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In Retrospect

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By Bruce Dettman

The mythology of Superman rather than being a static business has continued to be a work in progress almost since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first created The Man of Steel back in the late 1930s. Comic book and strip, film, cartoon, radio, theatre and television would all eventually contribute to the incrementally changing face of the character with each succeeding decade seeming to redefine his persona and history. In one version of the story the baby Kal-El, rocketed to Earth from the dying planet Krypton by his parents Jor-El and Lara, lands and is taken to an orphanage by the Kents where he is later adopted by the couple. Later versions would omit the orphanage angle altogether. Also the Kents would go through various name changes: Martha and Jonathan, Eben and Sarah etc. Eventually Clark would leave his boyhood town of Smallville and once in Metropolis reveal himself as Superman. The creation of Superboy would derail this whole sequence of events. Now we have the popular show Smallville, a kind of variation on the mythos. Who knows what the future for the character will be?

The first year episode Superman on Earth delivered a straightforward and entertaining depiction of the origin of the character. The script by non-de-plume Richard Fielding (actually producer Robert Maxwell and future producer Whitney Ellsworth) and directed by Thomas Carr incorporates most of the familiar story and characters into a compact half hour.

Perennial announcer and quiz show host Jack Narz gets the ball running with a voice over depicting a shot of the cosmos and describing the planet Kryton as being the home of a race of Superman and women who have attained physical and intellectual perfection. This has always confused me a bit. Does this mean that all the inhabitants of the planet are possessed of Super powers? From what we see of them it doesn't seem so. As a matter of fact, given the inappropriate way the governing council reacts to scientist Jor-El's (Robert Rockwell wearing one of the costumes from the old Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials) prediction of impending doom for the planet, they seem highly emotional, pig-headed and infantile.

I always have a bit of a problem with Rockwell in this role-even though he was a good actor and would later star in his own western The Man From Blackhawk-due to the fact that around this same time he also played and made such a strong impression as Eve Arden's incredibly obtuse and clueless boyfriend Mr. Bointon in the classic Our Miss Brooks TV series). In any case, Jor-el's words are not heeded, particularly by Kogan played with nasty vigor by solid character actor Stuart Randall (who would later turn up as a regular on the TV western Laramie). The sound of internal eruptions-which they attribute to nothing more serious than thunder-really gets the assembled body guffawing so Jor-El gives up on this group and finds wife Lara (Aline Towne who spent twelve chapters helping out Commando Cody in the Republic serial Radar Men From the Moon). Only enough time to get their baby Kal-El into the rocket and shoot it on its way to Earth before Kryton is blown to smithereens. Special effects being what they were in those days, particularly on the small tube, this footage of the infant's journey isn't the most impressive interplanetary journey ever filmed, but this sort of thing has never bothered me. Having been raised on early TV which provided a steady diet of old films, I had more in common with my parents' generation of movie effects and easily and uncritically accepted more limited and marginal cinema magic.

Eben and Sarah Kent (Tom Fadden and Frances Morris) just happen to be driving along a country road and after the rocket hits the earth pull the unharmed baby to safety. I will always recall Fadden, by the way, as having played the avuncular pod Uncle Ira in 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers). They decide to raise the infant, call it Clark and the years begin to pass by. After seeing a teenage, angst-ridden Clark (Joel Nestler) befuddled by his powers, we come up to 1951 when Eben dies and Clark leaves home for Metropolis. Odd, since he does not wear glasses in Smallville, that the citizens of that community don't recognize Superman when he makes his existence known to the rest of the world.

