Earl Turner

The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 6: Steps of Doom

Steps of Doom almost opens with a good cliffhanger resolve. It definitely has a couple surprises to it, which the chapter does nothing with after revealing them–even though both beg further explanation–and gets into another bar fight at the waterfront. It raises a third question, just before the fight, which seems important but gets skipped for the fisticuffs. The terribly choreographed fisticuffs. The terribly edited fisticuffs.

After the fisticuffs there’s a red herring car chase, then the good guys split up for a bit. Rex Lease gets a scene to himself–or at least away from Jack Mulhall–where he goes and checks up on lady love Marion Shilling. They have a shocking lack of chemistry together; it’s good they don’t get many scenes together. She asks if they’ve found Ruth Mix, but she’s gotten kidnapped again. Neither Shilling or Lease seem too worried about her.

But wait, she calls just after they talk about her and Mix gives Shilling a mission to save her life. Luckily, Mulhall has Shilling’s house bugged–with cameras–so he knows about her phone call before Lease can tell him about it. The camera bugging serves no apparent purpose other than making Mulhall seem techy. And like a creep.

After Mulhall gets to the house, there’s some more goings on–then a murder–then the cliffhanger. The murder isn’t yet connected to the cliffhanger (or anything else), which is too bad. An actual murder might make Clutching Hand a little more engaging. You can only watch Mulhall get one-upped by the mystery villain so many times.

Some really trying acting from Mulhall this chapter too. Though he’s really making the amateurish performances of the rest of the cast seem stronger.

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).


The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 5: The Double Trap

Clutching Hand is definitely wearing me down. I got through the bad fist fights without thinking too much about their poor execution. And lead Jack Mulhall’s annoying “acting” quirks didn’t annoy as much as usual. It’s just Clutching Hand, why would it get any better five chapters in.

The Double Trap of the title refers–I think–to Mulhall falling into a double-layered trap. He’s a master detective and a master of disguise (no eye-patch, unfortunately, but fake beard) but he can’t seem to avoid falling into the Clutching Hand’s traps. Because Mulhall just has to find man of mystery Roy Cardona, who–despite not being billed and having no scenes with the mystery villain (he’s not the mystery villain)–is always around doing stuff. He’s a go-to red herring for the serial.

This chapter has Ruth Mix getting rescued, getting freed, getting kidnapped, getting kidnapped again, disappearing, reappearing, whatever. The cliffhanger resolution at the beginning doesn’t just do a bad job establishing what’s happening with Mix it also resolves the cliffhanger way earlier than the previous chapter used the footage. So, let’s say there’s an explosion involving the heroes last chapter. This chapter gets them far away from the explosion before said explosion occurs. As if spoilers matter.

There’s not much story. Subplot-wise, there’s a little Mae Busch and mentalist fraudsters. Otherwise Trap’s all moving Mix through the chapter from one distress to another so Mulhall’s always just about to save her only to be too late or just fooled.

The finale could be good. All these different bad guys are watching Mulhall fall into the Clutching Hand’s trap. Only Herman is–at best–going for a functional sequence, not mood, and Earl Turner is a boring editor. There’s no rising tension between the cuts from villain to villain. Clutching Hand doesn’t do tension. It’s also a bad cliffhanger setup and Herman and Turner pad it out tediously. But it’s the first time Clutching Hand has had what should be a good sequence and isn’t. Usually the sequences are just bad.

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).


The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 4: The Phantom Car

There’s no reason for The Phantom Car to have its title. There are cars in the chapter, yes, but none of them have any supernatural traits. In fact, the one “mysterious” car-related incident–the chapter’s cliffhanger–explains the gimmick to the viewer while never showing the characters’ peril. Phantom indeed.

Car is actually a lot less tedious than the previous Clutching Hand chapters. There’s still a lot of tediousness going on, as well as overly confident writing movies. This whole subplot involving Robert Walker and Jon Hall hanging around the victim’s house, where nothing happens except Walker purposefully loitering–it’s a lot to bother with. Especially when Walker and Hall don’t have lines, just temporary presence.

Perhaps their car is the phantom car.

The chapter opens with an inept but grandiose fight sequence. Super-sleuth lead Jack Mulhall isn’t just a great detective, he knows his fisticuffs and can fight his way through a dozen or so sailors. They didn’t buy his disguise. On the way out–to meet sidekick Rex Lease–Mulhall comes across Roy Cardona, who is still in a questionable wig, and brings him in for questioning. Cardona pretended to be in a wheelchair and Mulhall’s caught him.

