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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Adventure > Cliffhanger > Airplanes > Mail > Serial > Teens > Tailspin Tommy (1934 Universal Serial/VCI DVD)

Tailspin Tommy (1934 Universal Serial/VCI DVD)

Picture: C Sound: C Extras: C Film: C+

Established as a hit comic strip back in 1928 (over 90 years ago now), Hal Forrest's Tailspin Tommy remains a popular classic action favorite and was far ahead of the Johnny Quests and Speed Racers of the world. Needing characters to headline their Saturday Morning Serials, Universal licensed the character for two, starting with Tailspin Tommy in 1934 and the 12 chapters here are very amusing today as the serial approaches its 75th Anniversary. Maurice Murphy played the title character, while a very young Noah Beery Jr. (The Rockford Files) played Pete 'Skeeter' Milligan.

The story begins when a contract to do air mail comes up for grabs and Tommy is with the company that deserves to win it, versus Tiger Taggart (John Davidson) who will literally kill to secure it. Tommy scores early points in flying success and stopping a catastrophe, upping his popularity and making Taggart more murderous. Then a movie company wants to film his exceptional flying abilities, but you know who wants it to be his last flight.

The energy and fun here is typical of the earliest serials at their best and shows once again how good Universal could make them. Even when the model work is obvious, the pace just keeps going like all good serial plays and is worth taking in once just to see how good these could be. Once again, Lucas & Spielberg have this serial too to thank for one of their franchises.

The 1.33 X 1 image is on the old side and shows its age, but for the age of the prints, they look good and VCI obviously did some cleaning up of them. Video Black is not bad as a result, but expect detail and depth issues. Universal destroyed many of their older films, so it is hard to know if/where better copies exist. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono also shows its age with some background noise and compression, but the prints and their sound are at least consistent from chapter to chapter. Extras include trailers for other serials, especially those from VCI.

To give you an idea of the character's following today, memorabilia goes for more money than you might expect, including posters and lobby cards for this serial, its sequel and four B-movies Monogram did of the character in 1939. Besides a novel and actual film prints of the adventures, 18 highly collectible early Big Little Books (made between 1933 and 1940) are heading north of $300+ in the best shape and climbing. Mint copies, if you can find one, are going higher. The availability of DVDs like this only push up interest and values more. VCI has the sequel serial out too and just issued it on Blu-ray, which you can read more about at this link...


Hope this original gets that same treatment!

- Nicholas Sheffo


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