Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Daredevils of the Red Circle (1939) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE (1939) is a 12-chapter Republic Pictures serial, recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

The heroes of the serial are a trio of carnival performers, played by Charles Quigley; a real-life stuntman, David Sharpe; and a real-life Olympic athlete, shot put silver medalist Herman Brix, who would soon be better known as Bruce Bennett.

A prison escapee, No. 39013 (Charles Middleton), is methodically destroying properties owned by Horace Granville (Miles Mander). Our three heroes become involved when 39013 attacks a Granville amusement park where they're performing. The men save the life of Granville's granddaughter Blanche (Carole Landis), but the little brother (Robert Winkler) of Gene (Quigley) is killed.

Little do the men and Blanche know that 39013 has imprisoned the real Mr. Granville and is diabolically managing to impersonate him...

I loved the pristine Blu-ray print, the chance to see Bennett and Landis early in their careers, the California locations, the stunt work, and some of the cliffhangers. The Chapter 1 cliffhanger, with a motorcycle racing ahead of a huge wave of water filling a tunnel, is quite impressive and considered a classic of the genre.

The acting and story itself I found only so-so. The three guys are congenial but there isn't much to differentiate the characters from one another; they're more cogs in the serial machinery, there to experience whatever the filmmakers can dream up to throw at them, courtesy of No. 39013.

Landis similarly is a pretty run-of-the-mill heroine, not yet the charming star she would prove to be just a couple of years later in Fox films such as MOON OVER MIAMI (1941) and I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941). She's pleasant but not a standout, though she does get a chance to pitch in and help the men, including driving in a chase sequence near the end of the serial.

Plotwise, I didn't really care for the far-fetched notion that 39013 could put on a mask and pretend to be Mr. Granville. And the story gets quite dark at times; as Michael Schlesinger noted in his commentary, who expects a little kid to be bumped off in the first chapter? Not me!

The story does go on and on...though I recognize that my experience of it was quite different, of course, than would have been the case seeing it chapter by chapter spread over many weeks! The 12 chapters run 211 minutes; although I couldn't watch the chapters spread a week apart, as they were shown in theaters, I did break my viewing into three different days.

Excepting the cliffhangers, some of the story was fairly humdrum. Overall I think my biggest issue, mentioned above, was that I didn't become particularly invested in the heroes as individual characters.

DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE was directed by John English and William Witney. It was filmed by William Nobles.

Film historian Michael Schlesinger contributes a commentary track to four chapters. Schlesinger fills in the names and backgrounds of everyone in the cast down to the bit character players, identifies locations (which included Rincon, California, and the Standard Oil Plant in Baldwin Hills), and explains a bit about serial conventions for the uninitiated. He also periodically offers amusing commentary on some of the decisions made by the characters, such as pondering why they don't use the car to break down the wooden garage door when they're trapped!

The Blu-ray case says there are trailers on the disc but I didn't find any in the bonus features.

All in all, it's a beautiful presentation from Kino Lorber, and I found viewing both the serial and the accompanying commentary to be an educational experience. That said, I suspect this one will be most enjoyed by fans of the serial genre.

A DVD edition of this serial is also available from Kino Lorber.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger john k said...

Great write up Laura,I pretty much agree with everything that you say.
The "kid" getting smoked in the first 10 minutes was a bit of a shock!
The commentary by Mr Schlesinger is excellent and full of information,and he does not shy
away from sensitive issues like the Fred Toones character.
Still it's great to have this in such pristine quality.
Like yourself I was looking forward to the trailers that were missing.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi John,

Great to hear from you! I appreciate you adding your feedback on this set and was interested you had a similar take on various aspects. The print was excellent!

Best wishes,

10:06 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Mr Schlesinger's commentary added much to this set.
He even added a Harry Cohn story that I have never heard.
Regarding the cheap looking sets in some Columbia B Movies and serials Harry stated
that when the audience is more concerned with the sets than the actors-then we're
really screwed!
Mr Schlesinger added that he gave the "polite" version of Harry's quote.

1:48 PM  

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