Monday, November 22, 2010

Movie Monday - Atom Man vs. Superman, Chapters 12-15

This is it! The titanic conclusion to Atom Man Vs. Superman, the second Columbia serial from 1950, starring Kirk Alyn. And before we get into Chapter 12, "Atom Man Strikes," I must say I'm confused so far. I mean, I thought sequels were supposed to be bigger and more elaborate than their predecessors, but so far, this sequel has been cutting corners at every opportunity. I mean, even more than your usual serial. Reusing special effects, exploiting stock footage of natural disasters, and even inserting several minutes of Superman's origin from the previous serial into one chapter. What gives?

Speaking of exploiting stock footage, in the last chapter, Superman had headed upstate to rescue people from a stock footage flood. Then Lois, in an attempt to make an "epic of TV reporting," ended up trapped in the truck as rushing waters from a burst dam rushed down at her. As the new chapter opens, Superman swoops down and...

So that's where all the money went. Given the way the miniature truck flies, I'm guessing this miniature was not reused footage from some other movie but was built especially for this production. So Superman saves the truck and Lois, and for once, she's not smiling inappropriately seconds later. She actually seems to have a reaction to this near-death experience.

Superman notices the secret compartment inside the truck and asks Lois to keep an eye on it, then flies away. When Lois and her crew return to Metropolis, they win Luthor an award for awesome journalism and public service in the TV coverage of the flood, which I guess compensates him for the loss of the TV camera Lois abandoned. As soon as they leave his office, Luthor radios his headquarters. And he's no longer identifying himself as the Atom Man, but now using the call letters "XL." In fact, the whole Atom Man persona with the robe and the glittery mask never appears again. For the rest of the serial, it's just Luthor.

The next day, Lois and crew are doing man-on-the-street interviews again, while the thugs in the secret compartment use the special X-Ray viewer to read the combinations on safes inside stores in the area. Helluva zoom on that thing. Lois ends her live remote spot by sending the viewers "back to the main studio for the time signal." And I know TV news still does the same thing, occasionally giving the time, but wow, the way she says it sounds so formal and antiquated.

The next day, Lois becomes suspicious when she learns that three stores were robbed in locations where she had been doing her live interviews. She calls the Daily Planet to tip off Clark, but Jimmy says he's still upstate covering the flood.

Upstate, Clark is listening to an emergency radio call with the same cop who warned Lois's crew about the bursting dam. There's a fire in a chemical factory and there might be an explosion! Time for Superman to battle some more stock footage!

Superman flies over the burning stock footage factory and lands inside. And I must say, it's pretty cool that the animators had such an eye for detail that they added highlights to account for the light from the fire.

Switch to live action just long enough for Superman to grab a box conveniently labeled "Explosives" and Superman takes off again. And that wonderful eye for detail I just complimented? Not so much this time.

Lois goes back to Luthor's office for her next day's assignment, where she sees him tear a page off a notepad and put it in his pocket. So she surreptitiously swipes the notepad. But as she leaves, two thugs come in from the secret elevator and say they saw her swipe the pad. It has more safe combinations on it, so it must be retrieved.

The thugs chase Lois down the street, where she foils their pursuit by ducking around a pillar, then running into an insurance company where we encounter the Batman corridor!

I don't have screen grabs of the corridor from the other serial, but trust me, this is the same set used for the Norton/Markham building in Batman and Robin. I've missed you, old reused set. Anyway, after another tricky bit with a fire escape, Lois escapes into the Daily Planet building with the note, where she shows it to Clark and Jimmy. Now every schoolkid knows the way you read impressions on a notepad, right? The thing where you lightly color with a pencil lead across the surface of the paper? Lois, Clark and Jimmy have never heard of this trick. Clark suggests letting the photo department somehow try to read the impressions, then simply defaults to super-fill-in-vision.

Meanwhile, the thugs report that Lois got away, so Luthor does the only reasonable thing. He orders his thugs to use the Thermo-Ray to destroy the Daily Planet. The thugs drive out to the Planet building, where they open a panel in the roof and aim the Thermo-Ray... Hey!

It's not the same ray cannon from the previous serial, which was the reused Atomic Disintegrator from the first Batman serial. But it is the same prop as the Teleport Ray we've seen used throughout the serial whenever someone coin-teleports, only with a different mount and barrel.

Anyway, they start zapping the building with it, which causes sparks to fly and papers to burn. Clark changes to Superman and flies out to stop the menace, so the thugs turns the ray on him. He is stunned and falls from the sky onto an electricity generating station. Ouch.

But as Chapter 13, "Atom Man's Flying Saucers," opens, we see that Superman is merely stunned rather than killed. He gathers his wits and leaps back into the sky to fly in the window of Perry White's office, where he announces the danger is over. I have no idea how he thinks that. I mean, he just got zapped out of the sky by a heat ray, then electrocuted. The danger would appear to be far from over.

Back at the truck, it turns out that... the danger is over. As always happens when ray guns are used against Superman, the power has somehow reflected back to the gun, causing it to overheat and shoot sparks. So okay, Superman was right. But how did he know?

