Todd Gault's Movie Serial Experience

Todd Gault's Film Serial Experience: Movie serials, cliffhangers and reviews. A gallery of movie serial stars.
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"Brick Bradford", Columbia 1948

Another Thanksgiving is fast approaching and so, as it has become my custom for Novemember, I am highlighting a lesser effort in the serial genre. Actually "Brick Bradford" (1948) isn't a "turkey", so much as it is an outlandish and mindblowing romp through several different plot twists that take the serial from a spoof of "Flash Gordon" (1936), to a slapstick time travel comedy, before finishing up with a standard cops and robbers climax. Whether you consider it to be good or bad, it is certainly different.

Scientist/adventurer Brick Bradford (Kane Richmond) is enjoying a vacation at his ranch with guests Professor Salisbury (Pierre Watkin), Salisbury's daughter June (Linda Johnson), and good friend Sandy Sanderson (Rick Vallin). The rest and relaxation is cut short by by a visit from a government agent.

Brick's help is needed with Dr. Tymak (John Merton). Tymak is working in seclusion on the Interceptor Ray, a devise that can destroy any guided missile while it is in the air. The problem is that with only a slight modification the Interceptor can be turned in a a weapon of mass destruction. Brick is asked to go to Tymak, help him perfect the ray, and also guard it from foreign agents who may try to steal it. Brick and his guests all gladly volunteer to help for the good of the country and world peace.

Tymak, with his two assistants Walthar (Wheeler Oakman) and Byrus (Leonard Penn), has run into a problem with the Interceptor. The key element that powers the ray is a strange substance that Tymak had discovered in a meteor. Dubbed Lunarium, because it was traced to the far side of the Moon, the element is almost exhausted. Tymak plans to go to the Moon and get more. To achieve this goal, Tymak has created the Crystal Door, a machine that will instantly transport whoever enters it to another door that Tymak had flown to the Moon in a remote control space ship.

While Tymak is preparing for his trip, a group of spies lead by Laydron (Charles Quigley) get past the defenses set up around the lab and capture Walthar and Byrus. Tymak passes through the Crystal Door and is transported to the Moon. Laydron opens the door and finds no one behind it. Walthar and Byrus are taken to a cabin to be questioned about where Tymak has gone. The two men are not believed when they say Tymak is on the Moon and are beaten to get the truth out them, which doesn't work. Laydron, thanks to his spy network, knows that Brick and his friends are coming and decides to pass himself off as Tymak so that he can take care of Brick.

Meanwhile on the Moon, Tymak finds that it is an arid, rock strewn, desert planet with an Earth like atmosphere. A group of strangely clad soldiers come upon Tymak and capture him. He is brought before the ruler of the Moon, Queen Khana (Carol Forman) and her advisor Zuntar (Robert Barron). They believe he is a member of a band of rebels trying to overthrow Khana, called the Exiles. Scoffing at his story of being from the Earth, Khana has Tymak thrown into the dungeon until she decides what to do with him.

Back on Earth, Brick and the gang arrive at Tymak's cabin. June and her father set up camp down the road, while Brick and Sandy go to see Tymak. They are greated by Albers (Jack Ingram), one of Laydron's underlings. Laydron, wearing a lab coat and glasses, introduces himself as Dr. Tymak and proceeds to show Brick and Sandy around the lab. Wanting to demonstrate a new ray devise, he has Brick and Sandy stand against a wall "out of the way" of the deadly radioactive beams that the machine will fire. The rays hit the wall on either side of Brick and Sandy, then start heading toward the two trapped men.

Brick and Sandy manage to duck from the beams. Brick crawls over to the ray machine, Laydron says that it is jammed and can't turn it off. Brick grabs a metal bar and uses it to pry the machine's trigger switch into the off position. He and Sandy then decide they have to return to camp, but will return with Professor Salisbury and June for dinner.

Meanwhile, back on the Moon, Tymak has been sentenced to death in the Ice Room, a chamber that emits a vapor that will freeze anyone inside it. Before the sentence can be carried out the court scientist tells Khana that he has examined the prisoner's effects and he does indeed come from Earth. Tymak's life is spared and he is returned to the dungeon until thie new information can be figured out.

Brick and the gang return to Laydron, where Salisbury pulls Brick aside and tells him that the man calling himself Tymak is an imposter, Sallisbury had met the real Tymak twenty years ago. Brick has Salisbury and June stay with the fake Tymak and stall him along while he and Sandy go in search of Albers to see if he can be made to talk. The two men split up to search more area.

