Monday, November 08, 2010

Movie Monday - Atom Man vs. Superman, Chapters 4-7

Continuing our recap of the second Columbia Superman serial starring Kirk Alyn, 1950's Atom Man vs. Superman.

One thing I failed to mention last week was that, since this was a sequel to a serial that appeared only two years earlier, there was no need to recap Superman's origin at the beginning. What a relief, eh?

Anyway, there's a lot to cover, so let's get right to it. At the end of Chapter 3, Lois and Jimmy were trapped in the lab of Professor Stone, who had been locked inside his vault, where he was using special controls to scour his lab with fire. And seriously, at this point, given how ineffectual Luthor has been, I'm wondering why a guy who looks like this...

who has his lab rigged to do this...

isn't the real villain of the piece? Seriously, everybody needs a vault like that. Talk about a panic room...

So of course, as Chapter 4, "Superman Meets Atom Man," opens, Superman saves Lois and Jimmy from the flames, then switches back to Clark. When Professor Stone gets out of his vault, he's pissed at our heroes, blaming them for concocting some sort of stunt to get a sensationalized story for their paper. Then he throws them out, and the coin goes unanalyzed.

Later, Luthor and Alber have a little therapy session about Superman's interference. Then Lawson shows up with some stolen jewels, only he's holding out, which prompts Luthor to have him searched. When they find jewels hidden in his hat, Lawson claims he 'forgot' they were there. Before he can claim he was just holding them for a friend, and besides it wasn't even his hat, Luthor has him thrown under the Main Arc and sends him into space and the Empty Doom.

Meanwhile, Lois is having a birthday party at the Daily Planet. After Clark helps her blow out her candles, she opens her presents and receives a special coin that teleports her into the Atom Man's secret cave. The Atom Man tells Lois to make a special broadcast to let Superman know he has her. Her script says for Superman not to look for her, but she starts ad-libbing, telling Superman to hurry up and "go after him."

Superman comes up with a plan. He flies out to the desert, digs a rock out of the ground and hurls it up into the sky so that it comes down with explosive force. Next thing you know, the newspapers are buzzing about the "meteor" that landed in the desert. Then Clark lies to Perry White that the university thinks that the meteor came from Krypton (what was that thing about trumping up sensationalized stories for the newspaper?).

Of course, Luthor bites hard on the bait and sends his thugs to steal the meteor from the museum. But rather than follow the thugs to their hideout, Superman heads back to the Daily Planet just in time to hear one of the thugs call in that Lois was last seen in the vicinity of Cave Mountain (where Luthor has moved his HQ). Superman shows up in the secret cave moments later, in what appears to be the same cave used by Luthor in Chapter 1. There he confronts the Atom Man, whose lead-lined helmet conceals his identity from Superman's X-Ray Vision (although seriously, how hard can it be to figure out?).

Of course, Superman does not fall victim to the fake Kryptonite. But then Atom Man warns him that there is a photoelectric beam that will kill Lois if he comes any closer. So Superman agrees to stand under the Main Arc (at which point the Atom Man and his thugs cross through the so-called "photoelectric beam" and Superman does nothing about it). The Main Arc is activated, and Superman disintegrates.

Atom Man uses a hypnotic ray to knock Lois out, then his thugs put her in a car and send it careening toward a cliff. Oh no!

But as Chapter 5, "Atom Man Tricks Superman," opens, Superman swoops out of the sky and saves Lois.

But hey, that looks familiar. Have we accidentally started watching Chapter 7 of the previous serial? No, it's just reused footage. And by the way, Superman's not disintegrated! He tells Lois that the Main Arc was unable to affect him because his atomic structure is different from humans. He faked his disappearance by moving faster than the eye could see (not the last one-shot invented power we'll run into). They then drive back to rejoin Jimmy and cops (this may be the only time we'll ever see Superman at the wheel of a car).

