Jackson Beck

Secret Agent (1943, Seymour Kneitel)

Secret Agent opens with this really exciting car chase. Clark (Bud Collyer) has just called in and been told to get to work on the right story, only then a car crashes through the drug store he’s in and so he hops on the back of it as it chases another car. Then the cops start chasing the car Clark’s on; he pushes up a thug’s gun hand so he can’t shoot at the cops. The whole thing ends with a female secret agent getting away and Clark apparently unconscious and captured by saboteurs.

The chief saboteur has a monocle and a Hitler mustache. It’s unclear how he manages to get around in the United States without people wondering what he’s up to… oh, and a German accent.

So most of the cartoon has to do with the secret agent (voiced by Joan Alexander in a less than impressive performance–she’s got one monologue and it’s flat) trying to get to the airport. The cops are going to give her an escort, but the saboteur ring ambushes them and mows down a bunch of cops before the agent gets through.

But the shootout ambush was just a red herring, the real ambush is at a swing bridge. The secret agent ends up on the bridge’s mechanics, in danger of being crushed. Luckily, when the bad guys call the Hitler boss guy, he and his guys get ready to go and lock up Clark before leaving. Once he’s safely in a broom closet, Clark finally changes into the long johns and saves the day.

Shame he didn’t do anything to save those shot down coppers. Because he was either unconscious or just didn’t think he could break the ropes and take out the guards? Not very super.

There’s some lame jingoism, which the cartoon could’ve gotten away with as cute if it were any good (that opening with the car chase is decent stuff though) and for some reason a lot of focus on the secret agent’s shapely legs.

Secret Agent is a stinker.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Seymour Kneitel; screenplay by Carl Meyer, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Otto Feuer and Steve Muffati; music by Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Secret Agent), Julian Noa (Perry White), and Jackson Beck (Nazis); narrated by Beck.


The Mummy Strikes (1943, Izzy Sparber)

If it weren’t for the needlessly racist finish from Lois (Joan Alexander), The Mummy Strikes would probably get a pass. Maybe. The action isn’t particularly impressive, but the Egyptian history lesson is pretty cool. Even if it’s all about young King Tush.

Jay Morton’s script is (mostly) strong–it, Sparber’s direction, and animator Graham Place and Myron Waldman’s backgrounds are the highlights. An Egyptologist is murdered, his assistant is charged. Another professor calls the Daily Planet for Clark (Bud Collyer) to come and hear the truth.

The professor–Jackson Beck–is long-winded and gives Clark the whole history of King Tush, which is remarkably similar to King Tut but with giant guards and some other embellishments. Turns out the dead professor tried to get into the sarcophagus, ignoring the curse. There’s also something about him working to revive the mummified giant guards. Doesn’t matter. There’s just a lot of great Egyptian backgrounds (the museum’s recreating the tomb) and Beck’s exposition delivery is solid. Even with the nonsense.

Lois is also at the museum–she snuck after Clark because he kind of scooped her, or at least was a jerk about it. She’s sadly immaterial. Clark’s the one who sets off the sarcophagus trap, which revives the giant guards. Whose skin inexplicably gets darker the more evil they get? Like the guards of the hieroglyphic backdrops don’t match the revived ones.

The resulting action sequence with Superman fighting the giant guards is unsatisfactory–the detail isn’t great on the animation, it’s the detail on the Egyptian-themed stuff (and the mystery angle at the beginning)–and there’s actually no resolution whatsoever given the revived mummified guards at the end. Just Lois’s joke, which could be done without the racist part yet… they felt the need.

So, ew.

But the first half is good, even if it’s obvious they’re not going to be able to get anywhere with it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Izzy Sparber; screenplay by Jay Morton, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Graham Place and Myron Waldman; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane/Jane Hogan), and Jackson Beck (Dr. Wilson); narrated by Beck.


Destruction Inc. (1942, Izzy Sparber)

Destruction Inc. is nearly a success. It’s frustratingly not, particularly because the only thing holding it back is the animation itself. Thomas Moore and Dave Tendlar lack detail on the action, lack detail on the background, and don’t composite the two well. But Sparber’s direction is fantastic. There are some great action sequences in Destruction, they just don’t look good.

