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Terry and the Pirates is a 15-episode 1940 Film Serial produced by Columbia Pictures.

It is, obviously, based on the famous comic strip Terry and the Pirates. Dr. Herbert Lee is an archaeologist who is somewhere in the hinterlands of China, looking for a lost civilization. In this he is opposed by the "Dragon Lady", ruler of the natives in the interior. There's also the problem of Fang, the "half-caste" local warlord who is searching for the lost treasure of Mara, thought to be somewhere in the Dragon Lady's domain.

The story opens with Dr. Lee's teenaged son Terry (23-year-old William Tracy, who that same year played Pepi in The Shop Around the Corner), and Pat Ryan, Dr. Lee's colleague. They arrive in the village of Wingpoo to find a strangely hostile reception from the white people in the town. The only people who welcome them are Drake, the local plantation owner, and Drake's extremely good-looking daughter Normandie. It's soon revealed that all the other whites in the community—Stanton the radio operator, Harris the hotel clerk, the governor—are in cahoots with Fang. And Fang will stop at nothing to kill the intruders and get the treasure.

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William Tracy also appeared in a 1953 TV miniseries version of Terry and the Pirates, playing a different part.


Tropes:

  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Dr. Lee in the depths of the Chinese interior, searching for a lost civilization, and Pat who follows after him.
  • The Alcoholic: The governor is a drunken stooge, easily manipulated by Fang.
  • Arrowgram: In the first episode, Pat leans down and thus is narrowly missed by an arrow which thuds into a tree. Attached to the arrow is the message "Warning, go back on first steamer or you'll be killed."
  • Attack Animal: The bad guys have a gorilla that they often sic on the heroes.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity:
    • Played straight at the end of episode 7, when Fang has Terry and Pat chucked into his Drowning Pit. After the water is turned on, Fang strolls away, assuming that everything is taken care of.
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    • In episode 10 Stanton and his goons, at the top of a hill, spot the good guys making their way through the crevasse below. Their plan? Roll a single boulder down the hill to kill them all. Even though the boulder is plainly not big enough to squish all five of our heroes, the villains just walk away assuming that they hit their target. Stanton even says "All right, we'll hope for the best."
    • Hilariously Stanton does this again in episode 11 after a well-placed rifle shot blew up the boat our heroes are trying to escape on. He says "That'll finish them", and walks away, while the good guys, thrown clear by the blast, wade their way out of the shallow river to shore.
    • In episode 12 the bad guys finally catch on. They are walking away from their The Walls Are Closing In trap when one of them says "We'd better make sure." So they turn back. This doesn't stop Terry and Pat from getting the jump on them and escaping.
  • Bookcase Passage: In episode 14 the Dragon Lady and Dr. Lee are being held by Fang in the Temple of the Dawn, previously the Dragon Lady's palace. She escapes by sneaking away from the guards and pressing a hidden button, which causes a section of the wall to swing open, revealing an exit to the outside.
  • Born in the Theater: The On the Next ______ teasers that end each episode close with card saying "Next week, at this theater."
  • Catch and Return: In episode 5, Terry and Pat are in the middle of a river when one of Fang's henchmen chucks a grenade at them. Pat catches it and throws it back, scattering the bad guys.
  • Cliffhanger: Per standard Film Serial format, each episode but the last ends with the heroes in some sort of cliffhanger peril.
  • Coincidental Dodge: In the first episode Pat just happens to lean over and adjust his shoes, as an arrow flies over his head and lodges in a tree.
  • Delayed Reaction: In episode 11 one of Fang's flunkies is guarding our heroes, who are all tied up. Terry says that Big Stoop is a magician, and will demonstrate a magic trick. Big Stoop then shows that his hands are no longer bound. The mook waves his hand dismissively and goes back to his pipe before he realizes the implications of this. Moments later our heroes escape.
  • Dragon Lady: The character from the comic strip was the Trope Namer. Subverted in this film serial, though, as the Dragon Lady winds up working with the good guys against the evil Fang.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: In episode 7, Pat and Terry knock out a couple of the Dragon Lady's guards, and sneak back inside the fortress to rescue Normandie. In the next episode, they do the same to blend in with Fang's men. Pat even says "It worked last time."
