Former Fattest Baby Becomes A Star!
Scott Lothrop | Tampa, FL, USA | 01/10/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There's not much connection between the two versions of "Secret Agent X-9" except that they both were inspired by the same comic strip, which actually wasn't very popular. The DVD release by VMI has a commentary which tells you far more about that comic strip than you care to know. It also has an interesting interview with Beau Bridges about the lead, his father Lloyd Bridges (1913-1998).
This was only Bridges' second leading role, the first being the previous year in an unimportant movie, but he had had minor, mostly uncredited roles in at least 52 movies when he starred in this one, so he appears experienced and confident in his role. He also had the advantage of having won a fat baby contest in 1914 in which the judge, former president William Howard Taft, pronounced little Lloyd as fat as HE was! As a Columbia contract player Bridges appeared in B-Westerns and Three Stooges comedies. He is just about perfect here as Secret Agent X-9, probably the best performance I have ever seen in a serial.
But this group is almost an ensemble cast, as the supporting roles are quite important and extremely well done. Mr. Solo, who sits at the end of the bar playing tiddly winks through all 13 chapters, is one of the most memorable serial charcters ever. His appearance in the penultimate shot of the final chapter is an absolute gem! He's played by Samuel S. Hinds, who was Jimmy Stewart's dad in "It's A Wonderful Life" and the corrupt mayor in "Destry Rides Again."
Jan Wiley ("Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc."), as a non-accented Australian ostensibly working for the Japanese but actually sending secret messages to the Allies, is also extremely impressive. Two Asian actors each of whom played a son of Charlie Chan are also present, Keye Luke ("Smilin' Jack") as Chinese agent Ah Fong, and Benson Fong as a Japanese scientist. A non-Asian, Victoria Horne, plays the sinister Nabura, and walks around saying "Ah, so" with her eyes closed. Cy Kendall plays bar-owner Lucky Kamber with verve.
This is probably tied with "Smiln' Jack" as Universal's best serials. It has great 1940's atmosphere and more action than is typical of Universal serials. Unfortunately the cliffhangers ARE typical of Universal serials, but the ending of Chapter One is pretty clever with X-9 tricking a Japanese submarine into sinking a German ship. Typically, however, a hail of gunfire simply misses the good guys. The opening title sequence in each chapter is really classy, and the music sets the scene even to the blast from a boat's gun in the background fitting in beautifully with the music. Many of the scenes, especially in Kamber's bar, are redolent of the atmosphere of "Casablanca."
The acting is excellent from all concerned, making this a top-notch serial.
Now available in both versions
Leganto | USA | 08/14/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is the second version of Secret Agent X-9, released by Universal in 1945 and not directly connected to the same serial from 1937. Max Allan Collins gives an informed, interest-holding commentary that can be played along with the first chapter and parts of the second. Among the details he gives is how King Features developed this strip to compete with Chicago Tribune's Dick Tracy, which he himself ended up writing at one point.
As the serial progresses thru its 13 chapters, we know from the beginning who the primary bad guys are. But among the other characters, we gradually learn who is on whose side. It takes place on Shadow Island off the coast of China. The island is designated neutral territory during WWII. It's pretty big on the map they show: probably about the size of China's Hainan Island although not the same shape.
Ethnic casting is a little off. Keye Luke does play a Chinese good guy, but there are other Chinese actors playing Japanese, and the facial features don't match. And the nefarious Dragon-Lady type arch villain is called Nabura: supposedly Japanese but wearing Chinese garb and apparently of southern European extraction (Victoria Horne). But we can suspend this disbelief.
And here is a chance to see a young Lloyd Bridges and later to hear Collins interview Beau, one of his equally famous sons.
The quality of the print is usually good. Some of the night scenes are hard to make out, and I don't know if that depends on my monitor. Most chapters are about 20 minutes long. But one detail makes me uneasy: Chapter 9 runs under 16 minutes. Are there four missing minutes that they were unable to find and restore?
Serial lovers: Be sure to include this and its 1937 counterpart in your collection."