Clark, now in his familiar suit, hat and glasses decides to become a reporter at the Daily Planet. Thanks to Perry White being in an even fowler mood than usual, he has no luck getting past the receptionist Miss Bachrach (Dani Nolan who certainly bears no resemblance to the Miss Bachrach we later meet in Night of Terror) even though by the steamy look the attractive brunette gives him, she likes what she sees in the strapping Kent. Jimmy and Lois are hanging around White's office (on the 28th floor) and when Kent enters by way of walking on the outside ledge Lois wastes no time in sizing him up as a possible professional rival and the dirty looks begin. No time for nasty quips here though since news reaches them that a man (Dabbs Greer in the first of three appearances on the show) is hanging for his life from an errant blimp. Clark makes a deal with White that if he gets the story ahead of everyone else he'll earn his reporter's stripes. White thinks he's "crazy" but humors Kent. Meanwhile Lois and Jimmy are driving to intercept the dirigible but Jimmy doesn't want to speed and Lois strangely agrees (hard to believe big city reporters on their way to an important story would care about a traffic ticket). Dabbs can't hold his grip on the dangling rope and plummets towards the ground but Superman, making his first appearance, intercepts the falling man. Back at the Daily Planet Perry rewards Clark with the job, Lois fumes and the first of what would be hundreds of interrogations starts. Just how did Clark accomplish everything he did ahead of all those other reporters?
"Maybe I'm a Superman," he answers through a warm smile.

And for five more wonderful years he would be just that.

February 2006



By Bruce Dettman

When I visited London a few years ago, I was regrettably unable to get in to see Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. The line for tickets was nearly a block long so as a compromise I elected to visit nearby Baker Street and the Sherlock Holmes Museum where I paid seven euros to watch a snooty guide point at a picture of Raymond Massey as Holmes and tell the assembled crowd that it was Peter Cushing. I was sorry to miss out on Tusaad's, however, not only because it is famous the world over for having the greatest assortment of wax effigies, but because as with so many others, the dark side of these figures has always intrigued me. Forget the replicas of Marilyn, Winston, and J.F.K. Get me to Lizzie Borden, Jack the Ripper, Rasputin and John Wilkes Booth ASAP. Hollywood, of course, has long been interested in the subject dating back as far as German director Paul Leni's silent Waxworks then continuing through such memorable cinematic exercises as Mystery of the Wax Museum and the later remake House of Wax with Vincent Price. What the allure of these waxen replicas is might be the province of the psychologist, but there is no doubt that even in our high tech world wax museums continued to pull 'em in.

Madame Selena (played by the gloriously over-the-top Myra McKinney who chews enough scenery to get balsa wood poisoning) in the first season's Mystery in Wax episode calls her establishment "Madame Selena's Museum of Wax Art" which, if you're interested, is located a 919 West Boulevard in Metropolis. Apparently, the notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity strikes a real entrepreneurial chord with Madame because she decides to elevate interest in her exhibits by predicting the deaths of certain prominent Metropolis citizens.

She actually kidnaps-with the help of Andrew, her dim-witted Casper Milktoast of a husband-(Oscar Levant look-alike Lester Sharpe) and imprisons them in her private dungeon. She makes wax replicas of her victims which bring in the paying public (TAOS budget couldn't afford actual wax replicas to be fashioned so they made up the actors employing what looks like talcum powder to produce the waxen effect). Her third target is Perry White who does not take kindly to her prophetic threats ("Before my paper is through with you I'm going to have you run out of town!") Instead, however, Perry is drugged, his suicide faked and imprisoned along with the others. Inspector Henderson hints that perhaps White was inebriated which draws fire from Clark ("Perry White was never drunk a day in his life!"). Lois meanwhile can't stop crying over the Chief's death (no Jimmy in this one) but Clark smells a rat and decides to investigate. This gives Lois an idea so she dries her tears and goes over to the museum and hides after it formally closes. Sneaking around she stumbles upon the basement dungeon but is discovered crouching under a table and subdued with the help of some chloroform by Madame Selena (I personally have a bit of trouble thinking Phyllis Coats' tough as nails Lois couldn't handle this desiccated old shrew) and tossed into one of the jail cells next to Perry. By this time, Kent and Henderson show up at the door and demand to look around. Clark's X-Ray peepers alerts him to the fact that something rotten is going on downstairs so he fakes a poor shoe tying job while Henderson goes on without him and changes into Superman. There is a rather odd development here as far as logical plotting is concerned when Selena and Andrew take Henderson down into the basement to see their "private" museum. I know Selena is nuttier than a Christmas fruitcake but does she really not think Henderson will object to a group of missing Metropolis citizens imprisoned in cages? Before he can say anything, however, Selena, seeing Superman freeing her human exhibits, charges the Man of Steel. He hands her off to Henderson, subdues Andrew, and frees Perry and Lois.

