Friday, January 12, 2018

FEATURE FRIDAY: G-MEN VS. THE BLACK DRAGON (1943)

     This weekend's feature recommendation for weekend viewing offers four hours of unrelenting WW2 action. G-Men vs.The Black Dragon was a 15-chapter serial directed by the legendary William Whitney. It was released to coincide with the first anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, but---because of some wartime complications---it actually reached theaters in January, 1943. 

      G-Men vs. The Black Dragon was the highest grossing and most-viewed serial of WW2 and the most successful serial ever released by Republic Studios. It made the career of leading man Rod Cameron who later starred in the television series City Detective, State Trooper, and Coronado 9. 

      The series, watched in toto, lives up to its reputation. The weaknesses of most movie serials is repetition, improbable cliffhanger escapes, and disjointed plots. These flaws are entirely absent from G-Men vs. The Black Dragon. The storyline is also very good. 

      Cameron plays FBI Special Agent Rex Bennett, who is contacted by British and Chinese Allies and notified that the notorious Baron Haruchi---a top commander in Japan's Intelligence Service---has entered the US. Haruchi has organized operatives in America under the code name, The Black Dragon. Bennett and his friends have to stop Haruchi and the Black Dragons from committing the mayhem they've planned all across the West Coast. 

      Baron Haruchi is a ruthless character (played by Nino Pipitone) who is fiendishly cunning and possesses all the arrogance of titled nobility. The part is played very well and Haruchi is a formidable opponent for Bennett. In one scene, he has an American traitor executed saying afterwards, "He has served his purpose. If he betrays his own people, how can we trust him?" In another scene, one of the Black Dragons is caught; and Haruchi actually hires a lawyer to get him released! He boasts afterwards that he is "using the Americans own freedoms against them." 

      That incident also caused a controversy between Bennett and the Allied agents, who complained that nothing like that could happen in China or Great Britain. 

       Nonetheless---and somewhat atypical for WW2-era productions---G-Men vs. The Black Dragon portrays an extraordinary amount of teamwork among the Allied agents. The Chinese Agent Chang Sing (played by Roland Got) is with Bennett in most of his escapades and even gets him out of more than one tight spot. And fortunately for these two guys, the British sent a female agent, Vivian Marsh (played by the effusively cute Constance Worth). Vivian is a plucky, fearless girl who ends up as a damsel-in-distress on a few occasions. A few other times, the Black Dragons learn to their sorrow that---despite her delicate femininity---she's quite proficient with firearms.

        This film is overall just plain good and four hours of action. It spawned a sequel The Secret Service in Darkest Africa, where Cameron came back as Bennett to take on the Nazis. A third sequel was planned but never finished before the war ended. At some future date, we'll review the sequel. It's also worth watching. 

G-Men vs. The Black Dragon: ⍟⍟⍟⍟ A perfect score at four stars.


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