in the days of the studio system, there were seven major movie
producers in the United States.¹ Each of
them produced between 35-50 feature-length movies every year, along
with literal hundreds of new one and two reel comedies, newsreels,
shorts and cartoons. This was an incredible amount of product, so
the studios often bought finished product from the smaller
producers. One item they purchased was serials.
Serials were made on a low budget with a tight shooting schedule.
They were looked down on, even at the time, as having low production
values, bad acting, and simplistic plots. Many of them do fit
into that category. But some serials were able to rise above
their low budget origins. Some directors and writers were able to
instill a good amount of energy and excitement into these productions,
week after week. One serial that was able to make the grade was King of the Royal Mounted.
Based on a comic strip created by Zane Grey, King boasted two of the best
directors in the history of serials, William Witney and John English, a
great leading man, and a fun, exciting plot.
At the beginning of WWII, the amazing Compound X was invented by a
Canadian scientist as a cure for infantile paralysis. A European
country (never named, but it is obviously Nazi Germany) discovers that
if you add a small amount of copper sulfate to this compound it becomes
magnetic. They confiscate the entire supply of the drug that
children's clinics have, and paint it on aquatic mines. The mines
become magnetic and will attach themselves to the hulls of enemy ships
and sink them. The magnetic mines work with amazing
success. Allied shipping is nearly crippled, but they soon run
out of Compound X and need to get more from Canada. A spy is sent
to obtain more, but the Mounties are notified that a suspicious has
been sighted near the coast of Canada. Mounties stumble upon the
spy as he is being brought ashore, but he manages to elude
them. Once ashore, the German officer contacts the local
spy network and starts stealing Compound X to smuggle out of the
country. Sergeant King of the Royal Mounties is assigned to
capture the spy and break up his organization.
This is a rip-roaring fun serial! The setting is perfect.
In the wilds of Canada you can have chases on horseback, and the
present day setting allows the use of cars and motorboats too.
The action takes you in the air, on top of a dam, into the dark depths
of a mine and aboard a submarine. All of the different sets
really help the show stay interesting and fresh.
The acting was very good too. Allan Lane stars as Sergeant
King. It has been claimed many times over the years that
Lane was hard to work with, but on screen he was great. This was
his first serial, and he would go on to do three more for Republic.² Lane really looks the part being tall,
rugged and handsome. He fills the uniform out well and comes
across as a dedicated Mountie. He performs well in the many
fights and action scenes. Lane would go on to star in many
westerns but is probably best known for his work on a show that he
never appeared on. He was the voice to the talking horse, Mr. Ed.
Lane did a good job, I thought the best performance was turned in by
Harry Cording, as the henchman Wade Garson. Cording is a large
imposing man and his gruff exterior and gravelly voice make him very
menacing. He was tough and villainous, the type of bad guy who
enjoyed being evil. Cording was able to be threatening without
overacting. Cording played the heavy in many movies during the
40's, most notably in many of Universal's Sherlock Holmes films.
This serial had a good sized supporting cast with several Mounties and
many evil henchmen, and they were used to good effect. In many
serials, especially the later ones where budgets were slashed to the
bone, the cast was rather small for what amounts to a 3 or 4 hour
movie. This production had enough people to fill out the
I mentioned the directors briefly earlier. Witney and English
were known for their quality serials, and this one is one of their
best. The pacing was very good. It's hard to keep the
suspense and interest level high over 12 chapters and many serials fail
to do this, but this chapter-play had a good amount of tension week
after week. This show really rose above its formulistic origins
to become a superior serial. King
of the Royal Mounted has exciting fights, some impressive
stunts, and great cliffhangers. In addition to all this, it has a
great ending. Everything you could want in a serial. This
is one of the best; definitely in the top ten.
Two channel mono without any subtitles. The audio levels are a
low, but only slightly, nothing that turning the volume up a notch
won't cure. The dialog is very clear, and there is only a small
of hiss. It is barely noticeable and not distracting. While the
soundtrack is not dynamic, and there isn't much bass response, it
probably sounds just as good as it did when first screened over 60
years ago. A good quality track for a film this old.
The full frame transfer is very clear. Detail is very good during
day scenes. The night scenes were shot day for night, and details
lost and the picture becomes too dark. The contrast is also
good, though some details are hard to see in dark areas.
VCI put the
entire 3 ½ hour serial on one DVD, so there are some compression
artifacts. There is a good amount of aliasing on diagonal lines,
some digital noise. Even with the compression artifacts, the
looks good. I have seen this serial look much worse.
There isn't a lot of room for extras, but VCI managed to put some on
anyway. There is a photo gallery; a two minute of reel of B&W
newspaper ads for the serial, and some stills and production photos.
They include several trailers all on one reel. You can't select
one you want to view; they just play one after another. These are
Zorro Rides Again, SOS Coastguard, and
Red Ryder. The last
bonus is a
set of text biographies of the main characters.
I had a great time watching this serial. Viewing some serials
more like an endurance contest than entertainment, but this one kept me
pleasantly engrossed. If you've never seen a genuine cliffhanger
before, this would be a good one to start with. The video and
are both good, and the story is fun and exciting. Highly Recommended.
1. MGM, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox,
Paramount, RKO, Universal,
and Columbia. The last two were considerable smaller than the
2. The others were King of the Mounties (1942,)
Daredevils of the West
(1943,) and 1944's The Tiger Woman (more popularly know by its reissue
title of Perils of the Darkest Jungle (1951).)