Monday, April 2, 2012

DON WINSLOW OF THE COAST GUARD

It's been a while since I've had the opportunity to cover a vintage movie serial here at the Late Show. Fortunately, I recently received the 13-chapter Universal Studios cliffhanger DON WINSLOW OF THE COAST GUARD (1942) on DVD from VCI Entertainment, and was able to give it a spin over the weekend.

At the height of World War II, Naval Commander Don Winslow (Don Terry, who originated the role in DON WINSLOW OF THE NAVY the year before) and his aide, Lt. "Red" Pennington (Walter Sande), are temporarily assigned to the Seattle office of the Coast Guard when Military Intelligence becomes aware that Winslow's old nemesis, the mercenary spymaster known as the Scorpion (Nestor Paiva, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, TARANTULA) is aiding the Japanese in a plot to invade the West Coast of the United States. Over the next 13 pulse-pounding chapters, Don and Red - along with pretty Mercedes Colby (Elyse Knox, THE MUMMY'S TOMB) - battle saboteurs and Fifth Columnists, investigate secret island bases, and hunt enemy submarines.

Based on the popular newspaper comic strip by Commander Frank V. Martinek,  Don Winslow of the Navy, COAST GUARD is a decent, if sometimes cheap-looking, wartime adventure serial, packed with military stock footage, fistfights, shootouts, car chases, and naval action. As with many Universal serials, the action and cliffhangers are sometimes rather less than thrilling, but tag-team directors Lewis D. Collins and Ray Taylor (both serial veterans) do a reasonable job with the material at hand. The cast, comprised of many familiar Universal contract players of the period, all hit their marks and deliver the undemanding dialogue with conviction.

The new DVD release from VCI Entertainment is okay, with a perfectly watchable, if unspectacular, 1.33:1 black and white transfer that looks to have been heavily scrubbed with digital noise reduction. It appears that the heavy use of DNR software has eliminated a lot of the expected age-related specks and scratches in the source print, but also softened the image overall. Contrast is rather weak, and fine detail is mostly non-existent. Audio is a satisfactory Dolby Digital mono. All 13 chapters are on a single, dual-layer disc. Extras include a Restoration Comparison (which seems to bear out my observation above) and the original theatrical trailer.

DON WINSLOW OF THE COAST GUARD is not one of the best wartime serials, relying a bit too heavily on stock footage, and containing a few groan-inducing cliffhanger "cheats" in its middle chapters, but it is entertaining and faster-paced than many of the studio's other chapterplays. If you're a serial fan, it's worth checking out. Technically, it doesn't look quite as nice as VCI's GREEN HORNET or BUCK ROGERS discs, but it looks better than any previous VHS release of the title, and... it's a lot of fun.

BUYDon Winslow of the Coast Guard