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Mystery Of The Broken Statues
Reviewed by Bruce Dettman

After moving to California in the early 1950s my family would often return to our native state of Illinois for holidays and summer vacations.

On one such trip my parents had scheduled plans with friends, my brother was off with an old pal and my grandparents had a prior commitment which meant that there was no one who could watch me.

Consequently my mother approached her brother, my Uncle Chuck, about taking me for the afternoon. The fact that I was standing right next to the two of them when the request was made didn't seem to register with her as she listed my negative points. I can still hear her to this day.

"He's probably going to be just awful, a real handful. I'm not sure you know what you're getting into. It's nearly impossible to keep him still."

Chuck was a husky guy, not big but formidable looking, with a crew cut. He had fought against the Japanese in New Guinea and had seen up close more than his share of war. He looked down at me and smiled.

"Don't worry, Bruce and I will get along fine."

And we did. Chuck and his wife had only one child, a girl, and I think he would have liked to have had a son.

That day he took me fishing, bought me a hamburger and introduced me to the local merchants around town as we ran errands in his old pickup truck. We eventually ended up in a local tavern where a couple of his war-time pals were downing tall brews from mugs. They set me up on the counter and filled a couple of shot glasses with ale for me. I couldn't remember ever having such a wonderful time. I liked my Uncle Chuck.

That night I regaled my parents and my brother with the details of my extraordinary day. All was fine until I mentioned those shots of beer. My father grinned. My mother didn't.

A couple of days later I needed another sitter but safe to say it wouldn't be my Uncle Chuck. Instead I was taken over to the home of my two great aunts, Velma and Mary.

Now I had never met these two women before and hadn't a clue really who they were except that they were my grandfather's sisters. Since I viewed my grandfather as being about as old as anyone on the planet (in retrospect he was only about seventy-five) I couldn't imagine what Velma and Mary would be like. Old ladies, to be frank, had always given me the creeps.

I no longer recall any specifics about these two except that they certainly were old and had their hair done up in a certain peculiar and severe manner not unlike that worn by the two old ladies in Arsenic and Old Lace, a film I had just seen for the first time. I loved the movie and the bizarre plot of this elderly twosome poisoning poor old lonely men as an act of Christian charity, but Velma and Mary bore an unsettling resemblance to this lethal couple. Fortunately as it turned out they were sweet old ladies and showered me with attention and some pretty tasty home cooking. Still I was never quite at ease with them, particularly when they brought me a tumbler of fruit juice which I eyed and smelled several times before imbibing.
Their house, much like the abode in Arsenic, was an old Victorian with creaking stairs, muslin curtains, a radiator that smelled of heavy heat and oil, family portraits on the walls and occupying just about every flat surface in the place the largest assortment of cheap knickknacks I had ever seen. Tables, window sills, bureaus, both upstairs and down, kitchen cabinets, hutch cabinets, bathroom sinks-everywhere you could look-were covered with these porcelain and plastic replicas of everything under the sun. There were cats and pigs, train cars and cows. There were horse carts and dogs, rabbits and skunks, ducks, umbrellas and tiny boots.

"We're collectors," I recall Aunt Mary, explaining as I lifted up a finger-sized mule.

"Be careful, dear. Some of those are very valuable."

Even at the age of six or seven I knew they were just about as valuable as the junk I regularly found at the bottom of a box of Crackerjacks but, of course, I didn't say anything. Children of my era, whether they liked it or not, were polite.

I wouldn't have been surprised, therefore, to have spotted some of my aunt's treasured possessions in one of the stores (Bonelli's Art Craft Shop, for instance) that Phyllis Coates, as Lois Lane, visits during the first year episode The Mystery of the Broken Statues. Lois is out picking up a repaired pitcher and is also on the hunt for some tea cups when she stumbles across strange goings-on. A group of men are paying the owners of these antique and curio shops money to allow them to smash certain inexpensive porcelain statues. Lois' reporter's instinct swings into full gear. She smells a story and begins to make the rounds of similar establishments to see if she's really onto something. She subsequently manages to elicit the help of Clark even though he initially feels it's a total waste of time (apparently the one thing about him that is not super is his reporter's nose for news). They both go out and search for more of the statues and later open them. Inside they find a curious assortment of items including a small key, three pennies, an acorn, an onion, a safety pin, a plastic cow and a dollar bill. At one point, not bothering to strip down to his Superman duds, Clark physically corrals two of the statue-breaking goons himself and takes them to the police station, something you would never have seen Kirk Alyn or Christopher Reeve in their Kent persona doing.

Clark now agrees that something is indeed shady in all of this but Inspector Henderson (Robert Shayne in one of his more animated appearances on the show) just isn't buying. Clark tries to impress the stubborn cop with the oddness of what's going on but all the rather unimaginative Henderson can see is that the statues have been paid for.

Meanwhile Lois has also found a few of the peculiar items in the statues she's purchased but two criminals, Paul Martin (Tristin Coffin) and his partner (Philip Pine) break into her apartment and kidnap her. Later they try to get information out of the very stubborn and resilient Ms. Lane but all Martin gets for his trouble is a headache from Lois shattering a vase over his head.

Martin's minions subsequently spirit her away to a nearby airport but Superman gets wind of the plan and stops the plane. Regrettably we don't get a chance to see him mop the floor with these guys. Instead we segue to Clark, Lois and Henderson with Kent giving the two a lecture on rubric puzzles explaining in the process what all the small items add up to. Using a blackboard he demonstrates the method for unlocking the puzzle which, with the help of Lois (and none from the somewhat obtuse Henderson), they discover is a Metropolis post office box number. The next morning the police are there to arrest Martin who has shown up with the key from one of the statues and opens the box which contains package.

Back at the Daily Planet Clark, Lois and Henderson (Perry White and Jimmy must have been on vacation, maybe off fishing again) open the thing and at first are let down to discover that inside is just another cheap statue. Kent's X-ray vision tells a different story, however, and once he smashes open the cheap statue they discover a huge ruby, the largest stone of its kind in the world and one that was stolen years before.
William Joyce, who wrote the script for Statues, pretty much ripped off a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle called The Adventure of the Six Napoleons. It's the same basic premise, from the broken statues to the missing gem found inside. Still, under Tommy Carr's taut direction, it is an intriguing episode with good energy and enjoyable performances by all but particularly by Robert Shayne who has more screen time than usual and makes the most of it.

As for those aunts of mine, I never saw them again but I am reminded of them every time I see Arsenic and Old Lace or walk by a curio shop with cheap statues in the window or when I unconsciously pause before I take a sip of wine.

April 2010
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