VCI Entertainment, the oldest independent distributor of film and television in the United States released Universal’s 137th and last film serial, The Mysterious Mr. M, on Blu-ray last November. It’s an intriguing pre-television format that practically invented the cliff-hanger ending before The Italian Job did it literally.
Divided into 13 chapters that come in at roughly 18 minutes each (amounted to a total runtime of 227 minutes), our plot revolves around a revolutionary submarine engine invented by a Dr. Kittridge. A rival scientist named Anthony Waldron intends to steal the plans for the device by means of a mind-control drug, but an unknown villain emerges, “Mr. M”, who begins pulling the strings. Now it’s up to Federal agent Grant Farrell to solve the case. One of the biggest complaints among film audiences is pacing, undeniable an important factor in one’s enjoyment. The Mysterious Mr. M moves at lightning speed to ensure that theatre patrons always get some bang for their buck every time. Agent Farrell cheats death more than every Final Destination film combined as he comes seconds away from meeting his demise at the end of each chapter; only to have either jumped out of a car, through a window or speeding locomotive. Kathy Bates as her character Annie Wilkes goes on a legendary rant about this tactic in Misery, so it was great to finally get the proper context. Acting is quite wooden from most of the supporting cast, although Edmund MacDonald as Waldron is a decent onscreen villain next to the unseen Mr. M. Dennis Moore, a regular in film serials might just be the original diligent and perfect “G-man” personified as he certainly represents a very familiar stereotype. In regards to production value, The Mysterious Mr. M appears to be very cost-effective; as it should be given how many Universal produced. Sets are very tight during interiors scenes and while there’s a plethora of models and miniatures, their main purpose is to explode during the many climatic sequences which are often accompanied by stock footage.
“Restored in 2K from the studio 35mm film masters” as per the cover, The Mysterious Mr. M looks impressed for 74-year-old serial. There’s a washed-out quality to the picture, almost as if the brightness had been turned up a notch too high, but it’s certainly high definition and the image overall is very clean with no visible damage. Region-free encoded and presented in 1.37:1, preserving the aspect ratio of its original theatrical run, English subtitles are included with the Dolby 2.0 track, which sounds perfectly fine, and like the image, it’s also clean.
The Mysterious Mr. M feels at home among VCI’s diverse catalogue of oddities, who deserve much praise restoring what may not be the best, but last of its kind, which is significant. Viewing this type of medium is a little hard to get used to, especially if you haven’t watched an old fashion film-serial before, but it gets better as you go.
THE MYSTERIOUS MR. M
(1946, director: Lewis D. Collins & Vernon Keays)
direct blu-ray screen captures