There's lots of lapses of logic in this episode and Superman never once takes to the skies but I like it anyway. Maybe it's that crazy Madame Selena or Lois showing a more human side when she thinks the Chief is dead. Or maybe it's just that wax museum.

Next time...London.

March 2006



By Bruce Dettman

Usually in the days of early television we learned little about the background of our favorite characters on our favorite shows. Occasionally the writers would throw us an informational bone (Ward Clever had a brother and grew up on a farm, Howdy Doody had a twin brother Double Doody, Chester Goode also had a sibling called Magus who, much to the deputy's chagrin, came to Dodge on occasion), but for the most part we were left pretty much in the dark with these figures seeming to have little in the way of pasts. This was also certainly true to TAOS where over the years we only gleaned a few scant facts about our beloved inhabitants of Metropolis. For instance, we knew that Jimmy lived with his mother and had an Aunt Louisa. We knew Inspector Henderson had a son named Ray and that Perry White had a nephew named Chris who was a test pilot. We knew the most about Clark Kent, his real named Kal-El, his real parents Jor-El and Lara, his adoptive parents, Sarah and Eben and where he was born, the planet Krypton. And then there was Lois (Phyllis Coates) who we gather the most personal history from in the first year episode The Deserted Village written by Dick Hamilton and Ben Freeman This, like the same year's Haunted Lighthouse (both directed by Tommy Carr), has an overall spooky and highly eerie feel to it. Almost all of it takes place in what seems to have been Lois' hometown, Clifton by the Sea, which Clark later characterizes as "a mighty fine place" but which I have to say looks a bit on the dreary and forlorn side.

Lois-even more obstinate and feisty than usual-along with Clark has wound up here after not being able to contact Mrs. Tazey (Maudie Prickett), the nurse who we are informed helped raise her. Otherwise we hear nothing of Lois' youth, parents or siblings, if any, only that she used to play at the home of the local sawbones Doc Jessup (Fred Sherman). Aside from a few others, the druggist Peter Godfrey (perennial western bad guy Edmund Cobb who also had a small role in Rescue) and his son Alvin (Malcolm Mealey from the earlier No Holds Barred episode) everyone else seems to have deserted Clifton except for Ms. Tazey who eventually turns up safe and sound (secretly carrying a handgun in her flower basket and explaining to everyone that as a child Lois always had a "weak chest"), and the doctor who hides a revolver and gas mask in his office desk drawer.

Doc also has a dog named Ranger, an Irish setter who only makes a cameo appearance before being killed by a gas bomb delivered by a strange man in what appears to be either a fire or anti-contamination suit. I can't recall if the murder of the dog upset me as a child, but I suspect it did since I watched most of these shows with my own mutt at my side.

In any case, it is this strange man who has driven just about everyone out of Clifton although those who haven't fled make no reference to him and deny there's anything wrong in their community. It's therefore pretty much left to Clark to do some digging around - literally, as it turns out - and find out what's behind all this intrigue although keeping Lois out of things seems even more difficult for him than solving the mystery, not that the identity of the guilty parties is much of one. Reeves also gets a chance to showcase his athleticism as he takes off on a fast run and effortlessly hurdles a fence.

It's the rich atmosphere of The Deserted Village, the claustrophobic nature of the place and the effective use its quirky cast of characters that makes the episode so effective and fun to watch. That, and Clark and Lois going at each other, of course.

May 2006



By Bruce Dettman

One fine spring day during my less than stellar college career a fellow student decided, for reasons never quite clear (although there were rumors of a romance that had gone sour), to take a suicide leap off one of the tallest buildings on campus-only three stories, if I recall right. At the time, I was attempting to chat up an actress in the drama department who looked a little bit like a young Linda Darnell (and getting absolutely nowhere in the process) when everyone around us started to race over to the site of the leap. The guy didn't make a big production about it. He said nothing, made no significant gesture-he just jumped. There wasn't even enough time for the local press to show up. The Darnell look-alive and I were just in time to see him land and roll. He didn't die but he did break a kneecap and leg. It could have been my imagination, but at the time, I could have sworn some campus wit in the large crowd said something like "Now there's a guy who could have used Superman." It was then that I recalled the first year episode The Human Bomb in which not only Lois Lane but Jimmy Olsen could well have been the victims of a significant plunge from the Daily Planet building.

