For the past week or so, I’ve been watching the 1944 Universal Studios serial The Great Alaskan Mystery, and tonight I’ll screen the final two chapters. As preposterous as it all is, it’s been entertaining. The story revolves around a ray gun, initially meant to work as a sort of particle/matter transporter beam, but when a special type of energized quartz is used to power it, it becomes a catastrophic atomic death ray. Bad guys want it. Who they’re affiliated with has never really been disclosed, but since one of them speaks with a German accent, must be Nazis, although I have to admit, that’s one hell of a fifth column in No Man’s Land, Alaska.
The dangers and near-death close-calls experienced by the heroes are patently absurd and the bad guys, save two, are laughably witless and inept. The only two with any brains is the man who wants to sell the weapon to the highest bidder, and the scientist-spy who was working on the ray gun project in the first place. In fact, the spy is, without question, the smartest of the bunch.
There’s a plucky heroine thrown into the mix, of course, but after the first two chapters, she’s basically reduced to rendering first aid and shouting “Jim!” to either warn her hero boyfriend of approaching baddies or when searching for him when, by all accounts, he should be dead on the side of the road or blown into a million pieces.
I can understand why kids would enjoy these serials back in the day, they’re pure escapism and unashamedly so.