And as they get out, notice that apparently that Chaplin lady is not the only one to have an anachronistic cell phone (okay, she's actually just fixing her hair). Jimmy runs up to say that in the minute or two that has gone by since the car rolled past, the cops have searched the cave and found only "bare rock walls" (man, forget Luthor, get me the name of his moving company). They go back to the Planet.

Later, Superman explains to Perry White and the Chief of Police that Luthor's machine could have affected him if he'd used plutonium. No idea how he has figured this out, BTW, but it's necessary to set up Luthor's next plot.

And by "set up," I mean of course that Superman asks Perry to plant another fake story in his newspaper. What does he think this is, the New York Times?

So the Planet runs a story about a plutonium shipment, and Perry sends Lois and Clark to cover the story on the train. And of course, can't find a match to light his cigar. Hello, running gag. I've missed you.

Luthor, of course, knows it's a trap, but decides to send one of his men to fall into it anyway. He sends FGD-Alpha, who disguises himself as a porter, but gets caught by Superman when he pulls a gun on the fake detective carrying the fake plutonium. Superman flies FGD-Alpha back to Perry White's office for questioning. Last time he did this, in the previous serial, Perry ended up getting thrown out the window by the same actor. That doesn't happen this time. Instead, it's Alpha who gets thrown out, tossed into the air by Superman to scare a confession out of him.

Alpha then confesses that Luthor was just using the fake plutonium robbery to cover his real objective, retrieving a package from Central Station. Having planted the bait, Alpha then uses his magic coin to teleport out.

So Supes flies to Central Station to check out the packages. The Chief of Police expressed his doubts that they could "legally" open and search all those packages, so Superman just sweeps his X-Ray Vision around the room, finding nothing but personal belongings and a box of nails. After he leaves, Luthor's thugs arrive to claim the box of nails. Glowing nails.

Yow! Turns out the nails were made of a special alloy designed to turn to plutonium when bombarded with X-Rays. Great plan, except for, you know, the cancer.

As the thugs are leaving, Lois spots them and sends Jimmy to phone the police while she stalls them (there's a great throwaway moment where a newsboy asks Jimmy if he wants a paper, and Jimmy mutters an acid "Are you kiddin?" with perfect timing). The thugs capture Lois with Jimmy in hot pursuit. And of course, Clark has overheard the conversation with Perry, so Superman should be showing up soon as well.

The thugs drive out to an abandoned farm, where they tie Lois up in the barn. And wow, all of a sudden, Lois has really got the bullet bra thing working this episode.

The thugs hide when Jimmy pulls up moments later, driving right into the barn to save Lois. So the thugs knock Jimmy out (remember when I said last week that this would happen many times?), then shut and bolt the barn doors, leaving the running engine of Jimmy's car to kill the two reporters with carbon monoxide. Awfully considerate of Jimmy to provide the means of their execution.

But aw crap! As Chapter 6, "Atom Man's Challenge," begins, Superman arrives in time to save them. And because farmers tend to be practical people who anticipate and prepare for problems before they occur, the door already has a Superman-shaped cutout in it for easy access.

Luthor's thugs arrive at his lab and report the death of the reporters. But when Luthor checks on activities at the Planet, he learns Lois and Jimmy are still alive. He sentences one of his men to the Empty Doom for giving a false report. But then, since he's sorta' running out of henchmen, he brings him back almost instantly. Luthor's such a softie. I wanna see more Professor Stone. Now there's a scientist who knows how to kill people.

Luthor's next plan involves synthetic Kryptonite. "When the Kryptonite was in my possession, I analyzed it," he says. Okay, we know that the 'Kryptonite' a couple of chapters ago was fake. Are we supposed to forget that, or is Luthor saying that he had some real stuff before the serial began? I mean, we're told from the beginning that Luthor is Superman's arch-enemy, but this is really big ret-con from out of nowhere.

Anyway, Luthor's synthetic Kryptonite is missing only one element: radium. So Luthor goes to his extraordinarily diverse file of stratagems and... broadcasts on the police band that he's going to steal the radium. Perry sends Clark, Lois and Jimmy out to find the story, and then can't light his cigar. Could we take up a collection to buy him a Zippo or something? Please? You can use the "Donate" link on if you want.