The fine character actor Trevor Bardette plays "Bet a Million" Butler, an unsavory fellow who is known city-wide to make wagers on just about anything. Bardette logged a long career of film and TV parts going back to the late 1930s, but I will personally always recall him as Old Man Clanton, a semi-regular character on Hugh O'Brien's The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, for several seasons until his character died in a hail of bullets fired by some Mexican banditos.

In the story Butler, hanging out at the Metropolis City Club, makes a $100,000 bet with a crony named Conway played by Lou Krugman (of Andy's Gang fame) that he can control Superman for thirty minutes. One wonders if the plan he eventually puts into action occurs to him at this exact instant or whether he can't resist the challenge and manages to come up with his plan later. Whichever, what he does come up with is that he will strap some dynamite to himself, visit the Daily Planet, handcuff himself to Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates) and demand that Superman sit tight for half an hour-while a couple of his stooges rob the Metropolis Museum-and do nothing to intervene or he will detonate the explosive. Interestingly enough, when Lois realizes the danger she is in she first thinks of going to Clark Kent for help, an odd request since she is continually lambasting the reporter for his timidity.

Despite protests from Jimmy Olsen, Butler eventually leads Lois out on the building ledge where she sheds her shoes, which fall to the pavement below and are found by Clark (a very similar scene would occur decades later in the first Christopher Reeves Superman film) who, of course, rushes up to see what's going on. By the way, if you look closely you will notice in the Daily Planet offices the first Miss Bachrach (played by Almira Sessions) walking briskly by in the background although unlike her part in Night of Terror she has no dialogue. This time the Planet receptionist is played by Ailene Towne who was Lara in Superman on Earth (as well as Commando Cody's secretary in the serial Radar Men from the Moon).

Clark, who angrily responds to Jimmy's urging that he locate Superman with "Do you think that I can turn Superman on and off like a faucet?" knows he needs to disappear so he accuses the Planet-and by extension Perry White-of creating this whole scenario as a publicity stunt, says he wants nothing to do with it and vamooses in order to re-appear as Superman. By this time, Lois is understandably growing impatient and suggests that the Man of Steel might not appear but Butler disagrees. "Superman seems to show up when you're in trouble…It may even be that he's fond of you." The look on Phyllis Coates face when reacting to this line is worth the whole price of admission.

In any case, Butler might have a plan but the Man of Steel is pretty quick in the brain department too and quickly hatches his own scheme to counter the cocky criminal. Telling the human bomb that it makers him nervous to see Lois in such predicament ("It makes you nervous!" she responds incredulously) he goes back into the office where he promises to stay visible to Butler. By this time the cops have shown up led by Inspector Hill (Marshall Reed, an actor I most remember for his regular appearances in the 1950s cop show The Lineup (aka: San Francisco Beat). This was a one shot deal for Hill. Apparently Inspector Henderson was off on another assignment that day (although most Superman fans are now aware that actor Robert Shayne was at the point of this shooting having troubles with the government during the Hollywood witch hunts of that period, the details are a bit sketchy). Superman switches places with the policeman so that only a shadow can be seen, records his own voice on a tape recorder ("No comment until the time limit is up") and exits to round up the Museum thieves (note Reeve's priceless double-take as he picks up the one petite cook and carries him away). The problem is that Lois is still out on that ledge with the wacko. Jimmy decides to do something about this after first calling his girlfriend Miriam in case a final good-bye is necessary. It isn't, of course. The Cub reporter does show a lot of guts by going out on the ledge and confronting Butler with the truth of the ruse. But after the infuriated criminal takes the handcuffs off Lois and she is free to get back into the Daily Planet, Jim, with golf club in hand ups the ante too much and gets into a physical confrontation with Butler who with homicidal intent steps on Jim's ledge-gripping hands which causes the young reporter to plummet into space only to be caught by Superman on his return to the office. Hill and another Officer Reilly (played by Dennis Moore, once an active serial hero in cliffhangers likes The Purple Monster Strikes) bring in Butler and Lois gets a chance to give him a dandy of a slap. Lois thanks Jimmy and White tells him there might be a raise in it for him.

