Director James Horne has a reputation among serial fans for his tongue-in-cheek approach and his illogical fight scenes, and HOLT OF THE SECRET SERVICE is probably the best-known example of Horne's devil-may-care style. Something's always happening in this one, and it's such a crazy quilt of action scenes that both the locale and the supporting players actually change about two-thirds in, and certain characters and plot points are forgotten along the way. But most of the action is firmly in the hands of rock-jawed, two-fisted Jack Holt, who makes this serial worth seeing.
Holt, the grand old man of Columbia action features since the silent days, had clashed with studio head Harry Cohn, who promptly assigned Holt to this lowbrow serial adventure. Whatever Holt's private feelings were, he gives a professional performance as a Secret Service investigator on the trail of counterfeiters. Posing as an underworld type, he delivers dialogue with a cynical smirk or a disgusted sneer, and he has to be the toughest guy in serials. You'll lose count of the fistfights Holt has during the course of his mission; he usually has to subdue four guys at a time. One of the brawls has the panache of a Popeye the Sailor cartoon, with Holt chopping each guy down with one punch and piling them up on the floor like cordwood!
Holt was no youth at the time (age 52) and required a more mature, worldly vis-a-vis instead of the usual helpless heroine. Evelyn Brent, another former silent-film star, was ideally cast as Holt's associate agent. During much of the serial they pose as man and wife, constantly bickering and backtalking, which is a refreshing change for serial heroes (and Holt even has a drunk scene!).
The supporting cast is serviceable but undistinguished; Columbia serials often feature many of its resident character actors, but not this time. The young Tristram Coffin is the only bad guy of note until the two-thirds point, when the scene shifts to a remote island and serial stalwarts Stanley Blystone, George Chesebro, and Stanley Price take over the villainy. Another silent-era Columbia player, Walter McGrail, also steps in at this point.
All in all, par for Columbia and Horne, and fun to watch. This serial is in the public domain and is available from many sources, in variable quality. The Serial Squadron edition is carefully restored from at least two good original prints, and is probably the best-quality version you'll find.