The cartoon has Lois (Joan Alexander) going undercover at the munitions plant and discovering a saboteur ring. Bad acting from Julian Noa on the villain doesn’t help things. All of the henchmen are poorly acted as well. And then there’s the pervy news boy, Louis (Jack Mercer), who gets a desperately unfunny bit after ogling Lois.

But still. The sequence where Lois is on the run from the goons, even if she doesn’t have a face in long shots, is great.

Superman shows up after the goons catch her and put her in a torpedo. Saboteurs in munitions plants have all the access.

And even though the Superman saving Lois and fighting goons sequence is, again, beautifully directed, the animation is just the pits. The cel and background compositing just gets worse during as the cartoon goes along, even if overall it’s far from bad… it’s just not good.

Jay Morton’s plotting and pacing are great. His attempts at humor are not. They drag. Sparber doesn’t direct them well either. So Sparber’s got the action down, he’s got some of the expository down, not the humor. And no one’s got the animation detail.

It’s too bad. Destruction Inc. should’ve worked. It nearly gives Alexander a good part too. The animation really sinks it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Izzy Sparber; screenplay by Jay Morton, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Thomas Moore and Dave Tendlar; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Jack Mercer (Louis), and Julian Noa (Chief Thug); narrated by Jackson Beck.


Showdown (1942, Izzy Sparber)

The showdown in Showdown is… not much of a showdown. A hapless–if nimble-fingered–thief dresses up like Superman and commits a bunch of crimes. He doesn’t do it on his own, he does it because his boss commands it. His boss looks a little like Edward G. Robinson. No, there’s no showdown between Superman and Edward G. Robinson.

Unfortunately for the fake Superman, when he goes to hit the opera, Clark (Bud Collyer) and Lois (Joan Alexander) are covering the story. Lois tears the S off fake Superman’s chest–guess on his planet it means s.o.l.–and goes to call the cops while Clark changes into his long-johns and goes after the thief. There’s a little showdown on the roof of the opera house, where Superman basically knocks the guy off the roof before saving him.

Superman flies the impostor to his boss, Lois and the cops follow from below. Somehow they’re able to keep following even though Superman has already landed. Edward G. Robinson has Superman outsmarted though, thanks to a trap door and a pit. So there’s a delay in Superman catching the bad guys.

There are a couple good shots in the cartoon and some great background design, but it’s pretty tepid stuff. The Superman action is boring and poorly lighted. The frequent logic jumps are… well, hard to get worked up about because who cares. Sparber’s direction is better than the animation.

Superman terrorizing the petty thief off the roof is something though.

Not even the Edward G. Robinson boss is amusing.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Izzy Sparber; screenplay by Jay Morton, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Steve Muffati and Graham Place; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Jack Mercer (Office Boy/Fake Superman), and Julian Noa (The Boss); narrated by Jackson Beck.


Electric Earthquake (1942, Dave Fleischer)

Outside the racist–though not exceptionally racist all things considered–characterization of the villain, a Native American engineer who’s going to level Manhattan because it was stolen from his people, Electric Earthquake is pretty much great. Well, it’s outstanding. For what it does, it’s outstanding.

So there’s the opening, where only Clark Kent (Bud Collyer) thinks the Native American guy has a point–while Julian Noa’s Perry White is a piece of crap, apparently–but neither think the guy is actually going to do anything. Only Lois (Joan Alexander) thinks to trail him back to the docks, where he catches her and takes her down to his undersea laboratory.

The cartoon has already introduced the laboratory, complete with the wires going to the various parts of the ocean floor so the engineer can shock an earthquake. And he does. Manhattan falls apart. Cracks in the streets, skyscrapers crumbling, the Daily Planet having a big chunk fall away. And no nonsense regarding Superman–he’s in action right away (well, after the disaster starts).

And he saves the day. With some complications and some troubles.

There are a couple things not animated well, but otherwise it’s all phenomenal work. Good direction from Fleischer. Some of the animation doesn’t quite match, but it’s still good. The rocky parts are in the explosions. They’re lacking in detail and size.

