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The Haunted Lighthouse
Reviewed by Bruce Dettman

As long as I can remember, I have wanted to spend a night in a lighthouse.

For the record, the first time I ever saw or even heard of a lighthouse was in the 1953 monster film The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, based only remotely on a Ray Bradbury tale "The Foghorn." The title creature, lured out of the depths by the blinking beacon, attacks and mangles a lighthouse (in the story the monster thinks the lighthouse might be a possible mate). Since then, however, I have always been curious about these shaft-like edifices standing remote and lonely at the water's edge, intrigued by their allure, and attraction and have visited as many of them as possible when traveling in coastal areas.

In the first season's The Haunted Lighthouse we don't really get to glimpse much of the one situated on Moose Island off the coast of Maine where Jimmy Olsen has been invited by his widowed Aunt Louisa (whose husband Captain Horn died some twenty years earlier) to spend a vacation. We are given a few distant shots of the place, both at night and during the day, and Jim does approach it once-only to have his entrance curtailed by a knife thrown in his general direction-but that's about it, despite the tantalizing episode title which seems to suggest that it will be featured more prominently in the plot.

Personally, if I was Jimmy, I would have turned right around and headed back for Metropolis after about one night spent on old Moose Island. Sure, it might be enjoyable to spend a day exploring the rocky terrain-even if Jimmy has never appeared as the nature lover type to me, more of a hot dog and ballgame kind of guy-but otherwise for companionship he's pretty much limited to his old Aunt, who he has not seen since he was a baby, a shy deaf mute servant girl (Allene Roberts, later in The Whistling Bird) and his cousin Chris who has the personality of a rabid pit bull and threatens Jim at every turn. Then toss in the directionless and haunting cry of what sounds to be someone in danger ("Help me! I'm drowning!") which Jimmy hears every time he is off by himself and that's about everything the place has to offer.

Some vacation! Of course, nothing is really as it seems in this episode. A certain Mrs. Carmody (Sara Padden) and her son Chris (Jimmy Ogg), the latter in league with some smugglers who use the lighthouse to bring in their stolen goods, have kept the real Aunt Louisa (Effie Laird)* prisoner while they impersonate her and Jim's real cousin Chris who is away in the service (what a coincidence both women have sons named Chris, convenient too). Clark Kent, hearing Jimmy's tale during a phone conversation, catches on pretty quickly that something isn't kosher on the island and in what has to be one of the oddest flying sequences in the series' history (without the aid of DVD slowdown I would have had one hell of a time figuring out, given the peculiar angle and framing of the shot, just exactly what I was watching) Superman joins Jimmy to straighten things out. It takes a bit of time, however, and before the whole thing is over the young reporter gets himself beat up and knocked out by the phony Chris and Mack (William Challee), his partner in crime. Left to drown by the incoming sea, Superman arrives just in time to save him and to (off screen) release the real and quite resilient Aunt Louisa who, with pistol in hand, has a fine old time holding both Mrs. Carmody and her offspring until the Coast Guard authorities (led by all purpose TAOS actor Steve Carr) arrive. She's also mighty impressed by the Man of Steel ("Where's that handsome Superman?" she asks Jimmy) and in addition, seems to be one-if not the only-person in the history of the show to note a resemblance between Clark and Superman ("Why he's handsome too. As a matter of fact he looks….") which sends Kent in hurriedly ducking in the opposite direction.

The Haunted Lighthouse was an early entry in the first season and it's a dandy. It's really all a showcase for Jack Larson who as usual handles the assignment masterfully. In other less capable hands the role of Jimmy could come off as embarrassingly naïve, even silly, but Larson makes him a believable and vulnerable innocent who we genuinely like and feel concern and empathy for. We share in his growing anxiety and later fear which, because of the sincerity of his performance, seems legitimate to us. The episode is a great showcase for the actor. He was never better in the series and that's saying a lot.

Atmosphere has a lot to do with the success of this particular show and director Tommy Carr and writer Eugene Solow, wishing to establish the mysterious aspect of the story while highlighting the forlorn and isolated local of Moose Island with its fog marinated landscape and precarious cliffs and jutting rocks, jump start things with a highly evocative and haunting opening narration by George Reeves in which, against stock footage of the angry swelling sea and rugged coast (and with the first year music never more effective at creating mood) he sets the stage for the story. I've always wondered if this narration was in the first version of the script or whether it was a late addition, something the writer/director came up with when they were not satisfied with the original opening of Jimmy just arriving on the island. Regardless of which, it's a great touch and Reeves flat, unemotional delivery is excellent.

The Haunted Lighthouse, much like many other first year offerings, is a tidy little B thriller, condensed into a half hour. Even without Superman it would be, thanks to Larson's efforts, Carr's taut direction and the supporting players (including the unbilled Peter Parrot), engrossing and highly memorable.

* The end credits, by the way, incorrectly list Maude Prickett (who would later show up in The Deserted Village) as being cast as Aunt Louisa. Whether Ms. Prickett was originally cast in the part and had to be replaced at the last moment-to late to re-write the credits-has never been positively established.

October 2006
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