This is the first of a two volume set which, when combined with Book Two, encompasses over 750 pages and includes more than 5,900 illustrations.
Features of Book One:
It says a lot for this book that it held my interest despite my never having seen a silent serial (and very few silent films, for that matter). I can't imagine how long it took to locate all the photos and other images from the "lost" silent serials. The photos are presented in a very visually entertaining way, with enough variation between stills, posters, publicity pictures, and other material to keep the eye diverted throughout the book.
The text of the book is also intriguing; One facet that particularly interested me was the way in which the silent serials drew on the popular book and magazine fiction of the day in the same way the sound ones drew on comic strips. Arthur B. Reeve (creator of "Craig Kennedy") and others would write novel versions of serials in the same way feature film blockbusters are novelized these days, while serials drew on existing books by authors like Edgar Wallace, G. A. Henty, Earl Derr Biggers, and others. It's an interesting contrast to the sound era, in which serial that were adapted from other mediums generally came from comic strips and hardly ever from a book (The Red Rider and Haunted Harbor being two exceptions).
It was also intriguing to find that actors like Lionel Barrymore appeared in silent serials before the medium became considered a refuge for has-been or up-and-coming actors. Warren William and Constance Bennett are two more interesting names that figure in the serials in this book, but they seem to have appeared in cliffhangers at the start of their careers, not during their heyday like Barrymore.
Congrats to the author on this volume, and I for one can't wait for Volume Two, which (since it will take me onto more familiar ground) I'll enjoy even more.
This fine book has a fine narrative discussing different phases and types of serials both sound and silent followed by an alphabetical listing of silent films. There are close to 290 silents listed with photos, stills, lobby cards and information such as chapter names and stars. Over 65 of these silents capsules feature film frame grabs. The book has plethora of images about 250 are in color probably a like number or more of one color toned print of a black and white photo and there are 1,000 or more black and white images. Certain people made a lot of silent serials and some like Walter Miller, Tom London and Frank Lackteen carried on to sound extensively.
If Dr Stedman's hope was to interest more people in silent serials he has succeeded with me.
The Movie Serial Companion Book One is the first of two books about the classic cliffhangers that thrilled the multitudes during the first half of the 20th century. The book starts off with afive-chapter history of America’s film serials that runs for 62 pages and covers both the silent and the sound film eras.The text is easily read, engaging, informative, and insightful. My interest never flagged and I learned many things that I was not previously aware of. For instance, I did not know that most serials had two directors, one shooting while the other prepared the next days work, or one doing location scenes while the other did interiors. Following the beginning chapters of the book is a 225 page annotated listing of the American serials of the silent era. The listing is done alphabetically by serial title. Most of the serials merit at least a full page which includes the date of the serial, the studio, the director(s), a listing of the players, a listing of the chapter titles, a synopsis of the story, and a brief commentary. Each listing is accompanied with numerous stills of scenes from the serial and of the players. Some of the entries also include the one-sheet advertising for the film or magazine covers featuring the serial or its players. Each serial entry averages at least 3-to-4 illustrations. Illustrations are in black and white and full color throughout. All-in-all, this book is obviously a labor of love and a welcome addition to my library. I look forward to the publication of the second book in the series.
The Movie Serial Companion: Book One is only available through mail order from the publisher.
See Ordering Information below.
This is the second of a two volume set which, when combined with Book One, encompasses over 750 pages and includes more than 5,900 illustrations.
Features of Book Two:
Book Two is a treasure! With even more info and insights than Book 1 (which is expected, with most of the sound serials available) the sequel is a must-own for any serious serial fan.
After reading about half-way through, I can see that (as expected) the wealth of information for the sound serials is more abundant than what was available for the silent serials.
While I didn't have too much commentary to offer on Volume One, due to my lack of knowledge of silent serials, I have quite a lot to say about Book Two. To my mind, it is the definitive sound serial reference work. While other serial books, such as Barbour's and Cline's, are primarily personal reminiscences of the genre, Mr. Stedman's is an exhaustive collection featuring basic plot summaries, critical commentaries, detailed cast listings, trivia, memorable images, and chapter titles for each sound serial. The book does not fall into the trap of Weiss and Goldgood's To Be Continued, which offered plot synopses that were dull at best and confusing and inaccurate at worst; instead it offers an account of each serial's basic plot and and gives a whiff of each serial's atmosphere, leaving the reader to wonder about (and, hopefully, watch) the rest of it.
Mr. Stedman's critical commentary on individual serials should be a model for other reviewers; while he makes clear his own opinion of each cliffhanger and has some intelligent and penetrating comments on many of them, he avoids "warning off" people from any serial and finds something interesting to record about every entry, something that might pique a potential viewer's interest. Every serial should be seen at least once, to allow the viewer to make up his own mind about it, and The Movie Serial Companion encourages this attitude, by laying out the basic facts about a cliffhanger and letting the reader choose whether to follow up by watching it or not.
The commentaries, in addition to being non-opinionated, are also well written and informative, containing some trivia that was quite new to me and which will surprise even long-time serial fans. For instance, the book mentions the possible comic-book origins of The Masked Marvel, and is the only serial work outside of Valley of the Cliffhangers to accurately recount the genesis of Republic's Nyoka character, a character so often (and quite inaccurately) ascribed to Edgar Rice Burroughs, on the Internet and elsewhere. There's quite a bit of dry humor and wit to be found in the commentaries as well (I'm still chuckling over the description of Lucien Prival's odd performance in Darkest Africa).
The book's pictures are an interesting and varied lot; the author takes advantage of this newfangled digital age by avoiding over-reliance on the same posters, lobby cards, and stills we've seen on books and on the Internet multiple times, and instead uses many screencaps taken directly from the serials, giving those who haven't seen them a much more vivid sample of the actual cliffhanger. Even the lesser serials have about a page's worth of pictures, and many of the more memorable ones, such as Tim Tyler's Luck, Spy Smasher, and Jungle Girl, have several pages worth.
The book's format is the same no-frills format as the first one, but all this means is that the book is like a sirloin steak burger served on whole wheat bread instead of on a roll--it's the feast between the covers that matters, and what a feast it is. The serial fan community has been waiting for a book like this for years, and it's finally here. Whether you're looking to explore the serial world for the first time, or if you're a long time fan that wants an exhaustive reference tool, you can't go wrong with Book Two of The Movie Serial Companion.
This book is a must for anyone even remotely interested in serials. Every sound serial is listed and it is listed by alphabetical order so if one is interested a particular serial it is pretty easy to find without worrying what studio made the serial. Each serial has a plot summary and commentary and loads of photos many frame snaps from the serial.
The number of frame snaps is astounding, easily several thousand.
This a monument to Mr Stedman's dedication to documenting the movie serial film genre. It's scope is astounding, the knowledge provided priceless and it's documentation of serials both for fans today and film historians of the future cannot be praised enough.
There are certain books I read and reread many times and this has marched to top of my personal favorites. Thanks Bill Stedman for this wonderful work, a crowning achievement and a book to be cherished for the rest of my life.
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