The Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review: Sky Raiders

Basic Story Line
Sky Raiders is an aircraft development and manufacturing plant that is charged with designing and building an ultra-fast pursuit plane for the army. Foreign agents are trying to steal the prototype for their own use.

Quick Facts
Released in 1941
Directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor
Written by Elliot Gibbons, Clarence Upson Young, and Paul Huston
Starring Donald Wood, Robert Armstrong, Katheryn Adams

If you are really interested in planes you will probably enjoy this serial. If not, Sky Raiders is just a mediocre serial that has replaced most of the action scenes you’d expect to find in a serial with flying sequences.

A big problem with this serial is the lack of an imposing villain. Although Eduardo Ciannelli looks the part, his character doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t plot, he has his henchmen figure out what to do next (I’m all for delegation, but a villain needs to have vision), he doesn’t order anyone killed, and with the exception of his henchwoman, all his henchmen are duds. The conflict between the hero and villain should drive the story. In Flash Gordon, every chapter is about Flash trying to stop Ming. In Sky Raiders, our villain is hardly even felt. Jaqueline Dayla, as Innis Clair, the henchwoman, is a nice touch. She is what you expect in a femme fatal: cold, intelligent, manipulative, and confident to the point of arrogance. Had she been the main villain we would have had a much better serial.

Our hero has much the same problem as the villain. He doesn’t do a lot and spends most of the serial flying around or ignoring advice from his friends. It is Robert Armstrong (best known for his role in King Kong) who steals the show as Ed. Ed is smart, sensible, and funny. It is also Ed’s temper and stubbornness that inadvertently causes the demise of all our villains, simultaneously, in one of the more amusing serial endings I’ve seen.

As far as story goes, Sky Raiders is pretty weak. Although the stakes are high the two factions rarely come into conflict. Most of the action in this serial involves flying. Most of the cliff hangers either involve a mechanical problem or something weather related. There are a couple of fights and a weird assassination attempt that seems tacked on and has nothing to do with the story. The script falls apart in the last two chapters. (Admittedly most serials fall apart long before that) In chapter eleven the villains decide the plane is a lost cause and suddenly decide to go after another piece of equipment for a single chapter. In the final chapter they decide even that isn’t worth it, and they just try to kill the hero. It gives you the impression the writers ran out of time and ideas.

Damn you Ford Beebe! Just when I tell the world (the 50 or so people who read my column) how much I like your work, you give me Ace Drummond and Sky Raiders. Sky Raiders is watchable. The acting is decent, it is technically sound, the story doesn’t have any gapping plot holes. So, watchable? Yes. Rewatchable? Only if you really like planes.

Things to watch for
-A friend of mine thinks that the airfield in Sky Raiders is the same one in The Green Lanterns.
-A henchman named Hinchfield
-A gyrocopter
-Model planes burst into flames

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. (The fact that our hero consistently refuses to take advice from his friends, despite the fact that they are constantly proved right, is not a plot hole, but does make him look dumb.)
Odds of getting sloshed: Medium

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I’m curious, leave me a comment.


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