The Sunday Intertitle: Unholy Trinity

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OFFICER 444 (1926), a Ben Wilson Chapter Film — which is to say, a movie serial from the people  — the exact people! — who brought you TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS. Same star, Wilson, and co-star, Neva Gerber. Most interesting credit is co-cinematographer Joe Walker, who went on to do big things with Capra. Also of mild interest — the show puts on a song and dance about casting August Vollmer, Berkeley police chief, as himself.

It may be the late silent era but this serial is still in thrall to the conventions of 1914, so we get a villain, “The FROG” — who is an exact replica of The Clutching Hand from THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE, only he doesn’t wear a mask. An intertitle makes a point of saying we shouldn’t feel sorry for him just because he’s disabled — some of these “disabled” types are crafty buggers.

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In fact, it quickly becomes clear that The FROG can shuck off his hunched back and twisted limbs whenever he wants, in order to assume the guise of the chairman of the Amalgamated Society of Scientists (top).

It’s a brilliant disguise — Groucho mustache and eyebrows, coke-bottle glasses, skull-cap and cape. Obviously a top scientist.

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The FROG is assisted by “Dago Frank,” your basic ethnic henchman type, and by “The VULTURE”, a sultry vamp who sometimes works in drag as a boy. Episode Two (“Human Rats”) has a subversive moment where The VULTURE in drag meets the heroine, who is also attired as a boy. The possibilities could have been pursued further if you ask me.

So there you have it — what’s nice about the serial is it’s about an average street cop battling, essentially, supervillains. What’s less nice is that the villains are an unholy alliance of a cripple/scientist, an Italian, and a woman/tranny. All the most untrustworthy types banded together. (And only one man can stop them!)

 

5 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Unholy Trinity”

  1. “It may be the late silent era but this serial is still in thrall to the conventions of 1914, so we get a villain, ‘The FROG- — who is an exact replica of The Clutching Hand from THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE, only he doesn’t wear a mask.”

    Funnily enough, there is a late silent era serial called THE MARK OF THE FROG, which also has a villain called The Frog…who does wear a mask!
    Though online sources say it’s lost, large chunks survive in various archives. The images taken from the jumbled reels are quite captivating.

  2. I can’t find any stills online but I’m sure it had its share of snazzy visuals — most serials have great surreal images, in amidst the running about.

    The Clutching Hand, of course, got a serial of his own later.

  3. Seems the character of Craig Kennedy, criminologist, is the connection between The Exploits of Elaine and The Clutching Hand serials.

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