Only for the villain to kidnap Cardona. Mulhall’s dealing with a thug and Lease disobeys orders. Lease wants to get in some fisticuffs of his own but gets immediately knocked out of the fight.

So lot of fighting in Car, but almost all in the first half. And the second fight is a rooftop fight. It’s not well choreographed or well directed, but there’s ambiance to the rooftop. The incidental noises give it some character, which Clutching Hand is always sorely lacking. Director Herman is impersonal and unimaginative.

All the fighting is time killer until it’s time for Marion Shilling to tell step-mom Mae Busch (who’s meeting with a mysterious man of her own) about how secretary Ruth Mix has found the gold formula. Maybe. It seems like an excuse to give the female actors scenes, but it’s still a lot more interesting than watching Mulhall and Lease stand around pretending to science. So Busch wants to call Mulhall, only Mix has gotten a mysterious note and run off.

So they have to go after her, which gets Car to the cliffhanger. After a really bad car chase. The villain has got this monitor showing the car chase in progress on a city map. It’s not a successful device for multiple reasons, but… it’s kind of an ambitious special effect for Clutching Hand. They’re almost trying.

It might also just be I’m getting used to the banality of it all.

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).


The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 3: House of Mystery

It’s another action-packed episode. The action is atrociously executed, but there is definitely a lot of it. After a perfunctory cliffhanger resolution, the Clutching Hand sends more thugs after detective Jack Mulhall and his sidekick, reporter Rex Lease (Lease’s professional makes no difference to the plot–he’s just a sidekick at this point). They come after them on motorcycles, so The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand has a motorcycle chase. For a little bit, then it turns into a terrible fist fight with bad everything. Bad direction, bad editing, terrible sound. Just awful sound.

After the fight, Mulhall and Lease finally get to the *House of Mystery*, which isn’t very mysterious. It’s a boarding house. Where there’s a man pretending to be in a wheelchair. He’s also presumably pretending not to be in a terrible wig. He’s probably supposed to be in a wig, but I’m guessing it’s not supposed to be a terrible wig.

Or the House of Mystery is where Mae Busch meets with the psychics. At least they seem like psychics. There’s a lot of characters to following in Clutching Hand and none of them are likable and none of the actors are any good. Mulhall’s got some terrible moments in Mystery, for example. And he’s the lead. He’s supposed to be the hero. You’d want the Clutching Hand to win if he weren’t so terrible too.

There’s a fight with the psychics–but with Robert Walker (I think–there really are way too many characters and all the white guys have brown hair and look the same)–same bad sound effects and editing and so on. Maybe the novel is better? Clutching Hand works hard at being mysterious but it’s a who cares level of mysterious. The filmmakers treat their audience as captives, like they’re being forced to sit through the chapter to get to something they actually want to see.

After the second fist fight, there’s this sequence where Mulhall gets into disguise to go back to the House of Mystery. There was something suspicious about the guy in the bad wig in the wheelchair after all.

There’s a secret passage and a gang hideout and all sorts of stuff under the boarding house.

Sadly Mulhall doesn’t wear the eye patch in his disguise. The eye patch would’ve made it at least silly. Instead, it’s just… not good. At anything.

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).


The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 2: Shadows

There are some amusing moments in Shadows; not good moments, but amusing ones. Like when reporter turned detective sidekick Rex Lease trespasses on a boat and assaults the crew members. It’s a perplexing action sequence–the second fistfight in the (very long) chapter–and incompetently cut together. It culminates with Lease’s adversary clearly jumping into the water after being punched in the previous shot. There’s very little point in blaming editor Earl Turner for the terrible cutting. He obviously wasn’t working from very good footage.

Also with the boat fistfight is the lack of diegetic sound. There are some quiet punches looped in, but there’s a lot of silence in Shadows. Usually when there shouldn’t be, like after Lease is poisoned with gas and Jack Mulhall works frantically to save him. Once Lease is in the clear–the chapter runs twenty minutes and every time there’s something dramatic, you just wish it would cliffhang and it never does. But once Lease is in the clear, Mulhall just kind of makes fun of him for not taking the poisoning more seriously. There’s no question as to how or why Lease was poisoned.

The chapter starts with an exceptionally boring cliffhanger resolution, only for a deliveryman to team up with Mulhall and Lease for a car chase. The serial takes The Clutching Hand bit seriously, with the hand appearing out of nowhere (or through special secret, hand-sized passages) to wreck havoc. Or take packages. Anyway, there’s a whole subplot with the delivery guy. And Robert Walker and Jon Hall come back for a scene, because apparently they’re important.

