The Fighting Devil Dogs

The Fighting Devil Dogs (1938) is a 12-chapter Republic movie serial starring Lee Powell and Herman Brix, the latter better known by his later stage name, Bruce Bennett. It was directed by William Witney and John English. While not often considered one of the best serials ever made, as it contains a lot of stock footage and two recap chapters, it is famous for its main villain, The Lightningthe very first costumed supervillain.[2] There is some speculation that George Lucas used The Lightning as a template for Darth Vader.[3]

The Fighting Devil Dogs
Directed byWilliam Witney
John English
Produced byRobert M. Beche
Written byFranklin Adreon
Ronald Davidson
Barry Shipman
Sol Shor
StarringLee Powell
Herman Brix
Eleanor Stewart
Montagu Love
Hugh Sothern
Sam Flint
Perry Ivins
Forrest Taylor
John Picorri
Music byAlberto Colombo
CinematographyWilliam Nobles
Distributed byRepublic Pictures
Release date
  • May 28, 1938 (1938-05-28) (Serial)[1]
  • January 29, 1943 (1943-01-29) (feature)[1]
  • 1950 (1950) (TV)[1]
  • 1966 (1966) (TV movie)[1]
Running time
12 chapters / 204 minutes (serial)[1]
69 minutes (feature)[1]
6 26½-minute episodes (TV)[1]
100 minutes (TV movie)[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$94,656 (negative cost: $92,569)[1]


In Singapore, two Marine Lieutenants, Tom Grayson and Frank Corby, uncover the threat of a masked terrorist called The Lightning, who uses an arsenal of powerful lightning-based weaponry in his bid for world conquest. However, the battle becomes personal when The Lightning annihilates the officers' unit and later kills Lt. Grayson's father as he was helping the investigation of the weapon. Now, the marines have dedicated themselves to stopping The Lightning and bringing him to justice...



The Fighting Devil Dogs was budgeted at $94,656 although the final negative cost was $92,569 (a $2,087, or 2.2%, under spend) making it one of only three pre-war Republic serials to be produced under budget.[1] It was the cheapest Republic serial of 1938 and the second cheapest of all Republic serials.[1][4] It has two recap chapters rather than the usual one (or sometimes none), in which the entire plot of the serial so far is repeated, and makes extensive use of stock footage. The cheapest Republic serial[1] was The Vigilantes Are Coming (1936) at $87,655, while the next cheapest after The Fighting Devil Dogs is Undersea Kingdom (also 1936) at $99,222.

It was filmed between 10 March and 29 March 1938.[1] The serial's production number was 793.[1]

One of the directors, William Witney, believed this to be one of the worst of the serials he ever made.[5]

The Lightning's Flying wing was taken from the earlier Dick Tracy serial.[6] Aviation was one of the most popular serial genres of the early 1930s, along with Westerns and Jungle serials. Aviation films were even expected to displace Westerns as the most popular genre but science fiction took over instead. Writer Raymond William Stedman claims that the science fiction Flying Wing in this serial was the beginning of the process that killed interest in ordinary aviation.[7][8]



The Fighting Devil Dogs' official release date is May 28, 1938, although this is actually the date the sixth chapter was made available to film exchanges.[1]

A 69-minute feature film version, created by editing portions of the serial footage together, was released on January 29, 1943.[1]


In the early 1950s, The Fighting Devil Dogs was one of fourteen Republic serials edited to six 26½-minute episodes for TV syndication.[1] Subsequently, it became one of twenty-six Republic serials edited into a TV-movie in 1966, each of which features ran 100 minutes. The title of this version was Torpedo of Doom.[1]

Critical reception

The Fighting Devil Dogs is, in Cline's opinion, one of the best mystery serials ever released, with a "colourful" mystery villain, "stirring" musical score and "magnificent" editing. He also notes that it is "apparently one of the least costly" serials ever released, with two recap chapters and stock footage taken from newsreels and earlier serial releases.[6] He states that it should be included in "any list of the ten best sound serials of all."[9]

Chapter titles

  1. The Lightning Strikes (29 min 28s)
  2. The Mill of Disaster (15 min 56s)
  3. The Silenced Witness (15 min 50s)
  4. Cargo of Mystery (15 min 47s)
  5. Undersea Bandits (16 min 17s)
  6. The Torpedo of Doom (16 min 24s)
  7. The Phantom Killer (14 min 47s) - Recap chapter
  8. Tides of Trickery (14 min 34s)
  9. Attack from the Skies (15 min 07s)
  10. In the Camp of the Enemy (14 min 29s)
  11. The Baited Trap (17 min 24s) - Recap chapter
  12. Killer at Bay (17 min 39s)


See also


  1. Mathis, Jack (1995). Valley of the Cliffhangers Supplement. Jack Mathis Advertising. pp. 3, 10, 30–31. ISBN 0-9632878-1-8.
  2. "World's First Supervillain at The longest list of the longest stuff at the longest domain name at long last". Retrieved January 22, 2010.
  3. "The Visual Development of Darth Vader". Retrieved February 26, 2011.
  4. "Images Journal". Images Journal. Retrieved January 22, 2010.
  5. Witney, William (2005). In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase: Moviemaking Remembered by the Guy at the Door. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-2258-6.
  6. Cline, William C. (1984). "3. The Six Faces of Adventure". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 51–52. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
  7. Stedman, Raymond William (1971). "3. At This Theater Next Week". Serials: Suspense and Drama By Installment. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 64–66. ISBN 978-0-8061-0927-5.
  8. Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "7. The Aviators "Land That Plane at Once, You Crazy Fool"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. p. 163. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9.
  9. Cline, William C. (1984). "5. A Cheer for the Champions (The Heroes and Heroines)". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 78. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
  10. Cline, William C. (1984). "Filmography". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 221. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
Preceded by
The Lone Ranger (1938)
Republic Serial
The Fighting Devil Dogs (1938)
Succeeded by
Dick Tracy Returns (1938)
Preceded by
The Lone Ranger (1938)
Witney-English Serial
The Fighting Devil Dogs (1938)
Succeeded by
Dick Tracy Returns (1938)
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