8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
"The Master Key" is a 13-chapter Universal serial released in 1945, directed by Ray Taylor and Lewis D. Collins. The story is by Jack Natteford and Dwight V. Babcock, with screenplay by Joseph O'Donnell, George H. Plympton and Ande Lamb. In each chapter the the foreword notes that "This is just a story. Like many good stories, it never happened and never could happen ... But let us imagine that it is 1938, somewhere in the United States."
The plot involves a gang of Nazi spies, each of whom carries a key with their identification number. Agent M-2 is Garret Donohue (Addison Richards), second in command to the unseen "Master Key" or agent M-1, who communicates at their meetings through a loudspeaker on a vacant chair. They have copied a machine, the "Orotron" which does not produce cookies, but rather extracts minerals and elements from seawater. The Nazis want it to get gold, with which to buy critical industries important to defense efforts so, as the Master Key puts it, "the industrial might of the United States will never be used against us when war comes." Unfortunately the machine requires special "Orotron tubes" which the Nazis haven't been able to duplicate, and which don't last very long. So they have captured the inventor, Professor Henderson (Byron Foulger), who is not cooperating with them. Arriving on the scene from Washington is Tom Brant (Milburn Stone) who, with Police Detective Jack Ryan (Dennis Moore) must find Professor Henderson, determine the identity of "The Master Key" and bring the gang to justice. Complicating this is a newspaper reporter, Janet Lowe (Jan Wiley) whom the police suspect may not be telling the full truth about what she knows. Her main source of information is a shopkeeper named Aggie (Sarah Padden) who runs a Boys' club in an old theatre, headed by teenage street urchin Migsy (28-year-old Alfred "Lash" La Rue).
This is good serial, the plot better-constructed than most of the later examples from Universal. The identifying keys are similar to the numbered coins in a serial from the previous year, "Raiders of Ghost City" in which Prussian spies were also after gold to assist their country in world domination. There is a lot of stock footage, including cliffhangers quite familiar from other Universal serials, but usually used to good effect. The atmosphere is well handled, the acting believable and free of "comic" characters. Addison Richards is nicely malevolent, and Milburn Stone is no letdown as the hero, well-supported by Dennis Moore. Jan Wiley has a far better role as a newspaper reporter than such characters usually have in the serials, initially complicated by being the half-sister of Walter Stark (John Eldredge), who is working with the Nazis. The Orotron makes more sense than most serial-movie "scientific" devices; extracting gold from seawater is a reasonable thing to do, if not quite in the way it works here. The Boys' Club may be a poor substitute for the Dead End Kids, but it is used with restraint and provides variety to the action.
VCI's DVD, # 8444, is on two discs, the second containing only the last three chapters plus the "extra" features. The print used by VCI is the main disappointment, doubtless all that was available, looking like a mediocre 16mm reduction print made for television. A bad first impression is given by the titles, not well focused and headed by "Commonwealth Pictures Presents," all from the same chapter having MPPDA certificate number 10592. The actual chapters vary in print quality, with the earlier ones sharper than the titles. Some of these are fairly dark, making it hard to see much in the "night" scenes, but the contrast and brightness are stable, and the gray scale good enough that details remain visible otherwise. The later chapters are about as fuzzy as the titles and also a little murky, if not especially dark. There are a few scratches and some dirt, if not too distracting, but the sound is clear enough. The "extras" include the original theatrical trailer for "The Master Key" plus those for three other DVD releases from VCI, "Tim Tyler's Luck," "Riders of Death Valley" and "Captain Video." There are also bio's of Milburn Stone, Dennis Moore, Byron Foulger, Lash La Rue, Ray Taylor and Lewis D. Collins.
So a fine serial that keeps the plot more "serious" than most, worth tolerating the print quality, at least in doses of one chapter at a time. It is not sold at a bargain price, but a reasonable value, given the care with which it was transferred.
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: VHS Tape
VCI Entertainment and Universal Pictures present..."The Master Key" (1945) (Dolby digitally remastered), a 13 Chapter cliffhanger from an action packed Universal serial era featuring an outstanding cast with Lewis D. Collins and Ray Taylor at the helm....our story has to do with Nazi agents who are planning to use steal an invention that can extract gold from the ocean floor...what is this strange machine the "Orotron" and what evil disorder is coming from Migsy, head henchman (Lash Larue)...can Tom Brant (Milburn Stone), Jack Ryan (Dennis Moore) and Janet Lowe (Jan Wiley) round up the Nazi Agents and free Elwood Henderson (Bryon Foulger)...and just who is the unknown head agent and leader of "The Master Key"...boy, can Universal Serials get any better than this chapter play...don't leave the theater until the final chapter is over and done with "The Last Key"....just remember double thrills, chills, mystery and suspense...hitting the bull's eye with excitement...don't miss a single spine thrilling episode..return next week to this local theater for another episode of action and adventure that will keep you thrilled until the next chapter.
