Friday, September 24, 2010

Why I Love Republic Pictures: Bob Napier and MANHUNT AT MYSTERY ISLAND

Here's Bob Napier's (otherwise known as Cap'n Bob and author of the Toyman series) contribution to Why I Love Republic Pictures. Bob wrote this at the last minute for me even though he had a terrible cold, and I am truly grateful for his generosity.


I saw exactly one serial at the theater when I was a kid. I'm not sure of the year but 1956 is probably right because that was the year this serial was re-released to theaters. We lived on the Norfolk Naval Air Station and one summer the base authorities decided to treat the resident kids to a day at the movies. A bus collected us at various stops and let us off at a huge theater/gym/bowling alley/handball court/pool complex. For the cost of admission we saw a couple of cartoons, a newsreel, a serial chapter, and a movie. The bus was free and the cost of admission was ten cents.

I'd never heard of a serial before, and going to a movie was a rare event for me. When I did go it was usually with my mother in the evening where cartoons were offered but no serials. I remember thinking after the first episode's cliffhanger that I was getting gypped. But when I went back the following week I caught on to the idea that the hero would escape from the impossible, deadly trap, usually in a way that made me feel a little gypped.

The serial I saw was Manhunt of Mystery Island, made by Republic Studios in 1945. The story was about a mysterious man bent on world domination who had captured a professor (Forrest Taylor), inventor of the Radiatomic Power Transmitter, in order to carry out his nefarious scheme. We never know who the evil man is until the final reel, but when he wanted to perform an evil deed he would sit in the Transformation Seat and become legendary pirate Captain Mephisto (Roy Barcroft). The transformation scenes were simply staged. The camera would focus on the antagonist's hand and when the transformation was complete a ring would appear on a heretofore bare finger. The ring would disappear when the pirate returned to his 20th century persona.

Enter the professor's daughter, Claire (Linda Stirling), and her stalwart friend Lance Reardon (Richard Bailey). Each week they'd butt heads with Mephisto and his henchmen--never losing a hat in the process--until the final showdown. Throw in special effects by the renowned Lydecker Brothers, Howard and Theodore, and stunts by Yakima Canutt, and you have a heck of a show.

Republic made 66 serials and this was the 36th. It was also the penultimate 15-chapter serial. After the next title all the serials ran 12 or 13 chapters. In 1966, footage from the chapters was strung together to make a 100-minute movie called Captain Mephisto and the Transformation Machine.

Cap'n Bob Napier

And now, as a special treat for everyone and to thank Bob for writing this, here is Chapter One of MANHUNT OF MYSTERY ISLAND. The sound quality isn't great, so you may need to turn up your speakers.

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Evan Lewis said...

Pirates and sci-fi together in 1945? Gotta see it. And now I know where Cap'n Bob got his name: From Cap'n Mephisto.

Laurie Powers said...

I had no idea about this serial, another reason why I'm glad I did this marathon.