If Mulhall had any good will, he burns through it here. He’s really bad opposite other actors, especially if they’re adversarial. He’s an understated blowhard.

As a spoof or a comedy, Clutching Hand might get some traction. Played straight, it’s just nonsense. Like Lease following suspect Bryant Washburn. Why’s he a suspect? Because he’s… present?

And the Clutching Hand makes an appearance–well, in silhouette because he’s the mystery villain–and gives his orders to his lackies over television. Then laughs manically.

For no apparent reason.

Oh, the car chase. I lost track of the nonsensical car chase with the mysterious moving truck guys attacking the heroes. Shadows is twenty minutes of nonsense flung at the audience.

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).


The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 1: Who Is the Clutching Hand?

Who Is the Clutching Hand? opens with Robert Walker getting out of prison. The warden warns him not to be a recidivist; Walker tells him he’s going to keep being a crook, he’s just not going to get caught.

Is Walker the Clutching Hand? Who knows.

The action then moves to a boring board room meeting with CEO Mahlon Hamilton yelling at his staff. Is he the Clutching Hand? Who knows.

There are a lot of characters momentarily introduced in this first chapter of The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand but no one gets much emphasis. Walker eventually gets into a bar fight where Jon Hall, as his criminal buddy, gets introduced. The bar fight has the same cheap factor the rest of the serial has going against it, but at least it’s energetic. By the end of the chapter, there’s barely any energy.

After Walker and Hamilton get introduced, it’s Robert Frazer’s turn. He’s a scientist (who works for Hamilton) and he’s just discovered a way to turn any material into gold. He has a lab at home (or near it, it’s somewhat unclear) so he can get visitors like Rex Lease, the reporter who’s romancing Frazer’s daughter, Marion Shilling.

Hamilton and Shilling don’t get introduced until the action has jumped ahead to the evening, when Frazer is giving secretary Ruth Mix dictation of the formula for gold-making. Not the whole thing, but some of it.

Then, after she leaves the room, someone attacks him. But they’ve turned out the lights so we can’t see who. Lease tries to intercede but gets knocked down some stairs–he just catches a glimpse of Frazer on the floor, apparently dead. They call the cops real fast and discover the body gone–it takes the cops to get back into the room–so Lease calls his pal, deductive detective Jack Mulhall in to investigate.

They find a note to Mulhall threatening him to stay away, signed “The Clutching Hand.” Turns out The Clutching Hand is some kind of master villain who Mulhall has tangled with in the past.

If this first chapter is any indication, Amazing Exploits doesn’t have much going for it–probably very few amazing exploits. Technically it’s… low mediocre. Nearly adequate? It’s cheap. Frazer’s big house–oh, right, turns out Walker has it in for the doctor–anyway, he’s got a big house and there’s a lot of action around it. However some exterior shots of the house are clearly poorly altered interiors (like the front door). Then there are exterior shots, which cinematographer James Diamond can’t really shoot, and Earl Turner jaggedly cuts together with the interior shooting to poor effect.

And the car chase, though not plotted poorly, isn’t well-executed.

Plus no one seems very smart (especially the cops). Mulhall’s supposed to be a genius, but he falls into a trap at the end of the first chapter so the big brain on Mulhall is in question. Also, Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald​’s script just writes him as a Sherlock Holmes knockoff and not one to take seriously. Occasionally the script does have a gem of a line, however, and it’s a shock.

The cast’s not in it enough to make much impression (Shilling and step-mom Mae Busch are currently set dressing), the direction is no great shakes, the mystery isn’t mysterious. So far Amazing Exploits is anything but.

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).


Superman (1948, Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr)

Superman is a long fifteen chapters. The first two chapters are the “pilot.” They set up Kirk Alyn as Superman. He comes to Earth as a baby–with the Krypton sequences in the first chapter the most impressive thing in the entire serial–and grows up through montage to become Alyn. The first chapter has him heading off to Metropolis, intent on becoming a reporter so he can keep his ear to the ground for trouble. Except there’s trouble–a runaway train; wouldn’t you know it, Lois Lane (Noel Neill) and Jimmy Olsen (Tommy Bond) are on that very same train.

