DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE. Republic, 1939.  Charles Quigley, Herman Brix, David Sharpe, Carole Landis, Miles Mander, and Charles Middleton. Written by Barry Shipman, Franklyn Adreon, Rex Taylor, Ronald Davidson, and Sol Shore. Directed by John English and William Witney.

   Watched all twelve chapters of this this without feeling like I wasted a second of my precious youth.

   “The Red Circle” sounded like a ranch to me, but despite the title, this is not a Western, but a contemporary action thriller. The eponymous Dare-devils (Played by Charles Quigley, Dave Sharpe and Herman Brix, just before he became Bruce Bennett) work in a Circus targeted for destruction by Master Villain 39013 who has devoted his life to ruining the fortunes of a millionaire named Horace Granville, played by that redoubtable and very busy English character actor Miles Mander.

   Here’s where it gets complicated: Sometime before the serial started, Granville was responsible for sending this guy to jail, where they given him that number and taken way his name, as Johnny Rivers used to say. 39013 broke jail, imprisoned Granville in his own home, and — using his mastery of disguise — assumed Granville’s identity.

   The rest of the serial deals with the efforts of the Daredevils to find 39013 or at least thwart his plans; the efforts of 39013 to destroy the Daredevils while maintaining his disguise; the efforts of Granville to smuggle messages out of his secret prison, and the efforts of a mysterious hooded figure known only as The Red Circle (Obviously one of the Cast Members… but which one?) to drop various clues and warnings to help the Daredevils along.

   The producers went all out for this one, scouting out all sorts of interesting locations, like off-shore oil rigs and gas refineries with tall ladders to swing from, sheer drops to dangle over, boilers to explode and tunnels to flood. Stars Quigley, Brix and Sharpe were natural athletes, and directors Witney and English make the most of every opportunity to jump, fight and all that other neat stuff. They also signed the talented and tragic Carole Landis just before she got “noticed” in 1,000,000 BC, and went on to I Wake Up Screaming.

   What impressed me most, though, was Charles Middleton’s tour-de-force performance as 39013 and Horace Granville. I don’t know how much was makeup and how much was acting, but when he puts on the disguise, Middleton is actually indistinguishable from Miles Mander, an actor several inches shorter, ten years younger, from a different country. Mannerism, eye color, hair line, and even the distinctive timbre of Mander’s voice. Middleton carries it off superbly. I don’t know how he could’ve missed an Oscar for a performance like that, but it’s worth seeing all by itself.

Miles Mander:


Charles Middleton:


Charles Middleton as Miles Mander: