Thursday, December 22, 2016

BATMAN Chapter 9 (September 10, 1943)

"The Sign of the Sphinx" 
Screenplay: Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Harry Fraser
Director: Lambert Hillyer
Producer: Rudolph C. Flothow
Last Time: Daka's men had found Colton's radium mine, but Batman, Robin, Colton, Linda and the gangsters were trapped in the mine with a dynamite explosion went off and collapsed it! 

Synopsis: Four of Daka's men manage to make it out before the cave in, and Robin is luckily shielded under a staircase leading down from a trapdoor in Colton's cabin. Batman and Linda were saved by the old "fallen beams make a protective arch" trick, but Colton didn't make it. One of the gang survived though, and is taken prisoner by Batman and Robin.
With so many of the gang killed, Daka assigns a man named Wallace the task of recruiting new ones. Meanwhile, down in the Bat's Cave, the captured Marshall refuses to talk. They decide to leave him alone to "sweat", but purposely tie him up poorly so he can get loose and get to a phone. Marshall calls the Sphinx Club, the hideout for all these gangsters Daka uses, but the line is a fake, leading to Batman on the other end, allowing Batman to learn of the Sphinx Club and its location. 

Using his make-up kit, he creates the personage of Chuck White, a down on his luck tough guy which allows Bruce Wayne actor Lewis Wilson to really let loose with his East Coast accent. As White, he goes to the Sphinx Club, claiming a guy named Marshall told him to go here to look for a job. Fletcher, Daka's point man, decides to give White a looking over, as he's suspicious of someone coming looking around so soon after Marshall's presumed death.
Robin, looking in through the window, flashes a Bat-signal as a distraction, drawing the men outside and allowing White to escape. They chase Robin to the docks, where the Boy Wonder boards a freight ship, and the Batman appears atop a building, cape outstretched like wings, to leap down upon the crooks and attack them -- a classic sequence that appears without fail in any Batman adapation, but is perhaps a bit lacking in this first live action iteration.
There's a pretty good fight scene following, but eventually the crooks knock Batman out and then drop the ship's gangplank on top of him! Really? We blew up a mine last week and this is the best we got this time? Okay...
Next Time: Daka is trying to get a shipment of radium in by air courier - can Robin stop it in time?

Thoughts and Review: With Colton killed, the radium mine plotline that's gone on for the last three installments is done.This serial is broken up into smaller arcs within its fifteen part structure, offering temporary focuses for a few chapters before moving on to another.

So it's time to introduce a new angle, thus the invention of Chuck White, an attempt to infiltrate the gang. Chuck White is another example of this serial using elements of the Batman comics of the day that don't get a lot of play today -- namely Batman as a master of make-up and disguise similar to Sherlock Holmes. In the character of Chuck White, a common low class hood who can interact with criminals and gain information Batman cannot, I see a lot of elements that later appear in Matches Malone, a very similar persona who doesn't appear in Batman comics until 1972, a very long time from now. Did Dennis O'Neil ever see this serial? I can't find any information one way or the other. Either way, it's a great performance from Lewis Wilson, really showing his range between White, Bruce, and Batman. It's a shame his career never really went anywhere after this.
The waterfront fight is a pretty good fight so far as this serial goes. There are a lot of good efforts to be dramatic and exciting despite the ubiquitous daytime cinematography. Robin continues to a joy in this series -- young, skilled, useful, dynamic.

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