And, story-wise, it’s not like the engineer turns out to be some great villain or even an interesting one. He doesn’t beat up Lois, which is nice, though he does leave her to drown in his getaway. He’s almost sympathetic.

The Superman action, including his various troubles with electric wiring, collapsing buildings, and just having enough breath, is great. The ending is fun too.

The fun might be the best thing about Earthquake. Even though it’s obviously full of catastrophic danger, Fleischer and his animators enjoy the heck out of Superman’s response to it.

Though Lois gets a particularly bad part. She’s present for almost everything and gets no reaction other than silent fear.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Seymour Kneitel and Izzy Sparber, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Steve Muffati and Arnold Gillespie; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Julian Noa (Perry White), and Jackson Beck (Lenape scientist); narrated by Beck.


The Mechanical Monsters (1941, Dave Fleischer)

The Mechanical Monsters has a lot of promise. Or at least it seems like it’s going to have a lot of promise. A mad scientist has built around thirty giant flying robots he sends out to rob Metropolis. The cartoon opens with one of them returning with its loot. No one can stop him.

Back in the city, Lois and Clark are both covering a new jewelry exhibit. Clark (Bud Collyer) isn’t happy to see Lois there. The defining aspect of Collyer’s Clark Kent performance is how much he loathes Lois Lane when she’s doing her job, which makes the cartoon’s epilogue all the stranger.

So the giant robot attacks. Turns out it’s bulletproof too because the Metropolis police shoot tommy guns at it and the bullets ricochet everywhere. Presumably not into the fleeing civilians.

When Clark and Lois go to call the story in, Lois gives Clark the slip to get back to the giant robot, hitching a ride in the loot compartment. Then it’s Superman time.

The aforementioned promise starts building once Superman’s in play. Even after he somehow gets knocked out of the sky by the robot (it’s unclear if Superman’s jumping or flying, I suppose–whatever’s most convenient for the story) and gets into a fight with electrical lines, Monsters always seems like there’s about to be a great sequence.

When Superman finally gets to the mad scientist’s fortress to duke it out with the two dozen plus giant robots, it’s got to be a great sequence. Then it’s not. It’s rushed because it’s not even like Lois is in danger from the robots. She’s in danger from the mad scientist dropping her into molten lava. Good thing Superman’s cape is molten lava-resistant.

The epilogue has Clark complimenting Lois on her page one scoop; of course, she says she only got the story because of Superman. Fade out on knowing smile from Clark. Kind of gross.

There’s some nice stuff in the cartoon–effective close-up on the mad scientist, for example–but the story’s all over the place and the characters are weak. Joan Alexander, as Lois, gets about two and a half lines. Though at least this time director Fleischer cuts away from the villain assaulting her.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Izzy Sparber and Seymour Kneitel , based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Steve Muffati and George Germanetti; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman/Scientist) and Joan Alexander (Lois Lane); narrated by Jackson Beck.


The Underground World (1943, Seymour Kneitel)

The Underground World is absolutely gorgeous. The animation has its issues, but how the animators light their characters and how director Kneitel composes the frames… just breathtaking.

The story concerns Lois and Clark on an expedition to an underground cavern. Once they arrive, there’s trouble for Lois and they discover the totally absurd secret of the cavern. But the absurdity doesn’t matter because the cartoon is so gorgeous. In fact, once Superman shows up in this silly situation, it just keeps getting more and more amazing. Kneitel outdoes himself every shot.

Joan Alexander probably has the most to do as Lois; she’s really good in World. Bud Collyer’s Clark is a little too nonplussed, but that describes Jay Morton’s characterization of Clark in general.

As the scientist leading the expedition, Jackson Beck is weak. He shouldn’t be so noticeably bad, but it comes through.

Ignore him though, World’s magnificent.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Seymour Kneitel; screenplay by Jay Morton, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Reuben Grossman and Nick Tafuri; music by Sammy Timberg; produced by Dan Gordon, Kneitel and Izzy Sparber; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent / Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Jackson Beck (Henderson) and Julian Noa (Perry White).


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