MANHUNT OF MYSTERY ISLAND
CAPTAIN MEPHISTO AND THE TRANSFORMATION MACHINE
The fifteen-chapter Manhunt of Mystery Island is an unexpected delight. All the talk of radiotomic transmitters, radium vapour beams, teletubes and the ever delightful molecular rearrangement of blood corpuscles is top B-movie pseudo-scientific jargon. As serials go, the action scenes are great. The fights are something that all modern tv shows could take lessons from every time heroes and villains meet it is not with words but with fisticuffs. And not commonplace fisticuffs these are fights that wreck entire rooms. In fact, the plot never actually advances every time a clue is found, the villains fortuitously destroy it in the nick of time and it is on to the next fight sequence. The cliffhangers are a wonderful array of nail-biting fights on clifftops, flooded tunnels, cut rope-bridges or the hero trapped beneath falling winepresses. Part of the reason for the excellence of the action element could well be that Manhunt of Mystery Island is co-directed by Yakima Canutt, the top Hollywood stuntman of the era.
Manhunt of Mystery Island also manages to make the typically impoverished cheapness of serial budgets work for it in a way that is quite surreal no pretence is made to disguise the Hollywood locations as a tropical island, for instance. The establishing shots of the mansion and particularly the scenes of Mephistos transformation are the same shots used over and over. Particularly entertaining is the costumery as Captain Mephisto, Roy Barcrofts pirate disguise consists of a ten gallon hat, a bandana and a line of lipstick on his cheek that one takes is supposed to be a scar. (It is never explained throughout whether Captain Mephisto is the actual pirate ancestor revived or whether this is the modern day descendant who has simply adopted this as a disguise). Elsewhere, Mephistos sidekick Kenne Duncan spends the entire film in a costume shop sailor suit.
The inflectionless and entirely expressionless delivery of hero Richard Bailey is hilarious to watch. Especially so in that Bailey is given much of the films expository dialogue he has the appearance of someone who walks on from time to time and comes to life to deliver plot points, not unlike some kind of automaton. Far better is heroine Linda Stirling, the acknowledged serial queen of the day. She is on the receiving end of all the you stay here dialogue, as was typical of the women of the era. More often than not though she becomes the saviour of the hour, rescuing the hero more than once and proving a dab shot with a pistol.
Full serial available online beginning with Chapter 1 here:-