For a while, Superman keeps up the pretense its a special effects spectacular. Sure, Superman flying is just a cartoon, but there’s a lot of super-action. And then there’s less. And then there’s less. And the script doesn’t make up for it. Screenwriters Arthur Hoerl, Lewis Clay, and Royal K. Cole take away from Alyn and, eventually, Neill and Bond to focus on the villains. Because only the bad guys get any developments. They’ve got the schemes, they have all the new characters, they have all the action. Alyn, Neill, and Bond are mostly just cliffhanger bait.

The first two chapters of Superman set up the ground situation. They also introduce Perry White (Pierre Watkin), the Daily Planet, whatever else. Third chapter brings in villain Carol Forman. She’s playing the Spider Lady. Most of the cast is her gang of interchangeable thugs. Except George Meeker and Charles Quigley. Quigley because he’s a mad scientist, Meeker because he never gets to do anything except bicker with Forman. Wait; he does torture the good scientist (Herbert Rawlinson), but it’s offscreen. Chapter three also introduces the “Reducer Ray.” Superman has a mission from the government to protect it. But Forman wants to steal it.

At one point, she tries to steal it using a ray more powerful than the reducer ray. Superman’s short on sense.

Alyn foils most of Forman’s early schemes. Then she discovers Kryptonite. For a while, Alyn versus Kryptonite is a big part of Superman. He can’t rescue Bond because of Kryptonite, he can’t rescue Neill, whatever. Bond or Neill. One of them is always in trouble, usually for doing the exact same stupid thing they did to get in trouble before. By the end of the serial, Bond ought to have more rapport with the bad guys; he spends most of his screentime their captive.

After the Kryptonite plotline, Superman just becomes about Forman trying to get Quigley to try to get Rawlinson to do something with the reducer ray. Steal it, duplicate it, destroy it, something. And Watkin wants Neill, Bond, and Alyn to get to Quigley before the cops–even though everyone’s aware of Forman’s Spider Lady, she’s not the target of the investigation. There aren’t really any cops in Superman. The occasional flatfoot or jail guard, but otherwise, it’s all either Neill, Bond, and Alyn or Forman and her goons. Even when Alyn–as Superman–captures a goon, he’ll deliver them to the Daily Planet for interrogation instead of the cops. It’s a very, very strange system of criminal justice they’ve got in Metropolis. It’s also incredibly ineffective because, while Watkin can fight, Bond can’t. Neill can’t. Alyn can’t. Alyn’s never Superman when he needs to be. He’s always Clark Kent at the worst times. Sometimes intentionally. Alyn goes on the reducer ray transport mission–the one Superman’s supposed to be doing–as Clark Kent to cover the story.

Four screenwriters and they couldn’t come up with anything better. Directors Bennet and Carr wouldn’t have been able to handle much better though. Not with action. Their problems shooting action–specifically rising action and tension–are clear from the second chapter. They never improve. They may even get worse once the serial gets into the treading water portion of its chapters. Chapters nine through fifteen are pretty much indistinguishable from one another; the set pieces are never significant (except for Watkin’s fight scene). Superman frontloads its superhero action. Alyn gets a little bit more to do at the end–in chapter fifteen, not fourteen, they really wait for the end in fifteen–but it’s not spectacular. In fact, his great scheme to put a stop to Forman once and for all is something he could’ve done in chapter five. And spared us the rest of the serial.

Bennet and Carr end up showing a lot of aptitude for comedy. The bickering between Neill and Alyn is narratively problematic–even though there’s an indeterminate but at least a few months flashforward in chapter three, Neill and Alyn never act like they know each other any better than after they first meet. Four screenwriters and none of them can figure out how to write a scene for the two top-billed actors. Not even when Alyn’s Superman. Neill is passed out for nearly all of her rescues and only really gets to chitchat once. Before Alyn tells her to scoot off to her office. Because with the good guys, Alyn’s Superman is authoritative. With the bad guys he’s either vicious (which is at least interesting) or a complete goof. Alyn’s showdown with Forman is utterly anti-climatic. He’s grinning like a moron, she’s barely paying attention to him; not a great showdown.

And Forman’s been a lousy villain. Her grand plan isn’t even clear. She wants to extort money or maybe she doesn’t. In the first few chapters, Meeker and then Quigley tell her how wrong she is about everything and question all her orders. The scenes aren’t good but at least they have some energy. After Forman consolidates her power, things just get even more boring. Because then it’s just about waiting for things like raw materials for the reducer ray or just waiting for the ray’s battery to charge. And her underground lair, complete with an electrified spider web for unwanted visitors, is a boring set. Superman’s got a lot of boring sets, but Forman’s spider-cave is the worst. It might just be because the serial wastes so much time there.

