Tuesday, February 17, 2015

BATMAN, Chapter 5 (August 13, 1943)

"The Living Corpse"
Screenplay: Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Harry Fraser
Producer: Rudolph C. Flothow
Director: Lambert Hillyer
Last Time: Daka and his men are off in an armored car to steal a shipment of radium - Batman blasts his way into the car with the radium gun, but in the ensuing scuffle the car drives over a cliff, dooming Batman to an inevitable death!

Synopsis: Or not. In a shot that wasn't included in this footage last week, Batman is seen to dive out of the truck and roll onto the ground before the truck goes over the cliff, surviving the crash completely. Robin rushes over to check on Batman, who then goes down to retrieve the radium gun. Daka's men perished in the crash.
Daka's pretty pissed about this, but soon receives a shortwave radio message from a Japanese submarine, delivering a "large package" for Daka to be picked up at "Smugglers' Rock", which Daka instructs Fletcher to pick up by "renting a hearse."
Down in the crime lab of the Bat's Cave, Alfred delivers the afternoon mail to Bruce and Dick, which Bruce is able to identify as a coded envelope sent to him from Washington by the way the stamps are arranged - in a close up shot we can see that it is addressed to "Mr Bruce Wayne, 1918 Hill Road, Los Angeles, Calif" despite the serial being explicitly stated to be in Gotham City by the narrator of the first chapter!
Anyways, this is our reminder that Batman and Robin are deputized G-Men working for Washington to sniff out Jap spies, despite having secret identities and an antagonistic relationship with the GCPD. Also, this envelope from Washington means that Batman's secret identity is known to the FBI! Apparently all this was included in the serial because the Production Code had a problem with Batman being a vigilante operating outside the law.

The letter in the envelope is written in invisible ink, but after some "science" of the smoky beaker and test tupe variety, is rendered legible by Bruce. Anyways, turns out that the Japs have learned of a new airplane motor being developed at Lockwood, and are going to try to steal the prototype plane, with Batman and Robin being ordered to prevent such a theft. (Obviously Lockwood is a fictionalized version of aircraft manufacturer Lockheed)
Meanwhile, at Daka's lair, Fletcher and his men bring a casket into Daka's laboratory. Daka opens it, revealing a Japanese officer in a state of "animated suspension" as Daka puts it. Using a bunch of electrical mad scientist equipment, Daka is able to bring the officer to life just long enough to pass his message along to Daka - which is that Lockwood has a new plane and Daka should try to steal it - before he dies. Daka explains the man was glad to die in service to his country this way.
Daka is able to get his men into the Lockwood factory by the most convenient means possible - a couple of Lockwood mechanics show up at the ride of horrors that masks the entrace to Daka's lair! Daka himself appears to them in full kimono (the mechanics get a good crack in about how his make-up is topnotch but his accent's a little off!) and has them knocked out by a couple of his zombies!
In the lab, he turns them into zombies himself, meaning they can now infiltrate the factory without suspicion and steal the plane. It occurs to me that this plan would never work in a decade where men didn't wear huge hats all the time, as the 1940s fedoras cover up the mind control devices the zombies wear on their heads.
At Lockwood, Bruce has Dick watch the factory while Bruce stows away aboard the plane in case someone tries something. Dick spots the zombies by their odd behaviour and tries to stop the hijacking of the plane - but the zombies overpower not only the proper pilots but Dick as well. They take over the plane and take off, but Dick radios Bruce to warn him, and so the Batman emerges from the back of the plane to confront the thieves in the cockpit!
A fist fight between the three men breaks out on the plane, leaving one to wonder who's flying the damn thing. Meanwhile, on the ground below, an army scout notices the stolen plane flying over his post and radios it in. 

An army captain receives the call and orders a battery commander to shot down the stolen plane. They bring it down with artillery fire, and it crashes and explodes... with Batman inside!!
Next Time: An old-timey style prospector has discovered a radium mine, which Daka is determined to steal, can Robin defeat him alone? (Since Batman is clearly dead)

Thoughts and Review: There are some cool elements to this chapter, but it's largely a disappointment. For one thing, let's start with the title element. This chapter is called "The Living Corpse", which implies some cool macabre undead action in this episode. But alas, its all a complete tease. The title is "justified" by the silly sequence of the army officer in the casket. And I say justified because the whole thing feels written solely so they could use the cool title. I mean, why else does any of it happen? Why would the submarine captain not just tell Daka his orders over the radio? Why send an officer, in suspended animation, in a casket no less, who will die after delivering his simple message? It's a really silly idea. 
Furthermore, structurally it seems odd that Bruce learns the enemy is after the Lockwood motor before the villain even does! I guess it makes the FBI look on top of things? I may have written about this briefly before, but the idea that Batman's an FBI agent is a really weird and stupid one. Why does he dress up in a silly costume and have a kid sidekick then? Why the antagonistic relationship with the police?
One of Dick's lines tells us that this plane assignment is Batman's first special assignment from Washington, which implies that Batman has been active as the vigilante we know from the comics for some time and only recently drafted by the FBI. But it's still weird that they know he's Bruce Wayne. If the intention was to make our hero technically not a criminal himself, then it's odd that they ignored Commissioner Gordon and the fact that Batman was a duly deputized honorary member of the GCPD in the comics at this point.
While the hijacking of the plane and the fight aboard it is cool, the whole sequence is somewhat marred by the obvious use of stock sources for the related footage. The plane changes from a model to stock footage constantly and also shifts its design completely depending on where the footage is sourced from, while the artillery fire is clearly very old stock footage as well.
This episode also has one of the cheapest cliffhanger saves of the serial - where we simply get a shot of Batman ducking out of danger that we didn't see last week. Yes, the hero comes out on top not because of his wits, luck, or skill, but thanks to an editing trick.

On the whole, the entire exercise of having Daka go after this plane feels like a weird detour from the radium based plot we've had so far - and it is. In the next episode we're back to issues of Linda Page, her uncle, the gun, and radium - revealing this episode to have been the complete and utter filler that it was. 

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