By Philip Schweier
Ivan’s note: Riders of Death Valley (1941) returns next week to Serial Saturdays. I promise.
This time, Tracy squares off against a masked villain known as The Ghost, so called for his power to become invisible. Thanks to inventive genius of his henchman Lucifer (John Davidson), The Ghost possesses an amulet (it looks like an oversized peace sign from the 1960s), and in conjunction with a special ray projector, it renders its wearer invisible. However, the power comes with a whining sound, alerting our heroes that The Ghost is near.
To conceal his true identity when not invisible, The Ghost wears a black face-mask (or a black-face mask, if you will; he looks as dark as Bill Duke). It soon becomes apparent that The Ghost is a member of the Council of Eight, a secret enclave tasked by the authorities with rooting out crime. As a member of the council, The Ghost managed to hinder the capture of his own brother, Rackets Regan. But the law eventually caught up with Regan, and now The Ghost seeks revenge on the council for sending his brother to the electric chair.
As the last of the Dick Tracy serials, it becomes readily apparent the series has run out of steam. Many of the more exciting cliffhangers are lifted in their entirety from previous Dick Tracy serials. It may have been less noticeable when originally released, but today, after watching all four serials within a matter of months, it’s pretty obvious.
The serial also makes use of footage from the RKO Pictures film Deluge (1933), in which a massive tidal wave strikes New York City. Regardless of how hokey it may appear today, it certainly raised a bar by 1941 standards. The thrills and action come fast and furious in true serial tradition. For an old-fashioned crime buster adventure, one could do a lot worse.
These stories, only an hour in length, were much closer to the comic strip version, featuring familiar faces such as Pat Patton, Tess Trueheart and Vitamin Flintheart.
Byrd would later star in a Dick Tracy TV series beginning in 1951 until his untimely death from a heart attack a year later.