Okay, gang, it’s Saturday again, and time for another installment of Saturday Breakfast Serial and our ongoing chapter play, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. And, for those of you who may be just joining us, here are the previous posts for this serial: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Last week we finished up our look at the history of Republic Pictures, at least as far as the serial era went, but, just as the feature length films of the studio era had distinguishing features and styles that differentiated them from those coming from their rivals, the same was true with the serials that they produced, so I thought it might be interesting this week to take a look at just what made a Republic serial stand out from those coming from other studios.
Since one of the foundations of Republic was Mascot Pictures, a studio already devoted to the making of serials, it should probably come as no surprise that the serial division was considered one of the major parts of the studio’s inner workings, and therefore generally received more funding and respect than was true of its rivals. This respect for the division translated very well to the screen, especially in terms of the special effects that were used, not just during the cliffhanger scenes, but throughout the episodes. When you see an explosion or a flooded tunnel or whatever in a Republic serial, the effects work just seems that touch more realistic, and therefore more threatening. This larger special effects budget also was brought to bear on some of the more fantastical effects, such as the flying scenes featured in their superhero serials.
Republic was also the first studio to really choreograph the fights within its serial. Instead of the director simply telling the actor “Okay, you two go at it for a couple of minutes”, Republic serials would bring in stuntmen who knew more about what they were doing and how to plan out and better stage a fight sequence. These guys also were not afraid to use the other material on the set to either throw at each other or hit each other with, which again brought a greater sense of realism to their serials and heightened the action.
The extra money that Republic was willing to spend upon its serials was not only seen on the screen, however, but was also a factor in the plotting and writing of their serials, where they had a full team of writers – sometimes as many as seven people – working on the scripts.
There’s also one other feature that an eagle-eyed viewer might note that makes a Republic Serial easily identifiable and distinguishable from those of its competitors: the presence of either (or both) a Packard limousine or a Ford Woodie station wagon which constantly and consistently appeared in their serials. Why? Because by consistently using these cars, it made it easier for Republic to integrate and reuse already shot footage – especially in chase scenes.
And with that, I think it’s time to get on with Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. Here’s chapter 9.
Next time: Chapter 10: Flaming Peril, and we’ll shift our focus from Republic Pictures to one of its main rivals, Columbia .
- The 1943 Batman Serial Airing on TCM (comicsworthreading.com)