So two of Atom Man's thugs go to the hospital (which is the same building as the university from the previous serial, only with a sign that says "Metropolis Hospital" by the door).

They pose as cops come to transport the radium to a "safe location." The genius working for the hospital pulls the radium out of the safe before asking for written authorization, at which point one of the thugs writes the authorization across the guy's jaw. With his fist. They drive away just as Clark Kent is pulling up. Clark's too late!

So Clark races to the Carlysle Reduction Plant, home of a second supply of radium. Turns out it's supposed to be transported somewhere else, but the armored car has been hijacked. So Lois is recruited as a mule to move the radium in her handbag. No one would suspect that.

Except the two thugs outside with a Gieger counter, who detect the radiation. Lois tries to fight them off with powder from her compact, but they somehow overcome that assault, take the radium, lock her in the vault and knock out Jimmy for good measure (third time in six chapters!). They flee with Jimmy and the radium.

Superman arrives moments later to find the plant manager out cold on the floor and Lois locked in the vault. The guy doesn't have the combination, so Superman says he'll use his "special powers" to find the combination.

Now at this point, you would be justified in thinking that Superman would use his super-hearing to listen to the tumblers fall into place, but you would be wrong. He simply spins the dials this way and that, and thanks to some undefined "special power," the dial magically stops on the right numbers. Wow, I know you can't be too picky with this stuff because it was written very quickly and not meant to be rewatched for continuity, but seriously: the writers are too lazy to even take the most obvious solution.

Superman then flies off in hot pursuit of the thugs, catches the car and turns it over. But too late! The radium and Jimmy have been transferred to another car. So Superman rips out the engine and uses it to trap the thugs in the car. "That ought to hold you for a while," he says before flying away.

Which it would, if the car didn't have, say, a glass windshield that could easily be broken by gun-wielding thugs, or if the entire gang weren't carrying special coins they can use to teleport to the Atom Man's secret cave headquarters. But how likely is that?

Anway, the car carrying the radium and Jimmy pulls onto a bombing range, where Jimmy is punched unconscious again (twice in one episode!) and then left to be blowed up real good by a bomb.

Which brings us to Chapter 7, "At the Mercy of Atom Man."

Boy these episodes are really packed with stuff! Should I stop here or try to fit in one more chapter? Show of hands?

Okay, one more chapter it is. Superman, of course, arrives just in time to pull Jimmy out of the car, but the thug uses his teleport coin to escape with the radium. So now Luthor has everything he needs to make his synthetic Kryptonite. While he's waiting for the furnace to cook the ingredients, Alber asks how Luthor knows this recipe will work.

Luthor says he knows everything about Krypton, pieced together from dozens of astronomical reports along with coded messages received by a ship's radio operator. And now we get four minutes of recycled footage of Superman's origin from the previous serial, showing how Jor-El built the rocket, got laughed out of Science Council, and launched Kal-El to Earth. Wow, so not only was I wrong about the sequel not retelling Superman's origin (although it did wait until Chapter 7 to do so), but that saved us a lot of description. We're almost done!

Soup's on! Luthor sends the new synthetic Kryptonite to his man inside the Daily Planet, a janitor named Harris. Harris plants the I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Kryptonite in the water cooler next to Clark Kent's desk, just in case Superman should happen to get thirsty of something. Of course, Clark gets dizzy and passes out, which makes Harris think he's Superman. But as he's fetching another thug, Clark stumbles out, and Harris's story is judged hogwash.

Luthor decides the "Wait for Superman to get a drink from the Daily Planet watercooler" plan is a bit too iffy, so he decides to use the Craptonite at a ship launching that Superman is due to attend. Superman is introduced by Professor Hammil from Batman and Robin (last seen hawking papers in the first Superman serial).

One of the thugs uses the fake Kryptonite to knock Superman out, then others arrive in a fake ambulance to whisk him off. How will Superman get out of this one?

Be here next week for the next clump of chapters.

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