Most of the acting is okay, without any of it being standout. Alyn, for instance, gets into a good groove as Clark Kent while Superman is getting less to do, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Same goes for Neill. She’s better than anyone else–except maybe Watkin, who’s awesome–but she’s still not able to get any momentum out of the role. The script doesn’t do character development. The best it does for the actors is one-off scenes; there’s one scene of screwball for Neill and Alyn and it’s great. There’s one scene of dread for Neill, as a reporter, and it’s great. The actors make the scenes happen–though the directors get both those examples too–but they’re just filler.

Bond is all right for a while but gets tiring. Towards the end he gets to be the crusading reporter–including threatening poor Mexican immigrants (Metropolis in this Superman, incidentally, is L.A.) and flying the Daily Planet airplane. He bosses Neill around, dives headfirst into dangerous situations, gets his ass kicked time and again. He was a lot more likable as Neill’s sidekick.

Forman’s not good, but she’s a lot worse at the start than by the end. Same goes for Quigley. Meeker’s pretty steady. So’s Rawlinson. Frank Lackteen is pretty good as Neill’s stoolie who dumps her to be Alyn’s stoolie. It’s more poorly written than weird, kind of like they wanted to have two characters but didn’t.

Technically, Superman’s fairly unimpressive. The cartoon flying Superman is never embraced. The set pieces rarely involve any superpowers. Sometimes super-strength. But the superpowers are usually only for when Alyn’s in the tights, meaning Clark Kent is played as a regular boring guy. Including when Alyn gets beat up by the goons while trying to save Neill. Why didn’t he change into his tights? Why didn’t he just beat up the bad guys while in his suit? Just another of Superman’s many logic mysteries.

Earl Turner’s editing is awful. Ira H. Morgan’s photography is fine. It’s either the same interiors (Superman reuses office sets a lot) or the same exteriors around the Columbia lot.

There’s clearly a lack of budget. There’s not much inventiveness to work within the constraints either.

Even with the always disappointing cliffhangers (and cliffhanger resolutions), the overemphasis on Forman and her goons, the utter lack of non-expository moments much less scenes, Superman almost gets through. For a while, the occasional Kirk Alyn Superman scenes payoff. For a while, it seems like there might be something for Neill to do.

Then, after the drag of the final six chapters, Superman rushes to a disappointing finish. The serial doesn’t just not make up for its losses, it goes out on bigger ones. Futzing the showdown with Forman should be the last straw, but somehow the screenwriters manage to make it even worse with a peculiar, “comedic” end tag. Directors Bennet and Carr, regardless of previous comedy prowess, do nothing to save it. Because it’s lost. But it’s also finally over.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr; screenplay by Arthur Hoerl, Lewis Clay, and Royal K. Cole, based on an adaptation by George H. Plympton and Joseph F. Poland and characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kirk Alyn (Superman / Clark Kent), Noel Neill (Lois Lane), Tommy Bond (Jimmy Olsen), Carol Forman (Spider Lady), George Meeker (Driller), Pierre Watkin (Perry White), Charles Quigley (Dr. Hackett), Herbert Rawlinson (Dr. Graham), Jack Ingram (Anton), Frank Lackteen (Hawkins), Forrest Taylor (Professor Arnold Leeds), Nelson Leigh (Jor-El), Luana Walters (Lara), Edward Cassidy (Eben Kent), and Virginia Carroll (Martha Kent).


Superman (1948, Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr), Chapter 15: The Payoff

The Payoff presumably refers to this chapter being the finale of Superman. There’s not much payoff otherwise. Spider Lady Carol Forman isn’t out to blackmail the city, she’s out to cause destruction. She’s given the Daily Planet four hours until she destroys it.

She’s has to give them four hours because the machine isn’t ready yet.

The chapter opens with Superman Kirk Alyn saving Noel Neill and her being conscious long enough to thank him. He’s let at least two people die in order to save her. After he tells her to get back to work, he cartoon flies into the building and changes outfits.

The chapter reuses a lot of Superman flying, Kirk Alyn changing clothes footage. It reuses some of it at least twice because as Neill, Tommy Bond, and Pierre Watkin try to figure out the Spider Lady’s plan, Alyn is popping in and out as Superman or Clark Kent.

The showdown between Forman and Alyn is about as impressive as one would expect for Superman, meaning not impressive at all.

The chapter ends on an odd note–a weak, mean joke. Certainly not a payoff moment.

