Back 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.
Though 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 script.
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.
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.
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