As the third-place winner in the “Reed Hadley Sound-a-Like Contest” intones off-screen that we couldn’t have won the Second World War without RAdio Detection And Ranging (radar to you laypeople), we learn that the Radar Secret Service in the nation’s capital is doing swell things with the technology. Why, RSS Agent Bill Travis (John Howard) and his sidekick Static (Ralph Byrd)—no, not the character on The Space Kiddettes—are able to close the unsolved Allen murder case by locating the missing gun! (I wonder if the Radar Secret Service ever had cause to work alongside the United States Counterspies?)
But Bill and Static have bigger fish to fry: hoodlum Mickey Moran (Tom Neal) has received word of a valuable shipment of U-238 in transit…and his henchmen Blackie (Riley Hill) and Benson (Robert Kent) manage to “liberate” those goods before the uranium reaches its destination. The Radar Secret Service swings into action with the help of a “Tele-Meter”—a surveillance device that acts like…well, if this motion picture is to be believed, like there’s a friggin’ camera on every street corner, triggered by the very presence of the U-238. Moran certainly has his hands full staying one step ahead of the RSS…but the mobster has bigger problems: his moll Lila (Adele Jergens) is two-timing him with the real head of the ring, a sebaceous sort who answers to Michael (Tristram Coffin).
The working title of Radar Secret Service (1950) was Radar Patrol (the organization is repeatedly referred to by that name in the film), but I suspect they changed the name because of fears there’d be confusion with a Republic serial released a year earlier, Radar Patrol vs. Spy King. With the supporting cast in Service, it could very well be a chapter play: Ralph Byrd, Tris Coffin (oddly, he’s in Radar Patrol vs.Spy King), Pierre Watkin (billed here as “Watkins”), Robert Kent, and Kenne Duncan—just to name a few. Here’s what handicaps Service in the cliffhanger department: it is deadly dull to sit through, despite its 57-minute running time. (Even the fistfights are uninspired.)
We can probably blame B-picture king Sam Newfield for the leaden pace of this one, since he sat in the director’s chair (his brother Sigmund was absent from this snooze fest—the producer on Radar Secret Service was the prolific Barney Sarecky) …but the sluggish screenplay by Beryl Sachs (an East Side Kids veteran) doesn’t do Service any favors, either. Robert L. Lippert “good luck charm” Sid Melton is also around for this programmer (as a hypochrondriacal henchman named “Pill Box”), but when Ralph Byrd manages to get bigger laughs than Sid something has gone seriously awry. (In fairness to Sid, I choked on my Crystal Light when Byrd’s character remarks about radar: “Dick Tracy used it years before it was invented.” The in-joke, of course, is that Ralph played the legendary comic strip detective infourRepublicserials, two entries in the brief RKO franchise, and on TV from 1950-52 [Byrd passed away at the age of 43 in 1952]).
|Agents Byrd and Howard tool around in a vehicle that looks like they're delivering hair dryers.|
It’s a shame that Radar Secret Service fails so miserably because it’s got a halfway decent cast: Tom “Detour” Neal is properly snarly, and my favorite B-movie bad blonde Adele Jergens is suitably slinky as the dame what double-crosses him. Byrd provides scattered chuckles (his explanation of how he found the picture of Blackie’s girlfriend [Myrna Dell] is a hoot), and the always dependable Coffin and Watkin lend solid support. If there’s a discordant note in this affair, it’s star John Howard…who may be the exception to my long-held theory that even bad actors can get better with age. (I suspect my animosity towards Howard might have something to do with the fact that he’s the wanker who talks Ronald Colman into leaving Shangri-La in Lost Horizon .)
I feel terrible that I’m going to beat my blogging compadre Scott Clevenger to the punch on this one…but, yes. Radar Secret Service received the Mystery Science Theater 3000treatment (in December 1993). Paired with a railroad safety short, Last Clear Chance (1959), the MST3Ksendup of Service has its mad scientists (Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff) boasting that the flick contains “Hypno-Helio Static Stasis (containing X-4)” (in layperson’s terms—this turkey is a cure for insomnia). The MST3K version is available on YouTube, which I strongly endorse watching…but for the more masochistic among you, the director’s cut is available for rental from ClassicFlix.