The Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review: Manhunt of Mystery Island

Basic Story Line
Professor Forrest has been kidnapped by a man posing as the long dead pirate, Captain Mephisto, and is being forced to finish is work on an energy beam that will revolutionize industry as we know it. His daughter, Claire Forrest, and criminologist Lance Reardon come to Mystery Island to find the kidnapped scientist.

Quick Facts
Released in 1945
Directed by Spencer Bennet, Yakima Canutt, and Wallace Grissell
Written by Albert DeMond, Basil Dickey, Jesse Duffy, Alan James, Grant Nelson, and Joseph Poland
Starring Richard Bailey, Linda Stirling, and Roy Barcroft

Every now and again I find a serial that makes me sit up and go, “Friggin’ Cool!” Manhunt of Mystery Island has almost everything I look for in a serial.

The first thing you need for a good serial is a strong, over the top villain. Here we have a man who disguises himself as a legendary pirate with the suitably diabolical name of Captain Mephisto. Next, the villain needs some megalomaniacal scheme to take over the town, city, country, world, or universe. Preferably the plan involves highjacking a scientific breakthrough meant to help the world and using it for his own ends.  In Manhunt of Mystery Island, Captain Mephisto plans on using an energy beam to reshape the world’s industries to meet his own desires (whatever they might be).

A serial should have interesting cliff hangers with resolutions that do not make you feel cheated. Here, our hero and heroine get swept off a cliff by a torrent of water. He gets caught in a wine press, knocked into a pit of fire, and hangs out a window by a fire hose. All the cliff hangers are reasonably well written and resolved satisfactorily.

Linda Sterling plays the female lead, Claire Forrest. I have been a fan since seeing her play the main character in Zorro’s Black Whip. She does not do the damsel in distress thing. In Manhunt of Mystery Island, her character is proactive, thinks on her feet, participates in the fight scenes, and on more than one occasion, shoots a bad guy. In fact, it is Linda Sterling’s character that gets to kill Mephisto at the end. For those of you who did not read my essay on how the bad guy bites it, that is extremely rare. I have never seen a hero or heroine play such a direct, and blatant, role in the death of the villain.

Other things about this serial that appeal to my inner child are the secret passageways and caves that riddle the island, the swordplay at the end of the serial, and the fantastic, room wrecking fight scenes that happen at least once a chapter. The fight scenes need to be meticulously choreographed and rehearsed. These scenes have very few cuts, stuntmen are bouncing off the walls, everything in the room gets smashed, and if anything goes wrong, they don’t have the budget to rebuild the set to do a second take. Manhunt on Mystery Island has action, mystery, a pirate, a touch of science fiction, and Linda Sterling. That’s enough to make me forgive any weakness this serial might have.

Things to watch for
-Swordplay at the end
-Linda Sterling shooting people
-Some cliff hangers that will make you think of Indiana Jones

The Back Row Weekly Serial Drinking Game
While watching a serial, anytime you or a friend point out a plot hole or inconsistency, take a drink. (A machine that allows the villain to power and control vehicles remotely is not a plot hole. The fact that he can attach a device to the inside of the vehicle that allows him to watch it from the outside, is.)
Odds of getting sloshed: Low to Medium


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