Beware of “Composite” Serials

In my previous post I asserted that, for the most part, I want this blog to be a positive place and I stand by that so please take this more as consumer advocacy than film nerd complaining, though in truth it is a little of both.

Now a little bit of background: I absolutely positively love the serial format, aka chapter plays, aka cliffhangers. Believe me when I say they are a sort of cinematic narcotic. It’s the simplest kind of story-telling done in the best possible way and more often or not they compel you to keep going and leave you wanting more. What’s not to love? I will admit that I have not seen as many as I’d like to because it is kind of a leap of faith to start one. Twelve to fifteen episodes at 20 minutes a pop is a larger commitment than you realize.

However, those I’ve seen I’ve greatly enjoyed for one reason for another. Furthermore their cinematic significance is not confined to being a footnote of a bygone era but also have left a lasting legacy. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg both admit to owing a debt to the serial format in constructing both Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Now the point of all this backstory is so that you might better comprehend my anger when I recount the following tale as I learned of an industry practice the hard way. Whether they were created for a theatrical re-release, television or video so-called “theatrical” cuts of serials exist. Meaning, that tidy, condensed, at times confusing versions of stories intended to be much longer exist.

This is what I fell victim to. I had a complete version of Blake of Scotland Yard on VHS. I used a DVD/VHS deck to transfer it to a DVD. That deck broke and nothing else plays the DVDs. This is a situation I am still trying to to remedy. So cut to the present: I am hankering for serials anew, more specifically my favorites. I see Blake of Scotland Yard on Amazon and order it. Now I got two more serials there which are whole but this one is a so-called “composite.” Something I am just learning about and passing along.

So I may or may not watch this confounding version which is 73 minutes long as opposed to 303, (over four times shorter!) but I will not enjoy it.

So, buyer beware: before renting or buying a serial I implore you to check the running time they typically should run well in excess of three hours, so anything in typical feature length range is cut.

Happy viewing.

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