. Kioga, however, on the advice of Mokuyi, rescues the Munro group, and from then on, Kioga and the Munros must battle the Indians, Salerno and his smugglers, and the island itself, to escape and return to civilization.
The cast is excellent, with Herman Brix,(later Bruce Bennet) standing out in his only starring role at Republic. He is perfect as Kioga, not only excelling in the action scenes, but turning in an above-the-serial-average performance. The rest of the cast provide good back-up, particularly the two villain leaders, William Royle as Salerno and veteran character actor Monte Blue as Yellow Weasel. Royle's performance is all the more impressive when you remember that he played Sir Denis Nayland Smith in DRUMS OF FU MANCHU two years later.
The Lydecker effects are spectacular, especially the exploding volcano in the final chapters, and John English and William Witney once again direct the film smoothly through the fights and chases to the climactic twelfth episode.
In summing up, this serial(in my humble opinion) deserves to rank in the serial top ten with ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL, MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN, and the other Witney and English classics.