Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery

Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery is a 12-episode 1935 Universal movie serial based on the Tailspin Tommy comic strip by Hal Forrest and starring Clark Williams, Jean Rogers and Noah Beery, Jr. The picture was the 96th of the 137 serials released by the studio (the 28th of which to be made with sound).[1][N 1]

Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery
Directed byRay Taylor
Produced byHenry MacRae
Written byRaymond Cannon (screenplay)
Ella O'Neill
Basil Dickey
Robert Hershon
George H. Plympton
Hal Forrest (comic strip)
StarringClark Williams
Jean Rogers
Noah Beery, Jr.
Music byDavid Klatzkin
Clifford Vaughan
Oliver Wallace
CinematographyRichard Fryer
Leonard Galezio
John Hickson
William A. Sickner
Edited byAlbert Akst
Saul A. Goodkind
Alvin Todd
Edward Todd
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • March 5, 1935 (1935-03-05)
Running time
15 chapters (300 min)
CountryUnited States


"Tailspin" Tommy (Clark Williams) and his fellow pilots, Betty Lou Barnes (Jean Rogers) and Skeeter Milligan (Noah Beery, Jr.) prevent a group of corrupt businessmen from stealing Nazil Island's oil reserves. The villains are Manuel Casmetto (Herbert Heywood), the half-brother of Don Alvarado Casmetto, Nazil Island's ruler and villainous oil tycoon Horace Raymore (Matthew Betz).

Tommy and his friends are aided in their efforts by news reporter Bill McGuire (James P. Burtis}. Milt Howe (Pat J. O'Brien), a masked mystery plot known as The Eagle and El Condor stands in their way. When Tommy is triumphant, he also finds he has a movie contract.

Chapter titles

  1. Wreck of the Dirigible
  2. The Roaring Fire God
  3. Hurled from the Skies
  4. A Bolt from the Blue
  5. The Torrent
  6. Flying Death
  7. The Crash in the Clouds
  8. Wings of Disaster
  9. Crossed and Double Crossed
  10. The Dungeon of Doom
  11. Desperate Chances
  12. The Last Stand



  • Clark Williams as "Tailspin" Tommy Tompkins
  • Jean Rogers as Betty Lou Barnes, one of "Tailspin" Tommy's companions
  • Delphine Drew as Inez Casmetto
  • Noah Beery, Jr. as Skeeter Milligan, one of "Tailspin" Tommy's companions
  • Bryant Washburn as Ned Curtis, Betty's uncle and a heroic oil tycoon
  • Pat J. O'Brien as Milt Howe
  • Herbert Heywood as Manuel Casmetto
  • Matthew Betz as Horace Raymore
  • Paul Ellis as Enrico Garcia, Don Casmetto's secretary and Manuel Casmetto's henchman
  • Harry Worth as Don Alvarado Casmetto
  • Manuel L√≥pez as Gomez
  • Charles A. Browne as Paul Smith
  • James P. Burtis as Bill McGuire, a reporter
  • Frank Mayo as the Dirigible Captain
  • Frank Clarke as a flyer, (billed as "Air Ace Frank Clark")


Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery used a number of aircraft including a Fleet biplane, a Stearman C3 and a Fairchild cabin monoplane.[4] A mock-up of a dirigible included an interior section.[5] Although Nazil was in South America, all the location shooting took place in California with the Wilson airport as a staging area.[6]



Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery is considered to be an improvement on the previous Tailspin Tommy serial.[7][8]

In the review for Turner Classic Movies, the author wrote, "'Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery '(1935) sees our three cheerful pilots foiling a conspiracy in the Latin American country of Nazil, where American gangsters have conspired with an usurper to steal the country's oil reserves. Making use of considerable new flying footage, the serial opens with an impressive dirigible crash. Tommy (Clark Williams), Betty Lou (Jean Rogers) and Skeeter (Noah Beery, Jr.) must fight a masked flier called the 'Double-X Pilot,' who leads a rogue fighter squadron based from a secret jungle fortress. Our heroes are occasionally aided by a mysterious aviator known as 'El Condor,' whose 'Eagle Plane' appears and disappears into an artificial cloud."[9]



  1. Along with [Mascot Pictures]], the lowly "poverty row" studio, Universal Pictures became the only major studio committed to the serial format in the 1930s.[2]


  1. Weiss and Goodgold 1973, p. 74.
  2. Weiss and Goodgold 1973, p. I.
  3. Cline 1984, p. 213.
  4. Wynne 1987, p. 107.
  5. Farmer 1984, p. 330.
  6. Wynne 1987, p. 138.
  7. "DVD Serial Review." In The Balcony, December 30, 2008. Retrieved: November 1, 2014.
  8. Blake, Jerry. "Serial review." filesofjerryblake.netfirms.com, December 30, 2008. Retrieved: November 1, 2014.
  9. "Articles: 'Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery'." TCM, 2019. Retrieved: July 9, 2019.


  • Cline, William C. "Filmography". In the Nick of Time. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
  • Farmer, James H. Celluloid Wings: The Impact of Movies on Aviation. Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania: Tab Books Inc., 1984. ISBN 978-0-83062-374-7.
  • Harmon, Jim and Donald F. Glut. The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. London: Routledge, 1973. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9.
  • Weiss, Ken and Ed Goodgold. To be Continued ...: A Complete Guide to Motion Picture Serials. New York: Bonanza Books, 1973. ISBN 0-517-166259.
  • Wynne, H. Hugh. The Motion Picture Stunt Pilots and Hollywood's Classic Aviation Movies. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1987. ISBN 0-933126-85-9.
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