Future war & weapons

The Whispering Shadow

An entertaining horror-inspired mystery/crime serial with sci-fi elements that features Bela Lugosi in his best paid role ever. Entertaining and well acted, if quite confusing and not very original. It did, however, help pave the way for science fiction serials in sound in Hollywood. 4/10

Chandu the Magician

This 1932 sci-fi/adventure film has been called the first superhero movie. Bela Lugosi shines as the villain, William Cameron Menzies directs with style and the sets and special effects are very impressive. The inane plot is secondary in the breezy, fun juvenile adventure set in Egypt. 6/10

High Treason

This 1929 film was Britain’s attempt to create its own Metropolis. The stunning art deco visuals are counteracted by a clumsy and overtly naive script. Maurice Elvey’s direction is fluid and competent, but the actors are stuck with paper-thin characters who lack motivation. Modern viewers of this pacifist yarn set in 1940 will marvel at the accurate predictions of things like TV and Skype. (5/10)

The Mysterious Island

Borrowing the name of Jules Verne’s bestseller, this problem-ridden 1926-1929 production features good acting, some remarkable special effects and a solid-ish script, but alas, the schizophrenic semi-talkie-semi-silent film is just as equally horrible in many ways, with toy submarines and crocodiles substituting for dinos. (4/10)

Miss Mend

Miss Mend (1926) is quite possibly the best American action film serial of the silent era. And it was made in the Soviet Union. The tacked-on, state-required propaganda elements throw the plot and pacing off balance, but all-in-all this international spy-fi yarn is a breezy, action-packed, impeccably filmed and fun tour-de-force. (8/10)

The Death Ray

This 1925 Soviet action film by legendary film theorist Lev Kuleshov is all about editing and light-hearted spy fun in a pre-James Bond era, as fascists and socialists fight for possession of a death ray. Kuleshov’s experimental editing and lost film reels create a highly disjointed viewing experience, and the parts are better than the whole. (5/10)