Monday, July 22, 2019
Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery (1935)
Tommy Tompkins (known as Tailspin Tommy and played by Clark Williams) and his pal Skeeter Milligan (Noah Beery Jr) work for Three Point Airlines. Their latest job is surveying an oil pipeline on the Pacific island of Nazil. The survey will be made by dirigible but the dirigible meets the fate that alas usually met such beasties - it runs into a typhoon and crashes. Just as Tommy has performed the daring feat of docking with the dirigible in mid-air.
The survey is resumed but using two aircraft - Tommy’s biplane and a cabin monoplane piloted by Betty Lou Barnes (Jean Rogers), the niece of oil tycoon Ned Curtis (Bryant Washbourne). But more trouble awaits our intrepid heroes.
The plot has all the standard serial elements with narrow escapes, the heroes getting captured, the heroine getting captured, a few double-crosses and an abundance of action. And of course a touch of romance. Betty Lou is clearly crazy about Tommy and Inez Casmetto, daughter of the good Casmetto brother, obviously thinks Skeeter is kinda cute.
The aerial sequences are absolutely superb and are mostly original with surprisingly little use of stock footage. There are lots of dogfights but they’re mostly inconclusive, which of course is intentional - you don’t actually want the good guys shot down and you don’t want the bad guys shot down either, at least not until you’re getting close to the final chapter. While the bad guys and The Eagle have machine-gun on their aircraft Tommy’s aircraft is unarmed so when it comes to a dogfight he has to improvise a bit (such as tossing hand grenades at his aerial opponents). Perhaps it was felt that if Tommy flew an armed plane it would make him seem less of an insanely brave hero.
There’s certainly no faulting the job done by director Ray Taylor. He keeps things moving along and mostly avoids the slow patches that bedevil lesser serials. Serials are by their very nature formulaic and repetitive. The trick is to keep coming up with clever variations on the standard plot devices and cliffhanger endings. This serial on the whole manages to do that.
An unfortunate feature of most serials is the flashback episode comprised mainly of footage from previous chapters. Happily there is no such episode in this serial.
The DVD (I believe there’s also a Blu-Ray) from VCI offers extraordinarily good transfers. Which is a major bonus in this case since the flying sequences look particularly impressive.
Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery is a fairly conventional serial but it’s extremely well executed and it has terrific aerial stunts. Very highly recommended.