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Blake of Scotland Yard (1937)

A feature-length cut-down of a fifteen chapter serial, which explains a lot - though not why the absolutely crucial unmasking and defeat (or death) of the villain takes place offscreen. It's such a non-event that a wild line has to be dubbed in to confirm that the Scorpion is exactly who I guessed it was from the actor's smiling face in the opening credits. Though it retains the title of a 1927 serial, this offers a different hero - the earlier film was about an Inspector Angus Blake, but this is about Sir James Blake (Herbert Rawlinson), who has retired from the Yard and devoted himself with true serial-style lunacy to the development of a death ray he intends to turn over to the League of Nations so there won't ever be a war ever again. As it happens, the contraption is stolen by the Scorpion - a fiend who favours a mask, crab-claw hand, slouch hat and crippled gait. The villain's disguise is so bizarre that there's a genuine surprise later on when Blake gets himself up in an identical outfit to infiltrate his gang and the Scorpion comes mask-to-mask with his apparent self. Aided by two-fisted American inventor Jerry Sheehan (Ralph Byrd) and his peppy friend Hope Mason (Joan Barclay), with one Dr Marshall (Lloyd Hughes) being suspiciously helpful throughout, Blake trots around the world to get his raygun back. We get a long stopover in France, where Jerry and Hope pose as drunken American honeymooners watching an Apache dance (Hope gets swung around when she steps in), and a return to London, where there are dirty doings at a hostel run by a limping old-timer with a feebleminded giant thug brother in a barred room ready to be turned loose on interlopers. I imagine the whole serial might be a tiresome watch, but chopping it down like this renders it incoherent rather than dull. Still, points given for Rawlinson's disguises and the Scorpion's demented m.o. Dickie Jones, as Blake's bratty nephew besotted with Sheehan's Yankee slang ('amscray'), is edited out as much as possible, which is a plus.

First published in this form here.


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