Cliffhanger Serials on Blu-ray: What do you want to see?

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R. Cat

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Cliffhanger Serials on Blu-ray: What do you want to see?

PostMon Jun 12, 2017 5:27 pm

The last couple of years has been pretty good for revived interest in these almost forgotten Saturday matinee shorts that kept kids coming back every week to figure out how their heroes escaped certain death or the identities of the masked bad guys. While many of the major studios have a checkered history of successes and failures in maintaining their treasured legacies through nitrate decomposition, fires and even intentional destruction of film libraries over space and safety concerns, Republic's catalogue of serials and features have had better fortune. Early on, their properties were seen as having future value worth maintaining even though little was done in the way of restoration along the way.

Over the past two years, distributor Olive Films have licensed and released several of Republic's later serial efforts. Of course these later efforts were well past Republic's golden age, but in spite of the overuse of stock footage, reduced casts and other corner cutting measures, the studio's latter day serials still maintain a level of energy that representative of the studio's reputation. In recent months KINO-Lorber has gotten into the serial game, promoting restored HD transfers of two of the best from Republic's golden era, Daredevils of The Red Circle and The Adventures of Captain Marvel. Daredevils is out and looks fabulous; Captain Marvel will be released on BD later this summer. Hopefully sales will be sufficient to encourage further investment by KINO.

The question fans should be thinking about is what's next? Is there enough interest in other Republic serials to pursue licensing available film elements for more HD releases? If the answer is yes, then which of those GA Republic classics would be the logical choices, and why?

Creating a list of those I'd like to see on BD is easy assuming the 35mm film elements still exist in the Republic archives. Unfortunately, some of Republic's best serial properties were licensed for limited periods when originally filmed. These include The Drums of Fu Manchu (the rights of which is presumed retained by Sax Rohmer's estate), and the four Dick Tracy serials (the rights of which are presumed retained by the Chester Gould estate, Chicago Tribune News Syndicate or both). Republic's archives may no longer hold 35mm elements of those serials, but if they do, some would be on my "next up" wish list.

So, excluding the iffier titles ...including Captain America (great golden age Republic serial, but arguably too many liberties were taken to re-envision the comic character)... there are some real humdingers deserving of a closer look. Among them I'd toss in Spy Smasher, based on the Fawcett comic character, Fighting Devil Dogs, an over the top villain the Lightening with his hunchbacked assistant and flying wing aircraft, The Crimson Ghost, skull masked villain in a fast paced well scripted and thought out chapter-play, The Perils of Nyoka and Jungle Girl, with female leads in exotic back-lot locales, G-Men vs The Black Dragon and Secret Service in Darkest Africa, two action-packed wartime serials starring Rod Cameron and finally King of The Rocketmen, arguably the last great Republic serial and the one that fostered at least three sequels ...at least from a stock footage perspective.

In opening this up for discussion, are there other serial fans here? Anyone interested in seeing more classic cliffhangers released? And if so, which one's would you like to see provided decent quality 35mm elements are available?

While I'd love including other studio's serials in this list, the archival info on Columbia and Universal serials is spotty; film elements should be of sufficient gauge and shape to benefit from 2k/4k transfers and Blu-ray release. If someone has info about existing film elements from other studio releases that might broaden this topic, please share. There are folks reading these forums who work with distributors and studios ...such as Paramount... doing restorations and HD transfers. Down the line, our opinions might be useful and carry some weight on decisions made.
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Re: Cliffhanger Serials on Blu-ray: What do you want to see?

PostTue Jun 13, 2017 11:48 am

Given how influential Spy Smasher was, I'm certain it would be a contender, provided the elements exist. You'd also have to think that a double of G-Men Vs The Black Dragon and Secret Service in Darkest Africa would be a good bet too. Speaking for myself, I'd love to see some of the ones with strong female leads get more exposure, and G-Men would be a shoo-in in that respect.

The only caveat here is the market. This is purely speculation, but I'd have to imagine that serials are not the easiest sell in today's market. I've always found that binge-watching them is less rewarding than parcelling them out individually, as they were meant to be seen, but it's not an idea that keys in well with current viewing habits. It would be terrific for TCM to have a Serial Sunday or something - even a daily screening would be nice. Anything to encourage you to regard each segment individually and to value the cliffhangers rather than just burning through them.
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Re: Cliffhanger Serials on Blu-ray: What do you want to see?

PostTue Jun 13, 2017 12:14 pm

Brooksie wrote:Given how influential Spy Smasher was, I'm certain it would be a contender, provided the elements exist. You'd also have to think that a double of G-Men Vs The Black Dragon and Secret Service in Darkest Africa would be a good bet too. Speaking for myself, I'd love to see some of the ones with strong female leads get more exposure, and G-Men would be a shoo-in in that respect.

The only caveat here is the market. This is purely speculation, but I'd have to imagine that serials are not the easiest sell in today's market. I've always found that binge-watching them is less rewarding than parcelling them out individually, as they were meant to be seen, but it's not an idea that keys in well with current viewing habits. It would be terrific for TCM to have a Serial Sunday or something - even a daily screening would be nice. Anything to encourage you to regard each segment individually and to value the cliffhangers rather than just burning through them.

I watched DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE over a six week period, 2 episodes every Wednesday night. I had never seen it, and I thought that was a good compromise. Binge watching to me causes burnout of whatever I'm watching.
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Re: Cliffhanger Serials on Blu-ray: What do you want to see?

PostThu Jun 15, 2017 6:35 pm

These days I am so busy that I tend watch only an hour or thereabouts of anything a day. Most films I watch over in two to three nights. I have a huge backlog of films yet to watch. I recently bought Daredevils of the Red Circle and watched one episode a night till finished before bedtime. I like that because the current cliff hanger pops up every now in the mind during the next day and enhances the anticipation of watching the next episode. Looking forward to more of these serials as they suit my viewing experiences and find the continuity stimulating. AS for titles, I would happily watch any that are released in high definition. Makes a huge difference to the veiwing experience.
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Re: Cliffhanger Serials on Blu-ray: What do you want to see?

PostFri Jun 16, 2017 10:39 am

I'm glad I got most of the Republics (passed on most of the 1947 and later) when they were released on VHS. Great 35mm transfers. I have a couple dozen serials on film but am still looking for a 16mm print of THE CRIMSON GHOST.

As for blu-ray, I'd love to see G-MEN VS. THE BLACK DRAGON and SECRET SERVICE IN DARKEST AFRICA as they both star Rod Cameron as Rex Bennett and they have incredible fight sequences. SPY SMASHER is an outstanding serial and certainly deserves a release. Early birds like ROBINSON CRUSOE ON CLIPPER ISLAND and SOS COAST GUARD might make the grade.

And let's not forget the inimitable captain!

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Re: Cliffhanger Serials on Blu-ray: What do you want to see?

PostSat Jun 17, 2017 8:47 am

Would love to see The Phantom (1943) on Blu-Ray and of course Jungle Mystery (1932) I wish Universal would release the latter since they restored it and showed it at Cinecon last year...
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Re: Cliffhanger Serials on Blu-ray: What do you want to see?

PostWed Jul 19, 2017 4:02 am

Quick note: Just noticed that The Adventures of Captain Marvel (KL Blu-ray) is finally available for pre-order on Amazon with a Sept. 19 release date. Retail is currently $29.95, but that will undoubtably drop prior to release. If you haven't seen this serial, it's an exceptionally well done Republic production not to be missed. This will likely be the definitive presentation judging from KINO's superb Daredevils of the Red Circle restoration & HD transfer.

Looking forward to more serials from KL. :D

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