Sandy comes upon Albers and starts to question him, Albers gets tough and the two men fight. Albers' confederate Black (Fred Graham) sees this and knocks Sandy out. The two men carry the unconscious Sandy to an abandoned mine, put him into an ore cart and send it down the broken track toward a cliff.

Brick sees Sandy put into the ore cart and races to the rescue. He jumps into the cart, but before he can get Sandy out, the cart goes off the cliff , flips over, and rolls down a steep embankment. Luckily both men survive with only minor bruises. Brick discovers the trail of the two men and begins to follow it.

Albers goes to the cabin where Tymak's assistants are being held and tells the men there to be on guard as Brick is on to them. He then returns to Laydron and tells him the same thing. Laydron decides it's time to vacate the lab. He has Salisbury and June tied up and put in front the radioactive ray machine. Hooking it to a clock he sets it to go off and kill the two prisoners in ten minutes, then leaves.

Brick and Sandy find the hidden cabin and attack the two men there, overpowering them easily. Brick recognizes Walthat and Byrus from a picture he saw in Tymak's lab. He is also shocked to discover that Tymak is on the Moon. The four men return to the lab just in time to save June and her father from the ray machine with only seconds to spare.

Brick decides that he has to go to the Moon and find Dr. Tymak. Salisbury insists on going along. Sandy and June are left to help guard the lab. Brick and Salisbury make the trip and arrive on the Moon, where they see a city in the distance. Heading to the city, the two men start exploring and enter a room in the palace. It turns out to be an execution chamber that incinerates people. Flames erupt around them and it looks like the end, but the fires are turned off by order of Zuntar who wants to question these two men who are dressed like Tymak.

Khana is immediately attracted to Brick, but he seems uninterested. Brick lears that Tymak is a prisoner in the dungeon, which is where he and Salisbury end up as well. Brick tricks a guard by having Salisbury pretend to be sick and gets the keys to their cell. Brick dresses in the guard's uniform. Searching the dungeon, Brick discovers Dr. Tymak and Carol (Helen Stanely), daughter of the Exiles' leader. Getting more guard uniforms out of a storage closet, the four fugitives manage to sneak out of the palace and journey to the land of the Exiles.

The three Earth men are introduced to Preston (Nelson Leigh), leader of the Exiles. He tells them how he and the rest of the inhabitants of the Moon came from Earth fifty years ago to start a peaceful colony, but Zuntar, the real power behind the Khana's throne, became greedy and set up a totalitarian monarchy, which he rules with an iron fist. Preston and his people, who practice democratic rule, were exiled to the Wasteland.

Tymak explains that he came to the Moon to find a specific element that has an atomic weight of two hundred. Preston knows this element, it is found in the lava a certain volcano in the Lunarian's territory. Preston decides to help Tymak get this element. Everyone journeys to the vulcano, where they are spotted by Lunarian guards. After a brief ray gun battle, the guards are driven off. Brick and Carol fall over the lip of the vulcano. Brick manages to grab Carol and hang onto a ledge until ropes can be lowered to them. Getting several buckets of the lava, everyone heads back into the Wasteland.

Sandy and June have decided to travel to the Moon to see if Brick needs help. After they make the trip Laydron attacks the lab again and learns that everyone is on the Moon. He and Albers make the trip. All four end up in the palace, where Sandy and June are put into the dungeon while Laydron makes a deal with Zuntar for Lunarium.

A drawing is made of June and sent to the Exiles. Realizing that June is a prisoner, Brick uses a guard uniform to sneak into the city. He rescues Sandy and June but the three of them are chased into the Ice Room. It looks like the end for Brick and his friends but Khana oders them spared. She has decided she can rule just as well as Zuntar can and wants Brick to be her king. Brick refuses, and Zuntar takes control again. He threatens to kill Sandy and June unless Brick leads the Lunarian Army to the secret passage through the Wasteland to the Exiles' village.

Brick agrees, but tricks the captain of the army and gets away. He returns to Preston, where he learns that Tymak has made death rays from the Lunarium that is similar to what Laydron wants to do with the Interceptor, only smaller. Using this weapon, the Exiles easily route the Lunarian Army. Zuntar and Khana take Sandy and June with them and head for their stronghold in the hills. Laydron, seeing the jig is up on the Moon, heads back to Earth.

The Exiles take over the palace. Brick and some of the soldiers head after Zuntar's party. They quickly overtake them. Zuntar and Brick fight to the death, and Zuntar ends up falling off a cliff. Now that the Moon is a free, democratic society, Brick and his friends can return to Earth and perfect the Interceptor Ray. The only problem is that Laydron is waiting for them to return so that he can steal the Lunarium.