Let's hope so.

Thanks to Mike Goldman for the vidcaps!!

August 2006



By Bruce Dettman

Back in the 1950s when I crossed the country with my parents in our two-toned Buick Special (later a Chevy Impala) on the way to visit relatives on the East Coast, it could often be a pretty grueling experience for a bored and hyperactive kid. My father and mother up in the front seat, listening to Vic Damone or Patti Page on the radio, expected me to behave and keep my chatter to a minimum (and to be fair, just how many times could they be expected to tolerate my cinematic lectures on the likes of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman or Teenagers From Outer Space). Things could get pretty darn dull, particularly since I got carsick if I read anything, even my beloved comic books. There was, however, one element that made my backseat Hell just a bit more palatable and that was my Superman figure.

This brightly colored, well-sculpted replica of the Man of Steel was made out of light but durable plastic and had originally been designed to be propelled into the sky with a tightly strung rubber band.  Early on, however, I found that Superman was getting too beat up when he crashed back to Earth on concrete sidewalks or roads (not to mention an occasion when my dog, who disliked anything sky born, got to him before I could) so I put him to other uses. The main use being to hold him up against the backseat window of the car and pretend he was flying across the ever changing terrain. In this way my plastic Superman and I passed the hours soaring above America. We flew past Mount Rushmore, the Little Big Horn, the wheat fields of Kansas, the skylines of New York and Chicago, the Badlands of New Mexico and the majestic Sierras. We flew against the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Rocky Mountains and the plains of Texas. Quite frankly, without him I don't know what I would have done. We were quite a team.

It was also during these trips that we often stayed in some rather odd places. The highways in those days were not littered with as many attractive motels as they are today. While my mother was a sticker for nice and respectable lodgings (she would thoroughly inspect the beds before we got in them) there were occasions due to storms or intense heat or just road weariness when we had to settle for digs not exactly four star quality.

Nothing, however, was quite as bad at the Bayou Hotel outside of Beaver Falls where Jimmy Olsen and Perry White, off for a weekend of fishing, have elected to stay for the night (White doesn't like night driving and I guess doesn't trust Jimmy behind the wheel). The Editor hasn't managed to catch any fish but the cub reporter has caught both a bevy of mosquitoes and White's wrath as he whines and complains about almost everything ("You call this fun??!!"). Obviously the great outdoors are not exactly Jimmy's cup of tea and you have to wonder why the fishing-loving editor brought him along in the first place. The scene plays out very well though and there is terrific rapport between the actors. His gruffness and impatience aside, it is obvious that White harbors great fatherly affection for the cub reporter. This is John Hamilton and Jack Larson at their best with an engaging chemistry that I only wish had been put to more use with other shows centering on the twosome away from the office.

Little does the twosome realize what they're in for on this recreational getaway but thanks to Ben Freeman's dark, taut, fast-moving and quirky script they will learn soon enough.

White remembers the Bayou as a quality establishment from several years back but things have changed drastically. The original owner, George Taylor, is reported to have drowned, but has actually been the victim of a brutal murder (apparently starved to death, his skeletal remains-this grotesque moment cut from later airings of the show-still shackled to a wall in the hotel basement by nephew Macey (Rhys Williams) who continues to search for his uncle's fortune. Also in league with Macey-at least when they're not trying to kill each other with swords and fists-is Colonel Brand (Jonathan Hale). Rounding out this charming trio is Elsa (Cecil Elliot), a marginally nutty (or one might say marginally sane) crippled woman who knows the location of the money but won't divulge it.