Under director's Lewis D. Collins and Ray Taylor, producer Morgan B. Cox, original story by Jack Natterford and Dwight V. Barcock, original screenplay by George H. Plympton, Joseph O'Donnell and Ande Lamb, dialogue director Willard Holland, musical score by Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner and Dimitri Tiomkin, stunts Carl Matthews, David Sharpe, Tom Steele, Ken Terrell and Dale Van Sickel ...the cast includes Milburn Stone (Agent Tom Brant), Jan Wiley (Janet Lowe), Dennis Moore (Detective Lt. Jack Ryan), Addison Richards (Gerhard Doenitz), Bryon Foulger (Prof. Elwood Henderson), Maris Wrixson (Dorothy Arnold), Sarah Padden (Aggie), George Lynn (Herman/chief thug), Russell Hicks (Police Chief Michael J. O'Brien), Roland Varno (Arnold Hoffman), Lash LaRue (Migsy/street urchin) (as Alfred La Rue), Jerry Shane (Dan/boys' club member), Neyle Morrow (Spike/boys' club member), George Chesebro (Fireman Dragging Hose), Edmund Cobb (Riverton Railroad Official in Tower), Al Ferguson (Truck Driver), Jack Perrin (Policeman), Jack Rockwell (Safecracker), Gene Roth (Bat Logan/gangster), David Sharpe (Policeman), Tom Steele (Policeman), Forrest Taylor (Hospital Doctor), Dale Van sickel (Policeman in Loft Building)........special footnote as we showcase actor Milburn Stone who was inducted (as a cast member Doc Adams of "Gunsmoke") into the "Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum" in 1981.. Milburn became an overnight star and, along with Matt Dillon's James Arness stayed a citizen of Dodge City throughout its entire 20-year run (500 episodes)........meanwhile back to our Universal Serial which is always good till the last drop and this serial is no exception...there is a great deal of entertainment here for the cliffhanger fans out there...all courtesy of VCI Entertainment, who in my humble opinion is the best there is in restoring early serials and features.
1. Milburn Stone
Birth Date: 7/05/1904 - Burrton, Kansas
Died: 6/12/1980 - La Jolla, California (heart attack)
1. Trapped by flames
2. Death Turns the Wheel
3. Ticket to Disaster
4. Drawbridge Danger
5. Runaway Car
6. Shot Down
7. Death on the Dial
8. Bullet Serenade
9. On Stage For Murder
13.The Last Key
If you're into vintage serials as I am, why not pick up a copy of the following titles from VCI Home Video:
VCI CLIFFHANGER TRAILERS:
1. Adventures of Red Ryder (Don "Red" Barry)
2. Adventures of the Flying Cadets (Bobby Jordan)
3. Buck Rogers (Buster Crabbe)
4. Captain Midnight (Dave O'Brien)
5. Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere (Judd Holdren & I. Stanford Jolley)
6. Dick Tracy's G-Men (Ralph Byrd)
7. Don Winslow of the Navy (Don Terry)
8. Don Winslow of the Coast Guard (Don Terry)
9. Drums of Fu Manchu (Henry Brandon)
10.Fighting Kit Carson (Johnny Mack Brown)
11.Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (Buster Crabbe)
12.The Green Archer (Victory Jory)
13.Jungle Girl (Frances Gifford)
14.Jungle Jim (Grant Withers & Raymond Hatton)
15.Lost City of the Jungle (Russell Hayden & Keye Luke)
16.Mandrake the Magician (Warren Hull & Dick Curtis)
17.Miracle Rider (Tom Mix & Tony Jr)
18.The Painted Stallion (Ray "Crash" Corrigan)
19.The Phantom (Tom Tyler)
20.The Return of Chandu (Bela Lugosi)
21.Riders of Death Valley (Dick Foran, Leo Carrillo & Buck Jones)
22.Secret Agent X-9 (1937) (Scott Kolk & Henry Brandon)
23.Secret Agent X-9 (1945) (Lloyd Bridges & Keye Luke)
24.Sky Raiders (Donald Woods & Billy Halop)
25.Undersea Kingdom (Ray "Crash" Corrigan)
26.Winners of the West (Dick Foran, Harry Woods, Roy Barcroft & Charles Stevens)
27.Zane Greys "King of the Royal Mounted" (Allan "Rocky" Lane)
28.Zorro's Cliffhanger Collection (Reed Hadley, John Carroll & Linda Stirling)
Coming soon January 2006 from VCI Home Video on DVD..."FLAMING FRONTIERS" (1938), Universal Serial with 15 chapters, featuring Johnny Mack Brown, Eleanor Hansen, John Archer, James Blaine and Ralph Bowman..."OREGON TRAIL" (1939), another Universal Serial with 15 exciting chapters featuring Johnny Mack Brown, Fuzzy Knight, Roy Barcoft and Charles King..."THE TALL TEXAN" (1953), full length feature starring Lloyd Bridges, Lee J Cobb, Luther Adler and Marie Windsor...watch for more details on VCI Entertainment and Amazon your two favorite sites for serials and B-Westerns.
Great job by VCI Entertainment for releasing "The Master Key" (1945), the digital transfere with a clean, clear and crisp print...looking forward to more high quality releases from the vintage serial era of the '30s, '40s & '50s...order your copy now from Amazon or VCI Entertainment where there are plenty of copies available on VHS, stay tuned once again for top notch action mixed with deadly adventure from the "King of Serials" VCI...just the way we like 'em
Total Time: 265 mins on 2 VHS ~ VCI Entertainment 1710 ~ (6/25/2002)