Wednesday, May 25, 2022

KING OF THE KONGO: The 1929 Cliffhanger Serial

The year was 1929. Mascot Pictures, a relatively new movie studio, produced what would become the first cliffhanger serial with sound. A Secret Service agent searches the jungle for his missing brother, also an agent. He encounters a young woman there who is also searching, but for her missing father. They encounter a gang of ivory smugglers who hold a prisoner who knows the secrets of the missing people and a lost treasure. The pair are also menaced by a giant gorilla which guards the temple which is the smugglers' lair.

King of the Kongo featured dialogue and sound on discs which required the movie theaters to play the discs in sync with the movie. As each chapter of the "part talking" version began, it looked like a typical silent film with title cards. It was accompanied by synchronized sound effects and music recorded on large discs similar to record albums. In the middle of each chapter there are several segments where the title cards stop and a full dialog sequence commences. After a few minutes the dialog on the audio stopped and the title cards resumed - again accompanied by just music and effects. This was one of several techniques used in the late 1920's for making films that were not fully a talkie and not fully a silent either. The "sound on disc" system quickly fell out of favor for "sound on film" which provided better synchronization of the dialog with the video.

Boris Karloff faces off against the mad gorilla.

Karloff in a life-or-death struggle.
Photo is a screen capture from the restored version.

A complete 10-chapter copy of the silent version of this serial is held by the UCLA Film and Television Archives. The version which survives on home video among collectors is the “part talking” version, but it is missing the original audio. For years there were rumors that a private collector was known to own a number of the original sound discs, but holding on to them jealously. Such rumors are not uncommon among film buffs and, if true, is usually the result of why film preservation never meets fruition.


Walter Miller, an actor who, like Ben Wilson, was often featured in those silent cliffhanger serials, shared time with a man in a gorilla suit and a rising Hollywood star named Boris Karloff. With such titles as “Terrors of the Jungle,” “Temple of Beasts,” “Man of Mystery,” and “Jungle Justice,” you can imagine why fans of cliffhanger serials have been eagerly awaiting someone to put both time and effort into restoring this cliffhanger with those sound discs.


Thankfully, a film preservationist named Eric Grayson became the man to spearhead such a restoration project and it looks like the serial will finally be available on DVD and a restored version using today’s technology.

Eric posted a Kickstarter to raise the funds to have the serial completed and released on DVD and Blu-Ray. I am pleased to say he reached his goal and (according to the projected timeline) the serial will be in the hands of fans like myself within a few months. I have said it many times and I will say it again. How much a collector has or what they have will not impress me. What they did to preserve their holdings can impress me. Which is why, when the Blu-Ray is in my hands, I will be giving Eric a virtual five-five with praise on social media. 


If you want to check out a fascinating five-minute video revealing how much work went into the restoration, along with screen comparisons, visit the link below. And, if you want to financially support his work, contact Eric directly to pre-order your Blu-Ray.




Thursday, May 19, 2022

Matt McKenzie's TV WESTERNS Book Series

Matt McKenzie has been producing a solid series of activity books designed for young children, doubling as a wonderful opportunity to expose children to those wonderful cowboy heroes of the past: Red Ryder, Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy. The Wild West Discovery Series and Records of History: World War Two series have multiple volumes involving crossword puzzles, matching games and anagrams. 

The World War Two series is designed to educate additional information about the war through the same windows of information and learning that was readily accessible to the contemporary juvenile reader of the early 1940s -- especially the wartime comic books. 

My personal favorite is "Forgotten Heroes," explores such pop culture icons as Captain Marvel, Superman, Spy Smasher, Captain Midnight, Captain America, the Shield and others.

"The Homefront" surveys many aspects of life on the home front. For most Americans, life during the war involved sacrifices: shortages, acts of community service, air raid preparations, rationing, and a variety of temporary inconveniences. Rationing, scrap drives, and victory gardens are among the topics in this activity book designed to educate the youngsters of life during the war years.

You can find his books on and... small tip... they make great Christmas gifts for the kids.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

DOCTOR STRANGE: The Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness not only lived up to the hype, but the subtitle of the film as well. A tour-de-force by Marvel Studios, this spoiler-free review can best be summed up with a simple sentence: the best Marvel film since Avengers: End Game. For those who loved Spider-Man: No Way Home, which introduced theater goers to the multiverse, my apologizes for that statement. But this is not only the second half of a two-part story (you do not have to see Spider-Man to follow this movie, by the way), it is elevating the concept of how maddening the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to become.

For those who do not know, the multiverse is a concept in Marvel comics labeling the parallel dimensions, timelines, and alternate realities. In short, there are millions of alternate realities and each one could have a duplicate of ourselves, each one a variant from what he are familiar with. In one universe Doctor Strange could be evil. In another, Doctor Strange could be a woman. In another, well, you get the idea. And this is the concept Marvel Studios ran with. Here, we are introduced to superheroes that have never made it to the big screen before, alternate renditions of familiar characters, and a few surprises along the way.

One newcomer who shines brightly is America Chavez, a young girl from another universe who has the ability to punch holes and open doors to alternate universes. When a monster chases her from another world, Strange intervenes and finds himself curious what is so special about her that creatures have to be summoned across multiple universes to apprehend her. This launches the epic that would push Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, into an adventure where he explores the motives of his alternate renditions -- not all of whom are the good guys. Xochitl Gomez plays the role of America Chavez with perfect adaptation from the comic books. (With her entry into the series, I also smell Marvel Studios setting up a Young Avengers television series or movie in the near future.) 

Elizabeth Olsen not as Wanda, but as the Scarlet Witch.

Sam Raimi, who established a reputation for creating demonic horror films with such classics as The Evil Dead, took the helm and performed his tasks admirably. And I dare say, with challenges most directors would not have had to ordeal with. Three weeks into filming, production came to a halt due to the pandemic. The release date was pushed forward. Then the film was completed, only to have retakes shot months later. 

I have to give it to Marvel Studios... every sequel is different from the others. The Multiverse of Madness is different from the first Doctor Strange movie. And the studio is not afraid of trying something new for the sake of telling a story. Critics may differ whether this is a great superhero film or a corporate slog, but the box office dollars in the coming weeks will verify whether this was the correct trajectory for the Doctor Strange movies... after all, the film was made for fan boys like us.

Known as Shuma Garuth in the comics, Goliath in the movies.

Friday, May 6, 2022

The 90th Anniversary of Jack Benny

Small trivia of note: May 2, 1932: 90 years ago Jack Benny went on the air for Canada Dry Ginger Ale, beginning his long career in radio. He is pictured here with bandleader, George Olsen, and singer, Ethel Shutta.

"You drink it, like it, and don't wanna hear about it."

Enclosed is a free PDF scan of a Jack Benny radio script from the first month of his radio career, demonstrating his earliest radio efforts over NBC. Enjoy!