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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

BATMAN Chapter 8 (September 3, 1943)

"Lured by Radium" 
Screenplay: Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Harry Fraser
Director: Lambert Hillyer
Producer: Rudolph C. Flothow
Last Time: Dr Daka has captured radium mine owner Colton. Batman and Robin track Daka's men to a Japanese laundry, but after a fight, Robin is knocked out and Batman's been tossed down an elevator shaft -- about to be crushed by the loading elevator! 

Synopsis: If you guessed that Robin would just get up off the ground and then hit the "off" switch on the elevator to save Batman, congrats. Luckily the actual fall down the shaft didn't seem to do any damage either.
As Bruce and Dick they meet up with Linda, who's decided to go look for Colton herself, following his map to his cabin. Bruce is a big dick about it for a while, but eventually gets her to agree to bring the two of them along without making them seem to eager about it.
Meanwhile, Daka still has Colton, so after he again refuses to take them to his radium mine, they put him into the zombie machine. They turn on the machine for a few moments and Colton immediately relents, agreeing to take them to the mine.
They drive out into the (California) countryside, with Colton leading them to the mine entrance. This leads to the hilarious sight of Colton, in a wide brimmed hat and suit, leading a bunch of mobsters, also in suits and fedoras, into a mine carrying lanterns and pickaxes. Like, you guys are a bit overdressed for this? Colton leads them into the tunnels a bit, and of couse makes a try at escaping.
Bruce, Dick, Linda and Alfred follow some time after, getting directions from a Indigenous man at a trading post who gives perfectly clear directions but his broken English gets a real racist response from Dick, unfortunately. They head up to Colton's cabin. When they don't find him there, Bruce leaves Alfred and Linda at the cabin while he and Dick go to take a look at the cave entrance that leads to the mine.
After spotting the gangster's car outside the mine, Bruce and Dick change to Batman and Robin and engage the crooks in fisticuffs inside the mine. Meanwhile, Colton shows up in his cabin, emerging through a trap door in the floor. He decides to dynamite the mine with the claim jumpers inside. Unfortunately Batman and Robin are down there too, and an attempt to warn them ends up with Colton, Linda, Batman, Robin, and the gangsters all down in the mineshaft when the dynamite goes off!
Next Time: Some new character named Chuck White wants in on Daka's gang, but what does he really want?

Thoughts and Review: I guess you could say there's some forward momentum in this episode, with the characters all finally going to Colton's mine -- although its a little unclear if it's actually a mine, a cave with ore in it that Colton intends to mine, etc. Ultimately it's good to finally move this little subplot forward, especially as it takes up so many episodes of this serial. It's pretty standard A to B plotting, although the scenes with the Indian at the trading post are really cringeworthy. He speaks in a kind of "me Tarzan, you Jane" style English, but he tells the group "Colton Cabin, right road; Colton cave, left road" and Dick says "that's clear as mud!" Really Dick? What a little asshole. The scenes where Bruce keeps playing at being a disinterested jerk with Linda are also starting to wear thin, as she's seriously upset about things like her missing uncle, his missing friend, etc etc, and Bruce keeps trying to play like she shouldn't be so concerned. Ultimately I'd say this is an average installment.