Executive Producer Ron Hall has a fascination with serials that used cheat endings to entice audiences to come back the following week. Ron talks about the phenomenon in this week's post. He really enjoyed rounding up some outrageous examples for your amusement.
At the end of every serial episode the hero appears to die. Next week, naturally, he jumps out of the car before it goes over the cliff or runs out of the building before it explodes. They didn't show us that shot so we would come back next week, but that's not cheating. That's the fun of serials!
A cheat ending is when the serial shows one shot of certain doom, and then the next week shows something entirely different. A burning wagon barrels down a hill toward a shack where the hero is trapped, crashes into the building and bursts into an inferno. "Continued Next Week." Maybe the kids forgot exactly what they saw a week later, and so.... the wagon wheel hits a stone, swerves and the wagon misses the building completely! But no, we didn't forget. How dumb do they think we are? Boos, catcalls and raspberries sweep the theater. (By the way, exactly which western serial is that cheat ending from?)
At the end of Chapter #2 of "Undersea Kingdom" Crash Corrigan plummets three stories down an elevator shaft. The next week he grabs a rope at the top and doesn't fall at all. Cheat!
The fun book "Sinister Serials" quotes J.E. Stocker's 1936 review of Ace Drummond: "This is an above-average serial as serials go. There is a mystery angle that keeps them guessing, but why, oh why, do they do such things in serials? For instance at the end of Chapter 10, when the hero is seen plunging down to pure death. At the start of Chapter 11, (there is) not the sign of a fall other than a few feet, which got the razz it deserved. That intelligent serial producers should make such blunders is beyond me, and they do it week after week. The children look for them weekly, but even the children give those kind of endings the razz."
In Chapter #2 of "Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island," Mala is surrounded by hostile natives standing on a plank over a pit of bubbling lava. The plank is released and he plummets into the pit. Next week, instead of the plank falling, he starts a fight while friends pull him to safety with a rope. In Chapter #10 of the same serial, Mala is fighting with the pilot of a small airplane. The plane crashes into the ocean. Logically, we expect that he does indeed crash, but since it's into water he will swim away unharmed. Guess again. At the start of Chapter #11, the plane pulls out of its dive and never crashes.
Chapter #8 of "The Desert Hawk" with Gilbert Roland is unique. Half-way into the chapter at the eight minute mark, a close-up of the Grey Wizard's crystal ball clears to show a scene. The Hawk, his sidekick and the princess leave the wizard's cave. They ride into the desert, lose their horses and come across a slave caravan. That night they overcome the guards and free the slaves. The scene cuts away to the Hawk's evil twin plotting how to capture the Hawk. The trap works! The Hawk is shot with arrows, thrown in a pit and covered with boulders. The Columbia serial narrator intones: "What will become of the Princess now that the Hawk and Omar have perished?" At the start of Chapter #9, the narrator recaps by saying: "The old magician lets them gaze into his crystal ball and they see what would happen should they insist on continuing their journey." Although the ball was briefly seen in #8, the scene of them looking into the future was conveniently omitted!
In chapter #7 of "The Vigilantes Are Coming," the masked Eagle has a spirited sword fight with five baddies. He trips and falls to the floor. They close in and five blades hack down at his helpless body that is out of view. Next week he doesn't trip, keeps fighting and escapes. The ending of chapter #4 is far worse. The Eagle fights in a gold mine where a guillotine-like rock crusher keeps rising and falling. He is knocked unconscious under it. We see the deadly weight fall! While an honest serial would cut here and leave fate to our imagination, this one shows the weight crashing into his chest. He groans in pain. Fade-out. However, next week his buddy pulls him out before he gets crushed!
If you know of a good cheat serial ending that we haven't mentioned, send us a comment. We can't get enough of this stuff!