The Sunday Intertitle: It’s Chinatown

Episode 9, and there’s almost TOO MUCH to report!

Harry Houdini (as daring everyman hero Quentin Locke) escapes from beneath the elevator slowly — inexorably! — descending to crush him by a scientific use of the art of wriggling. Zita the lovesick secretary / bogus heiress, disguised as a boy, fails to help him, because she’s jealous of his love for heroine Marguerite Marsh ~

Harry rescues MM from the clutches of the Automaton, but it’s not long before she’s lured into another trap by Deluxe Dora, who pretends to have the cure to Marguerite’s father’s Laughing Madness (induced in Episode One).

Meanwhile, sinister forces are moving against Harry ~

Of course, the inscrutable Chinese would have to be in on it. Any conspiracy involving corrupt businessmen, street roughs, bogus heiresses, vamps, a robot and a fortune-telling crone, must obviously also have a Chinese element. And there’s also a mysterious Beard Guy, tottering about distractedly in aid of some future plot turn…

Co-director Harry Grossman made few films, at least according to the IMDb (records for early 1920s productions are likely incomplete) but he regularly worked with Marsh. His other favourite player was Charles Middleton, who achieved movie serial immortality as Ming of Mongo in FLASH GORDON and its sequels.

Grossman’s partner, Burton L. King (good name!) chalked up 141 credits in a little over twenty years (and some of these were lengthy serials like THE MASTER MYSTERY). He even managed a few talkies, although the sound discs for at least one of these are missing.

I can’t say I can tell that the serial (like most) had two directors. Grossman and King are efficient but anonymous. However, they deliver the required frenetic pace and broad-strokes performances, and the goofiness of the plotting keeps the show buoyant.

And now Harry’s in drag!

The scene is a sinister Chinese temple, where a certain gentleman from the Indies has delivered “the great torture,” a kind of wheeled garrote, of which Harry is the intended victim. And sure enough, by episode’s end, he is manacled to a partition, his throat encircled by a deadly noose, while the cackling Dacoit spins the wheel of death on the other side of the flimsy wall…

Can Harry’s windpipe withstand the assault? Will Marguerite escape her deeply religious but emotionally unavailable abductors, and will her father ever be cured of his Laughing Madness? Will Zita finally decide to be a sidekick or an evil vamp? Who is the beard guy, and will he vanish as abruptly as the fortune-telling crone? And whatever happened to the pharmacist who got conked on the head and disappeared?

Tune in next week and see how THE MASTER MYSTERY brazenly dodges most of the above questions ~

4 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: It’s Chinatown”

  1. The set in that last still is remindful of Marcel L’Herbier

  2. – whose version of The Last Days of Pompeii I just enjoyed.

    The sudden exotic set is a surprise in a serial which has filled several hours with weird happenings occurring in quite realistic places. A cave was about as exotic as it gets. Suddenly there’s an infusion of Fu Manchu. That’s what’s so much fun about The Master Mystery, its refusal of consistency.

  3. I just discovered this series. Great stuff! I’m sharing on my Houdini blog. Thank you.

  4. You’re welcome!

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