There is, however, the best thing in the serial in terms of character development in this chapter. Neill starts writing an article about experiencing her impending doom. It’s about the only sincere thing in the serial’s fifteen chapters.

CREDITS

Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr; screenplay by Arthur Hoerl, Lewis Clay, and Royal K. Cole, based on an adaptation by George H. Plympton and Joseph F. Poland and characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kirk Alyn (Superman/Clark Kent), Noel Neill (Lois Lane), Pierre Watkin (Perry White), Tommy Bond (Jimmy Olsen), Carol Forman (Spider Lady), Herbert Rawlinson (Dr. Graham), Forrest Taylor (Professor Arnold Leeds), Nelson Leigh (Jor-El), Luana Walters (Lara), Edward Cassidy (Eben Kent), and Virginia Carroll (Martha Kent).


Superman (1948, Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr), Chapter 14: Superman at Bay

Superman is never at bay in Superman at Bay. In fact, Superman’s barely in it. When Kirk Alyn does done the tights, it’s stock footage of him changing in the stock room and flying out the window. Same footage as last chapter.

The cliffhanger resolution is actually pretty good, with Pierre Watkin hanging off the side of the building, but then the chapter just switches over to Spider Lady antics. The bad guys are finally ready to do something bad, not just talk about it and prepare to do it. This time, they’re doing something, for sure.

Tommy Bond gets the most to do this chapter. He rushes into a dangerous situation (again), hides in an obvious place (again), gives himself away (again), and gets captured (again).

The only difference is he roughs up a private citizen to get the information. After he and Noel Neill chase a wanted man down the street and beat him up. This chapter of Superman stands out–there’s an actual cop or two.

It’s the penultimate chapter and Bay’s not bringing anything new to the table. It’s leaving a lot off the table–Alyn and Neill have bupkis to do–but it’s almost done. Presumably Superman will even show up next chapter.

CREDITS

Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr; screenplay by Arthur Hoerl, Lewis Clay, and Royal K. Cole, based on an adaptation by George H. Plympton and Joseph F. Poland and characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kirk Alyn (Superman/Clark Kent), Noel Neill (Lois Lane), Pierre Watkin (Perry White), Tommy Bond (Jimmy Olsen), Carol Forman (Spider Lady), Herbert Rawlinson (Dr. Graham), Forrest Taylor (Professor Arnold Leeds), Nelson Leigh (Jor-El), Luana Walters (Lara), Edward Cassidy (Eben Kent), and Virginia Carroll (Martha Kent).


Superman (1948, Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr), Chapter 13: Hurled to Destruction

Hurled to Destruction once again has the Spider Lady’s goons outsmarting the Daily Planet reporters. In the latter category is also Superman, who delivers a dangerous criminal to the Planet for questioning instead of the police.

Said criminal attacks Pierre Watkin, leading to a pretty good fist fight and then the cliffhanger. There’s some hurling in it, but not exactly to destruction.

The opening resolves the previous chapter’s cliffhanger with another unveiling of new information. It’s an almost okay sequence though, just because it gives Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill a moment together. Sure, he gaslights her, but he’s got to keep his secret identity secret, doesn’t he?

Most of the chapter is the goons trying to steal something from Metropolis University. Tommy Bond gets wise and gets a fist fight of his own. Not as good as Watkin’s, but not terrible.

Alyn’s got more lines than usual as Superman. Opposite Watkin, he doesn’t deliver them well. Maybe the silliness of the scene–Superman handing over a wanted criminal to a newspaper editor–gets in the way.

Hurled has some decent special effects for the cliffhanger, but also the worst Superman flying effects in the serial. Cartoon Superman’s flight pattern doesn’t make any sense. He sort of floats–quickly–up the screen.

With only two chapters to go, it’s safe to say Superman is never going to top its first three chapters. If only the script were better.

CREDITS

Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr; screenplay by Arthur Hoerl, Lewis Clay, and Royal K. Cole, based on an adaptation by George H. Plympton and Joseph F. Poland and characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kirk Alyn (Superman/Clark Kent), Noel Neill (Lois Lane), Pierre Watkin (Perry White), Tommy Bond (Jimmy Olsen), Carol Forman (Spider Lady), Herbert Rawlinson (Dr. Graham), Forrest Taylor (Professor Arnold Leeds), Nelson Leigh (Jor-El), Luana Walters (Lara), Edward Cassidy (Eben Kent), and Virginia Carroll (Martha Kent).


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