Superman points out the departing truck to the Planet gang, although for some reason, the truck's roof is solid, without the sliding panel the thugs used to shoot the Thermo-Ray from. Superman recognized FGD-Alpha standing outside the truck, so he knows they're the Atom Man's men, and the sheet of paper with the safe combinations on it prove Luthor's crooked (although it probably burned when the Thermo-Ray struck). Nevertheless, Superman believes he has enough evidence to haul Luthor in. He tells the Daily Planet folks to follow the truck while he flies to Luthor's office.

At the same time, though, Luthor has already been informed that the destruction of the Daily Planet was a no-go, so he decides to make himself scarce. He grabs some essential papers and tells his secretary that he has been called away "indefinitely"--he's such a considerate boss--then teleports to his cave. Superman's too late!

The thugs call in to Luthor that they're being chased by the police. Luthor orders them to ditch the truck, but leave the power circuit on or something so he can blow it up remotely. They follow orders, abandoning the truck and watching from cover as the police arrive with Lois and Jimmy. As Lois reaches for the door, Superman yells from the sky not to touch the truck. The police and reporters retreat just as the truck is exploding.

Superman then tracks the vibrations of the Destruct-o-Beam back toward Luthor's headquarters, causing the Destruct-o-Beam to (what else?) back up and begin sparking and smoking. Luthor decides he's going to have to abandon the mountain caves soon and use his spaceship to go into orbit (what spaceship? the one he never mentioned before but is almost finished building, apparently).

Back at the Daily Planet, Superman confers with Perry, Lois and Jimmy. He decides that the best way to locate Luthor's lead-lined lair is to have Clark Kent and Lois Lane do an aerial search in an attempt to draw a response from Luthor that would give away the location.

Now, I can see him suggesting Clark go; Clark would be safe from any attack. And I can see him suggesting Lois go; he could fly along and shadow her to make sure she was safe. But what possible reason could he have for suggesting they both go together? It makes no sense.

Anyway, Superman flies off, and Lois for the first time in any chapter of either serial throws a wistful look after him like she's pining for his love. When did Noel Neill decide to turn on the acting chops? And what about poor Jimmy? Oh well, after taking a cheap shot at Clark Kent's cowardliness, she goes out to the newsroom to hunt him up and take him flying. Moments later, they're in the sky over the hills, and Luthor isn't happy about it. So he orders a flying saucer be sent up to take care of them. The flying saucer (singular, despite the chapter title) is fearsome and deadly.

Okay, maybe not fearsome. But certainly deadly when it crashes right into the plane, blowing it up.

But like a lot of serial chapters, the opening of Chapter 14, "Rocket of Vengeance," takes us back in time a step. As the flying saucer approaches, brave, brave Sir Lois screams and faints, leaving Clark free to act. He runs to the back room of the plane to change clothes, then runs back up to the cockpit, grabs Lois, carries her back to the door (this airplane interior, btw, also appeared in Batman and Robin) and jumps out seconds before the saucer collides with the plane.

Got that? Lois not only faints, but faints a full 25 seconds before the collision. And Clark's the cowardly one. Or maybe it was bullet time.

Anyway, Lois comes to just as Clark's zipping up his pants (okay, no, but it would be funny), and Clark tells her that Superman saved them again. Lois asks Clark if he's jealous of Superman, but before Clark can answer, a cop pulls up, and it's the same damn guy, the cop who warned Lois and crew to flee the flood, then told Clark about the fire with the explosives (he has a very distinctive voice). Man, they got their money's worth out of this guy.

Lex Luthor's spaceship isn't ready yet, so he decides to bluff the police into backing off. He broadcasts on the police band that unless the police abandon their search, he's going to destroy the city in an earthquake from his Sonic Vibrator. He then arranges a brief demonstration, including many stock shots of urban destruction.

The Police Chief is in Perry's office debating how to handle this situation, and son of a bitch, the Chief's cigar is lit while poor Perry's sits on his desk, ignored.

Perry can't catch a break. There is a public outcry over the Luthor situation. The men of Metropolis demand the police comply with Luthor's demands so he doesn't turn the Sonic Vibrator back on, while the women are demanding he turn it on for just another minute, because they were so close...

Luthor threatens to destroy the Daily Planet building next, so Clark offers to take a look around outside and changes to Superman. The earthquake strikes, and Superman tries to save the Planet building by hugging it, but it doesn't work as well as it did for the bridge in chapter 1. The Police Chief accedes to Luthor's demands, and the earthquake stops.

Luthor orders that his men redouble their efforts to finish the spaceship, and after he leaves, one of the men mentions that Luthor's starting to go off the deep end. Alber replies that Luthor is the greatest genius in the world and "we're in it with him to the end." Somebody has a crush (shameless plug).

Superman refuses to give up the search, however, as do Lois and Jimmy. They decide to drive around the Culver Hills to search for Luthor's HQ while Superman searches from the air. Luthor is at his desk when he is informed of the searchers. And Luthor's desk has an ashtray on it, which is funny, because Luthor has never been shown smoking. The good guys, like Perry White and the Police Chief, smoke, but Luthor doesn't. That would be completely reversed nowadays.

