Columbia, 15 Chapters, 1940. Starring Don Douglas, Lorna Gray, Harry Harvey, Jack Ingram, Marin Sais, and Forrest Taylor as the Skull.
DEADWOOD DICK is easily the most popular of director James W. Horne’s serials, and not just among the “funny” school of critics, who prefer cliffhangers to be goofy and laughable. It’s also quite popular with more serious fans, fans that tend to dismiss Horne’s other serials as “farces.” Still, going into DICK, I wasn’t at all expectant of a good time. I had heard similarly positive things about PERILS OF THE ROYAL MOUNTED, and was severely disappointed in it. But DEADWOOD DICK’s positive press turned out to be fully justified; the serial is highly enjoyable, full of good action and lively performances. It’s not entirely free from the bits of self-mocking humor so common to Horne serials, but it nevertheless manages to “click” as a genuine serial, something that the other Horne cliffhangers I’ve seen have never been able to do. The odd humorous touches aren’t enough to overwhelm good location shooting, inventive cliffhangers, well-done action scenes, a genuinely memorable (and effective) villain, and a colorful team of good guys.