Anne Nagel, leading lady in four Universal serials in the early ‘40s and one at Columbia, was born Anne Dolan on September 29, 1915, in Boston, MA, to devoutly religious parents who encouraged her to become a nun. Enrolled in Notre Dame for just that purpose, the 5'4", blue-eyed, brown haired Anne shunned her parent’s wishes and worked as a photographer’s model as a teenager then joined a Boston theatre stock company.
Fortunately, by this time Anne’s mother had remarried and her stepfather, Curtis F. Nagel, worked for Tiffany. After the family moved to California Anne’s initial film experience was in several Technicolor shorts directed by her stepfather. Her good looks and distinctive low-pitched voice led her to a Warner Bros. contract in ‘32. Many of her early roles were uncredited bits.
Unfortunately, just as bigger roles were coming her way (“Guns of the Pecos” w/Dick Foran, “Case of the Stuttering Bishop”) she met and married actor Ross Alexander on September 16, 1936. This was only nine months after the suicide of Alexander’s second wife, Aleta Friele. It’s reported Alexander had homosexual leanings and was prone to drinking and fits of depression. Desolate over his wife’s death, his own homosexuality and career problems, Alexander shot himself to death on January 2, 1937.
Anne forged on with decent roles in several B-pictures. By the early ‘40s she was under contract to Universal who cast her in three serials in 1940—“The Green Hornet” and “The Green Hornet Strikes Again” as Britt Reid’s private secretary Lenore Case and “Winners of the West” with Dick Foran and James Craig. Meanwhile Universal placed her in other B-titles such as “Argentine Nights” w/The Ritz Brothers, “Man Made Monster” w/Lon Chaney Jr., “Mutiny in the Arctic” and “Hot Steel” with Richard Arlen, “Road Agent” w/Dick Foran, “Stagecoach Buckaroo” w/Johnny Mack Brown, “The Mad Doctor of Market Street” w/Lionel Atwill, then—in 1942 as Misty Gay, Lt. Red Pennington’s (Walter Sande) girlfriend in “Don Winslow of the Navy” she was secondary to Claire Dodd.
Soon out at Universal, her career was in a nosedive and many of her roles were once again small or uncredited bits.
Her final serial was Columbia’s superb “The Secret Code” (‘42) starring Paul Kelly as the Black Commando. Anne came across admirably as Jean Ashley, Kelly’s reporter girlfriend.
Anne married Army Air Corps Lieutenant James Keenan on September 4, 1941, but the marriage ended in divorce on January 2, 1951. It was revealed at that time Anne had spent time in a hospital for alcoholism.
Anne briefly turned to TV—“The Range Rider”, “Schlitz Playhouse” and “Circus Boy”—her last in ‘57—but due to her problem with alcohol, she spent the last years of her life in near poverty. She died of liver cancer at Sunray North Convalescent Hospital in L.A. at only 50 on July 6, 1966.
“The Return of Chandu”
Sol Lesser’s serials should have been better. If he’d made more they probably would have been. While “Tarzan the Fearless” was a complete disaster, “The Return of Chandu” showed a great deal of improvement.
Once again the feature serial format was used. The basic plot presented the Ubasti, followers of the goddess Ossana who lived on the island of Lemuria, all that remained of a sunken continent of the same name where they guarded the body of their semi-mortal goddess. The sacrifice of a princess of Egypt could restore her to life. She would then raise the lost continent and her people would once again rule the world through her black magic. Their chosen victim, the princess Nadji (Maria Alba), was protected by Dr. Frank Chandler (Bela Lugosi) who as Chandu was a master of the occult.
In the feature–or the first four episodes of the serial—Vindhyan (Lucien Prival), the priest of the Ubasti, followed the princess to California. After numerous attempts, he succeeded in bringing her to a secret temple on the island of Suva. Her death was prevented by the arrival of Chandu and the English police. In the resulting fight, Chandu forced Vindhyan back into the sacrificial fire.
Now, theatre exhibitors were expected to book another eight episodes! Those who did saw Vitras (Jack Clark), Vindhyan’s master, magically transport the princess to Lemuria. Chandu followed and, joining forces with Tyba, a white magician imprisoned by the Ubasti, was eventually able to free her. They destroyed the temple of Ossana with a thunderbolt, and saw her followers perish as the earth swallowed its remains.
Most of the players did well and the changes of locale from California to Suva and then to Lemuria helped to keep the rather slow plot interesting. There were some good sets and some ridiculous costumes. The out-and-out magic was as effective as the pseudo-science of many serials while fight and shipwreck scenes added some very necessary action.
Truly not a really good serial, but it had points of interest. Barry Barringer adapted the screenplay from the radio drama written by Harry Earnshaw, Vera Oldham and R. R. Morgan. Ray Taylor directed and Sol Lesser released through Principal Pictures.
Lyle Talbot on his Columbia serials: “Sam Katzman had a reputation as one of the cheapest guys in the world. I never had any idea that ‘Atom Man Vs. Superman’ would remain so popular. At the time it was a three week job. Even so, I loved playing Lex Luthor. I could put on my meanest face. I used to have the attitude that it was better to work than sit home idle, and as a result I did a lot of things that weren’t the greatest. But that was my fault.”