Serialized fiction has made a comeback in the 21st century, not just in movies, but in television and books. A single story, told in multiple installments—as opposed to multiple stories featuring the same characters, like Andy Hardy or Lassie—has become more enthralling than episodic stories to modern audiences.
Why? Here’s one theory, which boils the explanation down to the natural evolution of the medium. The storytelling style of the Marvel or Star Wars movies has its roots in the serials of the Golden Age, from the silents through the post-war era.
In 1970, Alan G. Barbour wrote a coffee-table book about those serials called Days of Thrills and Adventure. This was another gift from my librarian pal Bibi, sent last Christmas. It’s an overview of the classic movie serials, great and small, packed with photos, written more as an appreciation than as a critical analysis.
|Movie serial actor Buster Crabbe|
Barbour charts them all, describing not only the stories and the actors (and actresses) who starred in them, but also the filmmakers and the studios who brought them to life. He devotes a chapter to the talented stunt men and gives shout-outs to key crew members in fields such as special effects and model making. Don’t expect deep criticism here; this is written from the fan perspective, and that’s okay.
Days has tons of photographs. To someone unfamiliar with serials, they provide a sense of the variety of action to be found, as well as the often exaggerated, larger-than-life scenarios, often done on the cheap, as quickly as possible.
Serials almost never reached the heights of the average John Ford or Howard Hawks film in terms of art, but their aspirations were different. With them, entertainment came over and above everything else, and audiences of the 30s and 40s were more than satisfied.