The Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review: The Lost City

Basic Story Line
Bruce Gordon launches an expedition to darkest Africa to find the source of an electrical storm that is threatening the world. There he finds a megalomaniac named Zolok who has been holding the scientific genius Dr. Manyus captive in the Lost City, under Magnetic Mountain. Bruce Gordon escapes with Dr. Manyus only to be pursued by a variety of villains all trying to capture Dr. Manyus and profit from his inventions.

Quick Facts
Released in 1935
Directed by Harry Revier
Written by Zelma Carroll, George Merrick, Robert Dillon, Eddie Granemann, Leon D’Usseau, Perley Sheehan
Starring Kane Richmond, Claudia Dell, William “Stage” Boyd

I have never seen a serial so racist and yet, at the same time, oddly entertaining. It is a cheesy, over acted, incoherent bit of politically incorrect nonsense.

The golden age of serials was the 30s and 40s – standards for what is considered acceptable have changed considerably since then. I have seen what is now considered racism and stereotypes in serials before. In Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars, there is an uneducated black manservant. The Phantom has a condescending colonial feel. Jungle Girl talks about the good white medicine versus the evil medicine man. Batman was basically anti-Japanese propaganda. So, I thought I was prepared for The Lost City. I was wrong. There are brainless, giant natives that serve the villainous Zolok. They speak only in grunts, and crush their victims with their bare hands. There are slave trading Arabs. The natives either scream hysterically or follow orders subserviently, and speak only in babbling gibberish. The natives are referred to contemptuously as “Blacks”. In this serial there is tribe that has been turned white. One of the tribesmen was very upset because he was still black. He then jumps for joy when the good Dr. Manyus performs an operation that turns him into a white man. It’s something you have to see to believe.

Racism is not the only problem with this serial. The script is completely disjointed. There is not one villain, but instead six or seven. The first two chapters involve our hero trying to save the world from a megalomaniac. The whole saving the world thing, however, gets forgotten as a series of different bad guys try to kidnap Dr. Manyus and force him to work for them. It isn’t until the last two chapters that they return to the Lost City and destroy the equipment that was causing the world wide electrical storms.

This serial is a master class in over acting. The natives run around screaming hysterically. All the villains indulge in hand wringing and evil laughter as they perform with unfettered emotions and switch from menacing self-control to raging anger with little or no prompting. When William “Stage” Boyd is not laughing manically he is yelling his lines incoherently. In the final scene he inexplicably moves from mad ruler to just mad. It’s as if everyone in this serial cranked their performance up to eleven and left it there.

The Lost City is almost worth watching just to see Margot D’Use as Rama. She is sometimes referred to as the daughter of an Arab slave trader and some times called Queen Rama. Neither explains why she has a French accent. Margot seems to realize that she should not take this serial seriously and decides to revel in her role as a sultry, spoiled, sex kitten. She is one of the few characters in this serial with a change of costume. She has her around town costume, that looks like it was previously worn by harem girl in a production of Arabian Nights. There is also her flouncing through the jungle costume, a leopard skin mini dress.

This serials treatment of the African natives is extremely racist. However, the serial is so over the top and ridiculous it is impossible to take anything seriously. It stops being offensive and just becomes funny.

Things to watch for
-Really big natives
-The giants have a conversation of nothing but grunts
-A native screams hysterically and continuously as he is carried into the lost city, to his cell and then to the enlarging machine.
-Frankenstein style electrical equipment
-Margot D’Use Flouncing through the jungle in a leopard skin mini dress

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. (Note: Racism is not really a plot hole, but you may need the drink anyway.)
Odds of getting sloshed: High

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