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Mandrake, the Magician

D: Sam Nelson, Norman Deming / 19m

Cast: Warren Hull, Doris Weston, Al Kikume, Rex Downing, Edward Earle, Forbes Murray, Kenneth MacDonald, Don Beddoe

With the Wasp having used the radium machine to destroy Mandrake’s home – and everyone in it – it’s by some small miracle that no one is seriously harmed, aside from Dr Bennett who is found pinned beneath the rubble. While Webster is charged with taking him to hospital, Raymond heads home. Mandrake searches through the debris and finds a further clue to the Wasp’s identity. He enlists Lothar to help him by retracing their steps from the day before when the Wasp’s lieutenant, Dirk, escaped being followed by them. They find the abandoned store that Dirk entered. Mandrake realises that the rear of the store leads to the Wasp’s hideout, and that Raymond’s store, Bennett’s office, and Webster’s apartment are all close by. He sends Lothar to watch all three while he ventures deeper into the building.

In the same anteroom where Dirk met his untimely end, Mandrake finds himself in danger from the same poison gas that killed the Wasp’s chief henchman. He uses his handkerchief to buy himself some time until he can exit the room. Once out, he finds himself inside the Wasp’s inner sanctum. Mandrake unmasks the Wasp but is held at gunpoint. He explains his reasons for suspecting the Wasp’s real identity, before wrestling the gun away from the master criminal and engaging in a brutal fistfight. The Wasp manages to escape by car but is chased by Mandrake and Lothar, a chase that leads to justice being served and the Wasp’s plan for “world terrorisation” brought to a timely end.

Mandrake 12

And so, we come to the end of twelve weeks of thrills and spills, and endless fight scenes, and car chases, and suspicious behaviour, and blatant sexism, and some very dodgy acting. It’s been an entertaining, if occasionally very silly ride, with cliffhanger endings to each chapter (the life-threatening danger of which is usually ignored at the beginning of the next episode), and such an extreme sense of its own absurdity that it more than makes up for the preposterousness of the script by Messrs. Poland, Dickey and Dandy. It’s been crazy, escapist fun: chock full of holes and about as convincing as the idea of James Corden taking over on The Late Late Show (wait… hang on a minute…).

As Thirties serials go, Mandrake, the Magician has been gloriously stupid at times, and instead of embracing the supernatural skills of its cartoon strip character, has made him into a low-rent magician who’s somehow parlayed his (not-so-) special magic skills into a crimefighting repertoire. And he’s not been the brightest of individuals: in Chapter 12: The Reward of Treachery we see him scanning the ceiling of the Wasp’s anteroom while poison gas seeps up through the floor, and he only notices it as if by accident. Bravo, Mandrake!

But these types of serials are easy – too easy in fact – to criticise and make fun of (see the reviews of all eleven previous episodes), but taken as a whole, this particular serial borders almost on being a guilty pleasure. It has bucket loads of panache and a fair degree of charm, and while it revels in its own foolishness, there’s an acknowledgment that however serious the viewer takes it, it’ll never quite overcome just how idiotic it all seems. From its poor treatment of Betty (rarely has the love interest been given so little to do), to its complete refusal to involve the police in any way, shape or form, Mandrake, the Magician provokes as many smiles as groans, and is a slightly less than perfect way to spend nearly four hours of your time. It’s cheap and cheerful, always fun to watch, and if the identity of the Wasp is never in doubt then so be it – it’s all part of the enjoyment to be had.

Rating: 7/10 – Chapter 12: The Reward of Treachery rounds things off in style, with the long awaited showdown between Mandrake and the Wasp taking centre stage; still displaying a sure sense of its own clumsiness (as do all the other episodes), it makes for a fitting end to a largely inventive, slightly goofy, often farcical serial.