The Secret Code (serial)

The Secret Code (1942) was the 19th serial released by Columbia Pictures. It features the masked hero "The Black Commando" facing Nazi saboteurs, inspired by Republic Pictures' successful Spy Smasher serial of the same year. The chapters of this serial each ended with a brief tutorial in cryptography.

The Secret Code
Lobby card (courtesy of
Directed bySpencer G. Bennet
Produced byRalph Cohn
Written byBasil Dickey
Robert Beche
Leighton Brill
Original screenplay
StarringPaul Kelly
Anne Nagel
Trevor Bardette
Robert O. Davis
Narrated byKnox Manning
Music byLee Zahler
CinematographyJames S. Brown Jr.
Black and white
Edited byEarl Turner
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • September 4, 1942 (1942-09-04)
Running time
15 episodes (275 minutes)
CountryUnited States


This serial introduces the World War II scenario when a masked hero tries to prevent Nazi agents from crippling the US's war effort. The spy ring is led by fifth columnist Jensen, who, with his lieutenant Rudy Thyssen and a network of Nazi saboteurs, is trying to get possession of a top-secret formula the United States had developed for manufacturing synthetic rubber while creating explosive gases and radio-controlled bombs to sabotage the exhausting war effort. Then Police Lieutenant Dan Barton stages a public dismissal from the police department, in order to join the saboteurs ring and learn the secret code they have been using. To further assist his efforts (especially after his superior, the only person to know that Barton is working undercover, is murdered), Barton assumes the secret identity of the Black Commando, a masked man who is wanted both by the villains (who want the secret formula they think he has) and police (who are also searching for Barton for murder). Finally, Barton steals the formula and is captured by Thyssen and put under the protection of the sabotage ring. Joining the gang, he learns of their plans, which he immediately leaks to his best friend and former partner Pat Flanagan and news reporter girlfriend Jean Ashley and, as "The Black Commando", continually frustrates the Nazi plots. After innumerable dangers and lost efforts in trying to decipher the enemy's secret codes, Barton and Flanagan discover the key to the Nazi code, capture the Nazi ring and make sure that the Nazi U-boat which has been waiting to help the Nazis escape is depth-bombed and destroyed.

At the end of each episode, the audience is given a short lecture on solving complex secret messages.



The hero, The Black Commando, was patterned after Spy Smasher. Republic's Spy Smasher serial had been released several months before The Secret Code in 1942. Columbia's adverts for The Secret Code included the phrases "Smash spies with the Secret Service" and "Thrill again to spy smashers' biggest chase!"[1]

Each chapter ended with a quick lesson in cryptography and a "brief patriotic admonishment" given by Selmer Jackson. Cline describes this as "propaganda in its basic form...delivered in the most effective way possible - by a respected authority figure in the person of one of Hollywood's most credible actors."[2]

Anne Nagel and Wade Boteler, two of the stars of the Universal serials The Green Hornet (1940) and The Green Hornet Strikes Again! (1941) were reunited in this Columbia serial.



The Secret Code was released in Latin America in May 1944, under the title La Clave Secreta, in English with Spanish subtitles. This serial also was released as a feature film overseas.

Critical reception

Harmon and Glut consider the serial to be above average for a Columbia production.[1]

Chapter titles

  1. Enemy Passport
  2. The Shadow of the Swastika
  3. Nerve Gas
  4. The Sea Spy Strikes
  5. Wireless Warning
  6. Flaming Oil
  7. Submarine Signal
  8. The Missing Key
  9. The Radio Bomb
  10. Blind Bombardment
  11. Ears of the Enemy
  12. Scourge of the Orient
  13. Pawn of the Spy Ring
  14. Dead Men of the Deep
  15. The Secret Code Smashed


See also


  1. Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "10. The Long-Underwear Boys "You've Met Me, Now Meet My Fist!"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. pp. 273–274. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9.
  2. Cline, William C. (1984). "9. They Who Also Serve (The Citizens)". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 136. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
  3. Cline, William C. (1984). "Filmography". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 234. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
Preceded by
Perils of the Royal Mounted (1942)
Columbia Serial
The Secret Code (1942)
Succeeded by
The Valley of Vanishing Men (1942)
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