  • Drowning Pit: Episode 7 ends with Pat and Terry locked in Fang's drowning pit, which is rapidly filling with water.
  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear: How Fang the Big Bad is killed at the end of the series. After Fang shoots Gori, keeper of Bombo the gorilla, Bombo turns on Fang and kills him.
  • Fainting: In episode 3, apparently it wouldn't do to have Normandie outrun the gorilla that's chasing after her, so she faints.
  • Find Out Next Time: Every episode but the last ends with a breathless narrator telling the audience to "Tune in next week" to see how Terry and the good guys get out of that week's cliffhanger. This was house style for Columbia film serials.
  • Gun Struggle: How Fang's head mook Stanton meets his end in the last episode, in a Gun Struggle with Fang after they turn on each other.
  • His Name Is...: In episode 2 one of the planters is about to identify the people in town who are working for Fang, the Big Bad. Harris, who is one of those people, shoots the light out. When someone gets a light back on, the planter is dead.
  • Human Sacrifice: Episode 3 ends with Terry and Pat trying to find their way through a mountain tunnel, when they stumble into a ritual human sacrifice to the goddess Mara. A woman puts her neck on a block as a man raises a scimitar, only for Terry to fire a shot and kill the swordsman. A brawl ensues which ends with Pat on the block as the potential sacrifice, which is the episode 3 cliffhanger.
  • Idiot Ball: Terry's kind of a moron. When they receive the "go back or you'll be killed" Arrowgram in the first episode, Terry says "Gee willikers, what do you think it means?"
  • Iron Maiden: Fang has one, and in episode 6 he threatens to put Terry into it if Dr. Lee doesn't translate the scroll. But apparently the spikes of the iron maiden are retractable, as Big Stoop hides in it, then springs out to save the good guys.
  • Jungle Drums: Fang's people beat jungle drums to pass on word that Terry and Pat have arrived. In a later episode one of the Dragon Lady's men, dying after an ambush by Fang's goons, has enough strength to drum out a message for home telling about the attack.
  • Lights Off, Somebody Dies: In episode 2 one of the planters is about to identify the people in town who are working for Fang, the Big Bad. Harris, who is one of those people, shoots the light out. When someone gets a light back on, the planter is dead.
  • Live-Action Adaptation: An adaptation of Milton Caniff's comic strip. Caniff hated it.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: A whole host of African wildlife—giraffe, zebra, lion, hippopotamus—in China. Well, they're exotic.
  • The Natives Are Restless:
    • In the first episode Dr. Lee's sidekick actually says "The natives are acting strangely." The reason is that Fang's men have arrived and are getting the natives to abandon the caravan, to leave Dr. Lee and his two white companions defenseless.
    • In episode 10 the bad guys start up a "native uprising" with the hopes that the natives will kill Drake and company.
  • On the Next ______: Episodes end with a teaser showing what adventures the heroes will have in the next episode.
  • Pit Trap: Normandie blunders into one at the end of episode 5, and while she's stuck there she's menaced by Bombo the gorilla.
  • Plunger Detonator: In episode 2 the bad guys use one to blow up a bunch of trees in a rather inefficient effort to kill the good guys, who are in a valley below. Somehow their detonator can be used to explode multiple bombs one at a time.
  • Previously On…: Each episode after the first opens with a crawl that brings the viewers up to speed.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: In the first episode Talman, one of Fang's mooks, says he's quitting now that Fang has graduated to murder. Fang accepts his resignation then, as Talman turns to the door, kills Talman by throwing a knife into his back.
  • Second-Face Smoke: In the first episode Stanton blows the smoke of his cigar into Terry's face before saying no, he doesn't know where Dr. Lee went.
  • Stock Footage: As with most film serials; this one uses a lot of stock footage of exotic animals. Amusing, most of the stock footage wildlife is African.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: Combined with Spikes of Doom in episode 11. The episode cliffhanger has Terry and Pat trapped in a room in Fang's palace, where the walls are closing in, turned by a Mook on a control wheel on the outside. In the center of the room, a pit with spikes.
  • Yellowface: Unsurprisingly, all the Chinese characters are played by white people in yellowface.
  • You No Take Candle: The very tall Chinese sidekick, Big Stoop, says stuff like "Me do" and "Me fix them!". This is probably even more racist than usual considering that in the original comic strip, Big Stoop was mute. The other native servants also talk this way.
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