Kendra Steiner Editions

August 6, 2017

WHO’S GUILTY (15-chapter serial, 1945)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 7:17 pm

WHO’S GUILTY

a 15-chapter Columbia Serial, produced by Sam Katzman

first chapter released in December 1945

directed by Howard Bretherton and Wallace Grissell

starring Robert Kent, Amelita Ward, Tim Ryan, Jayne Hazard, Minerva Urecal, Charles Middleton, Davison Clark, Wheeler Oakman

approximate running time: 5 hours

chapter titles:

  1. Avenging Visitor
  2. The Unknown Strikes
  3. Held For Murder
  4. A Killer at Bay
  5. Human Bait
  6. The Plunge of Doom
  7. A Date with Fate
  8. Invisible Hands
  9. Fate’s Vengeance
  10. The Unknown Killer
  11. Riding to Oblivion
  12. The Tank of Terror
  13. White Terror
  14. A Cry in the Night
  15. The Guilty One

who 1

WHO’S GUILTY, an early Sam Katzman serial at Columbia, after he moved on from Monogram, is not highly regarded among serial fans. If you judge it according to the same criteria which make early 1940’s Republic product the standard by which you judge serials, then it surely would fail. However, I think I’ve viewed this serial 10-12 times in the last 25 years, and I find it very entertaining. It’s a shame that so few of the Sam Katzman-produced Columbia serials have ever been given a legitimate release by Columbia/Sony. Other than the Superman and Batman serials, BLACKHAWK is the only one which comes to mind. Surely, the George Reeves serial ADVENTURES OF SIR GALAHAD would sell a good number of copies, based on Reeves’ name alone! Many of the Katzman serials have a slightly goofy quality to them—-I’m reminded of the feel of some straight-to-video action films of the last few decades. That makes them, to me at least, enormously entertaining. Also, remember that most serial viewers would never watch ALL 12 or 15 chapters. Super-fans would, but according to my parents and other people of that generation who attended serials in theaters back in the day, the average viewer might see maybe 1/3 or 1/2 of the episodes. Continuity was not an issue to most viewers, and if the chapter you happened to see had the right “feel” to it and entertained you, it was a good serial to the viewer. WHO’S GUILTY has a delicious collection of whodunit “types” played broadly, each chapter throws out a lot of “mystery” when viewed separately, there is both action and humor in every episode, and the attempt to fit a whodunit into the serial format was a novel and admirable thing to do, IMHO.

who 2

Please remember that this serial was NOT meant to be seen straight through….it was meant to be seen in weekly installments, and by an audience which probably would not have seen every episode. I see that I reviewed this serial 14 years ago at the IMDB. Here are my comments from 2003:

One of the first of the Sam Katzman-produced serials at Columbia, WHO’S GUILTY is a bit different from the standard serial in that it is a murder mystery, and beginning with the second chapter each suspect is trotted out after the credits while the narrator points out incriminating things about him/her. My children saw this part of the film and though it was like the game CLUE come to life on the screen. This feels like a Monogram Charlie Chan film spread out over fifteen chapters, but minus chan and number one son and Mantan Moreland. Reliable b-movie leading man Robert Kent (Phantom Rider, She Shoulda Said No) plays a state investigator called into the case of the murder of a wealthy businessman, a man who lives in a mysterious estate and has all kinds of suspicious relatives who are waiting for their inheritance. Kent’s comic sidekick (combining the number one son and Birmingham Brown roles, to continue the Chan comparison) is longtime comic actor and writer Tim Ryan, who has played similar roles in Bowery Boys and Chan films, but NEVER this dim-witted or clownish. There are constant red herrings, and the film makes some detours into subplots that wear a bit thin (a subplot in Mexico lasts three or four chapters, a gangster subplot comes up later), but 15-chapter serials almost always have some padding. Overall, this film’s old-fashioned over-the-top acting (from the supporting players only–Kent is a stoic hero), occasional mysterious settings, and intriguing murder mystery add up to an entertaining, campy serial. However, unless you like the more humor-laced murder mysteries of the 40s (Boston Blackie, Chan, etc.), you probably will find this film unsatisfying and laughable. Taken in the right spirit, it can be refreshingly unpretentious entertainment and can provide a wonderful mix of laughs and thrills. Special mention should be made of Charles Middleton’s wonderful performance as the suspicious butler–often sharpening knives with a gleeful look on his face!

I still stand by those remarks, and if you like low-budget Monogram or PRC mysteries of the 1940’s, and having a FIVE HOUR serial version of one of them is a dream come true, then you’ll want to check out WHO’S GUILTY, from one of the grey-market dealers offering it.

who 3

By the way, if you want a very different perspective on the film, I highly recommend the review at the website The Files of Jerry Blake, which should be a go-to source for any serial fan. Blake’s write-ups are always accurate and informed, and he’s the kind of guy who will know which 1940’s serial is used to provide stock footage in a 1950’s serial. I just happen to like the elements here; he does not. I should also point out that he describes things very well….his description of Tim Ryan’s character as resembling Pat O’Brien doing a combination of Milton Berle and Huntz Hall is EXACTLY how Ryan comes off. That combination is very appealing to me! Check out his write-up on the film at https://filesofjerryblake.com/2013/02/27/whos-guilty

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