Obviously the last thing the Colonel and Macey want around are prying guests. Seeing that Jimmy is ripe for discouragement they decide to scare him off with suggestions that the hotel is haunted. In order to achieve this, Macey disguises himself as the dead uncle and repeatedly exposes himself to the terrified youth. For the record, the individual playing the ghostly figure is neither Williams or Hale but rather the uncredited actor whose likeness is seen in a framed portrait at the beginning of the episode. Perry, of course, believes nothing of this-although he does smell a story and calls Clark on his car phone to have him check the records of George Taylor's supposed drowning death (White's number, by the way, is MX39162 and wasn't it amazing in the 1950s to actually see a car equipped with a phone!!). He doesn't believe any of Jimmy's nonsense-at least not until Jimmy and he go exploring and run into the aforementioned skeleton plus the murderous team of Taylor and Brand. There's a short scuffle here and for once the aging editor gets to mix it up a bit even though he's quickly clobbered, as is Jim. They might have ended up as dead as the George Taylor, skewered by brand's cutlass, but the old lady intervenes and won't put up with any further killing and holds off the vicious twosome ("Murderers!" she wails). Later as Perry and Jimmy try and make an exit they too are held at bay by the pistol packing octogenarian who reveals the whole story of the murder and the reason behind it and asks for their help. Perry and a less than enthusiastic Jimmy decide to check out the tale and do indeed find the money behind a (fairly obvious) boulder in the basement. But Macey comes upon them and in one of the first year's most talked about scenes-one that would also disappear for many years-takes a cue from Richard Widmark in the classic film noir Kiss of Death and pushes the wheelchair bound old lady down the basement stairs which also lays Perry and Jim unconscious. By this time, Clark has grown concerned and decides to investigate as Superman and a more no-nonsense, impatient and angry Man of Steel could seldom be found on the series. The Colonel-who as is often the case with characters during the first season, doesn't seem to know who Superman is-first takes him on a wild goose chase, then uses his sword on his impenetrable shoulders but is tossed aside like a rag doll for his efforts. Macey attempts to shoot him with a shotgun and when that gets him nowhere tries a wrestling move but the Man of Steel will have none of it ("Tell me where they are or I'll break every bone in your body" he says-and means it). This is the first season's darker, avenging angel Superman and he's great to watch in action.

Director Tommy Carr gives the actor free reign to vent his anger and (hardly) pulls any punches. This is a tight, hard-edged little mystery, offbeat and nourish in execution and content, with no leg room for niceties or polite restraint. It is also one terrific ride for the viewer. I love it.

Ultimately, Perry, Jimmy and the old Lady are found more or less in tact and Macey and the Colonel escorted away by the police. Superman offers to fly them home but White, probably wisely, decides they have had enough excitement for the day and declines the offer, much to Jimmy's disappointment.
In retrospect, the thought of a scene depicting Superman in flight holding onto White and Jimmy just might make even a wheel-chaired woman shooting down a flight of stairs seem a bit tame by comparison.

September 2006

Click Here to read about Cecil Elliot.



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



By Bruce Dettman

I don't know where the brunt of the blame should go, Edgar Allan Poe or Dr. Viraldi. Poe probably came along later in my adolescence with his famous chilling tale "Premature Burial" and the terrifying notion of being placed in a coffin and interred under the earth while still alive. I ran into Dr. Viraldi a few years earlier when I was about five. While racing through a bowl of Campbell's tomato soup I somehow managed in my haste to bite off and swallow the end of a plastic spoon. We were relatively new in California at the time and still without a family physician and someone, I think it was a neighbor, had recommended this particular sawbones to my parents. My mother rushed me to his office (people were more hesitant about going to the emergency ward of a hospital in those days) and with her remaining in the waiting room I was led alone into his examining area and told to climb up on the table where Viraldi began poking and prodding me. Apparently I was not remaining still enough for him so he eventually strapped me down so I couldn't move then seconds later left the room to take a call that had come in for him. He also switched off the light on his way out thereby leaving me alone and unable to move in what was rapidly becoming for me a very terrifying darkness. I immediately started crying and even howling not long after that. I made such a ruckus that my mother ran in, saw what was going on and took me out of there never to return. I don't know for certain if that one incident triggered my fear of closed places but it sure didn't help it. And by the way, for the record, no one ever found that spoon.