When you first start watching this serial and see bare headed men running around the Moon, your first reaction is "this is so bad, it's ridiculous, no one can take this seriously, everyone knew by this time that the Moon can't support life". And just maybe that was the point of the writers and directors. Why else would the soldiers be dressed in T-shirts and bermuda shorts topped off with a cape and helmet?

This section of the serial plays like a comedy skit of "Flash Gordon", it has all of the major plot elements of that groundbreaking serial; Earth people show up on another planet, discover there is a dictatorial government on it, join a band of rebels to free the people, engage in battles using both swords and ray guns, while the hero fends off the advances of an villainess intent on conquering him romantically. This all has to be a joke, but it's hard to tell since everyone plays the goofy plot totally straight.

The biggest and most unexpected plot twist is after Quigley and Ingram arrive on the Moon. Usually this would indicate that now that all of the main characters are in one place the rest of the serial will take place there. Not this time. Right after Quigley shows up on the Moon, bam!, evil rulers are overthrown. It's as if the writers realized they had gotten as much mileage out of the Moon story line and decided to move on. So everyone returns to Earth, and after a couple of skirmishes the serial veers off in another direction.

Richmond and Vallin need to go back in time to an uncharted island to find a buried treasure which has a scientific calculation needed by Merton. Now the serial plays like a Three Stooges comedy as the two heroes battle angry jungle natives using such devices as an exploding cigar and home made fire crackers. After the over the top silliness of the first section, and slap sitck hijinks in the time travel part of the serial, it's almost a disappointment when Richmond and Vallin return to the present and the rest of the serial is taken up by one of Merton's assistants deciding to doublecross everyone and sell the Interceptor Ray to Quigley.

The only high light of the last six chapters is an amusing sequence where Quigley and Ingram try to get away with the stolen invention and an invisible Merton keeps letting the air out of their car's tires after they fix them. Finally disgusted by the inability of the tires to hold air, Quigley has Ingram drive the car with flats. The sight of the wobbling rims attempting to speed down the dirt road is hilarious.

The special effects are variable. The transportation to the Moon is done by simply superimposing the image of stars over the travelers as if they are whisking through outer space. The ray guns simply light up at the tip and emit a sci fi type sound effect. The invisiblity effects are kept to the barest minimum, mostly just men falling over as if they have been hit by something. There are some shots are of objects being suspended by wires, like a gun, but they are few and far between.

The best effect is the Time Top used to travel back to the past. It looks like what it's name implies, a big top that spins. The riders spin inside it, and get very dizzy, while the top rises up out of the ground, then drops back into the ground, where is stops spinning, having arrived at it's destination. Though scientifically implausibe, it is a good looking effect, so good in fact the footage was reused in "Mysterious Island" (1951) as an invading space ship from Mercury.

The acting is all good. Richmond, looking a little heavier and grayer than he did in his Republic serials, still has a commanding presence mixed with an easy going affability. What personality the underwritten character has is thanks entirely to Richmond's acting ability. Quigley, in a change of pace for him going from hero to villain, is great as the gangsterish spy. While he usually played bland heroes in serials, playing a villian seems to have brought something out of him. Quigley looks to be really enjoying himself as he sneers at the heroes, berates his inept men, and occasionally gloats when things look to be going his way. John Merton is delightfully crotchety as the eccentric scientist, while Carol Forman is as slinky and sinister as ever in her small role as the ruler of the Moon.

But the stand out performance of this serial is Rick Vallin. He is handed the most contradictory character I have ever seen. During the early chapters he is nothing more than a not too bright guy who talks tough and is handy with his fists. Nothing really special. Then when he goes back in time, the character completely changes. Now he is a idiot, comedic sidekick, unaware of ever being in danger . When he is being burned at the stake by the jungle natives, he doesn't want Richmond to free him by using his cigarette lighter because it will burn his hands. He does other bizarre things like stopping in the middle of being chased to relax with a cigarette, and obliviously making goo goo eyes at a native girl while being tied to the stake that is about to be set on fire. Once back in the present, his character abruptly switches gears again. Now he is a wisecracking tough guy who makes a joke during every confrontation with the spies. It is to Vallin's credit that he almost makes all three of these characters seem like the same person. He doesn't quite make it, but then again I don't think Olivier could have pulled it off either.

So while "Brick Bradford" is no classic, it is something different in a genre that was starting to put out a seemingly endless supply of repetitive material.

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