Anyway, Luthor orders that his men deploy the Atomic Projectile, and here we have yet another bit of reused footage from the previous serial, as the "Atomic Projectile" is the same weapon as the Kryptonite Missile the FGD fired at Superman in the previous serial. Like before, the missile is fired, and Superman catches it and throws it back at them. The two thugs duck into a cave, and the explosion seals them in.

Now Luthor's angry, so he gets on the police band again and says that since the search is still proceeding, he is going to destroy Metropolis with a giant rocket. Huh, launching the rocket uses the exact same controls as the Sonic Vibrator. Who'da thought?

So after a stock footage launch, cartoon Superman jumps onto the cartoon rocket. Back in the studio, Kirk Alyn sits on a rocket mock-up and makes faces as smoke blows past him. Perry orders Jimmy to take a picture, so he grabs the camera and takes it to the window, then drops it and says "You can take it yourself" before running away. And I've got to say this for Tommy Bond. He may have had a grotesque little pushed-in face, and his character may have been an incompetent foil for Superman, but he was the only actor in the entire series to get me to laugh intentionally. Clark's and Lois's attempts at humor were invariably lame, but Jimmy made me laugh a few times. He could sell a joke.

Perry grabs the camera, but doesn't take the picture either, as he is frozen in terror at the sight of the rocket heading right for him. Could this be the end?

Not quite. We have finally arrived at the final chapter, "Superman Saves the Universe," which is a pretty grandiose title. I mean, so far, all Superman has done is foil the plans of one admittedly brilliant inventor , but mediocre crook. It's quite a leap to jump from that to saving the universe. I'm guessing the title might be a slight exaggeration. Let's see.

After making faces doesn't work, Superman decides to use his cape as a sail to turn the rocket off its course.

And what do you know? It works! The rocket flies over the Daily Planet building and out to sea, where it collides with some stock footage of an A-bomb test. Luthor's gang start to panic, because there's nothing to stop Superman from coming after them now. But Luthor says he still has a trick up his sleeve and cuts loose with a brief, but pretty creditable attempt at a crazy evil laugh.

Later, a package is delivered to Lois, with a note that says, "From an Admirer." Lois opens it and oops, it's another teleport coin. And it's not even her birthday. She disappears and materializes in Luthor's cave. He informs her that she is fortunate in that she may end up being the only surviving human woman. Of course, looking at the guys Luthor intends to be the only surviving human men, "lucky" is probably not the word she'd use. The only halfway good-looking one is Alber, and he only has eyes for Luthor.

Luthor orders Alber to take the spaceship into orbit while he sets the Sonic Vibrator to destroy Metropolis. And since Alber's not there to throw the switch, some other nameless henchman does it. Seriously, this guy has not appeared in the serial at all up to this point. It's probably just a random guy from some other serial that they just cut in there.

Of course, before Luthor can start the earthquake, he has to brag about it on the police band radio. Then the vibrations start. Buildings fall and women scream, perhaps even in fear. Superman saves a few people here and there, then heads for the mountains to join the cops in the search for Luthor's machine.

When Luthor learns that Superman is just outside, he decides to call in an earthquake on his own position. FGD-Alpha and sidekick, realizing that a world in which the only woman is Lois Lane is not exactly a fantasy come true either, rebel and try to stop Luthor and shut down the machine.

Meanwhile, outside, Superman is climbing the hillside when a big boulder rolls down toward him. He nimbly steps aside, watching it roll by to crush the cops (okay, we don't actually see it crush the cops, but they were right behind him).

Luthor pulls a gun and manages to keep the henchmen at bay long enough to beam himself and Lois up to the ship. Yes, this cheap serial may have been the first screen depiction of a man beaming up to a spaceship. Put that in your pipe and look for a match to light it with.

Superman arrives seconds later, ignores the useless synthetic Kryptonite and knocks out the henchmen, then flies up after the spaceship. He catches up with it moments later and leaps in through a hole in the floor!

What the hell is that? Is that supposed to be, like, the moon pool in a submerged platform or something? Whatever. Superman grabs Luthor and Lois and leaps back out of the ship, leaving henchmen Alber and Baer, who die when the ship is hit by a meteor and explodes seconds later. Wow, Luthor's lucky Superman arrested him.

Superman drops Lois and Luthor off in Perry White's office so the Planet can get the reward for the capture or something. And later, as Clark and Lois discuss how everything is resolved, Jimmy comes in with a little box of Luthor's Craptonite. Lois immediately opens it and holds it up to Clark's face, not having heard the news that it has lost its mojo. Clark is unaffected and Lois's suspicions are once again proven silly. As they leave the office, Perry searches his pockets for a match to light his cigar and finally finds one. He strikes the match, and it malfunctions, hissing and shooting off sparks. After 15 chapters, the gag finally pays off. Ha!

The End. Finally.

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