Fortunately, for Lois (Phyllis Coates) she doesn't seem to suffer from claustrophobia. A good thing for her in the first season episode of TAOS titled Rescue (directed by Tommy Carr), since she eventually finds herself trapped and partially buried in a mine cave-in. Monroe Manning's script has her on assignment in the town of Carbide, Penn. (Pop. 3356/Elevation 844) to do a story on the possibility of a new proposed tunnel constituting a danger to the city. Dropped off by Clark, who then drives onto Washington and a failed attempt to get a story out of some uncooperative politician, Lois is not the least pleased about her latest story and wastes no time or energy venting her displeasure at the prospect of doing nothing but "tramping around coal mines." Clark is hardly sympathetic and enjoys ribbing her. "Maybe you'll find a diamond," he wisecracks.

Meanwhile an old stubborn geezer named Pop Polgase (Houseley Stevenson Sr.) has his own ideas about the project. Despite warnings not to go ahead with his own private tunnel, does just that with the result being he's the victim of a cave-in and the target of a rescue mission.

Rescue is an episode that really shows us what Lois is made of and provides a great part for the always-attractive Coates (who was never more independent, stubborn or unmoved by the suggestions of others). Upon hearing of the old man's plight she instantly grabs a miners uniform and helmet from a line shack wall and after calling the copy editor at the Daily Planet (his name is Walt, if you're interested and the number is Metropolis 60500) heads out to do something about it. What's interesting here is that Lois doesn't seem to be interjecting herself into the rescue operations to get a headline story, but rather, impatient with what she construes as the slow poke approach of the emergency crew (24 hours, is the estimated time it will take to reach the man according to Inspector D.K. Sherman, played by Fred Sherman who would later show up in The Deserted Village), decides it is up to her to rescue him herself ("Well, I'm going in there!").

It doesn't prove to be a good idea, however, and Lois is pretty soon in the same situation as good old Pop. Worse actually. This is most likely due to her causing further vibrations by her entrance and later attempts to free him. More timbers and rocks have fallen making their plight even graver. Pop's somewhat of a defeatist and suggests giving up but that's not Lois' style ("Wait and do nothing? Not me!"). And she doesn't.

While all of this is going on Clark is getting nowhere in Washington, D.C. except sharing banter with the Planet's capital correspondent (Milt Kibbee) who reflects sarcastically that "Taxes are going up and Congress is viewing the situation with alarm." Touches like this, reflecting the real world, are always a nice addition in the first year episodes. Clark takes a rain check on making a pit stop at the local Press Club and decides instead to pickup Lois on his way back. He misses the bundled newspapers deposited on a curb which headline Lois and Pops' plight, and when he's having car trouble and has to get out and manually rev the engine, he doesn't hear the radio announcer's voice (which sounds suspiciously like actor Walter Reed from The Unknown People) describing the potentially tragic scenario in Carbide (apparently super hearing can be turned on and off like those X-ray peepers, probably a good thing when you think about it).
By the time Kent has arrived at the sight of the rescue operation gas has begun to flood the tunnel and both Lois and Pop begin to suffer its dire effects. Clark doesn't have a clue what's going on until one of the miners (Edmund Cobb, a staple villain in hundreds of B westerns who would also later show up in The Deserted Village) explains things to him. With no time for polite exits, Clark, with everyone watching him, runs off around the corner of some boulders (in the process doing something rather quirky, for some reason lifting and setting his hat back on his head) then changes into Superman and flies across the sky, landing at the mouth of the cave. There's a great sequence here as the Man of Steel hurries through the tunnel frantically pushing aside everything in his path until he reaches and frees the twosome.

Later, recovering from her ordeal Lois, joined by Clark, has a last comment for the reporter who offers to drive her back to Metropolis.

"And Clark, Superman finally took me out." It's my favorite closing line of the series.

No Jimmy or Perry in this one but the no-nonsense, not to be deterred and feisty Coates doesn't need any backup. She's more than capable of taking care of things on her own.

For awhile there you even have to wonder if she'll need Superman.

December 2006


Thanks for Watching.

Lou (April 29, 2011)   

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