January 21, 2012

Superman Saturday: Beat up a Filipino for truth, justice, and the American way!

Tonight, Superman returns! And not in the bad, Brandon Routh kind of way.1

When we last left our heroes, in September, they were left hanging in the middle of an exciting radio serial. Clark Kent was on the scene of a high-rise fire, when as Superman he rescued secretary June Anderson, trapped in the offices of the North Star Mining Company. While being treated in hospital, she was then stabbed by Bart Penderton and Joseph Dineen, officers of the company. June knew that Penderton and Dineen were swindling investors in the worthless North Star gold mine, and had entrusted the incriminating documentation with her brother, the captain of a munitions freighter, the Madison, currently steaming down the East Coast.

Back at the offices of the Daily Planet, Pemberton posed as a North Star investor and tricked Kent into telling him where the papers were. He and Dineen rushed to intercept the Madison. They forced Captain Anderson into the hold at gunpoint and started a fire that would destroy the Madison, along with the evidence against them. Fortunately, Superman learned he had been tricked, and arrived on the scene just in time to rescue the captain from the hold and the bundle of papers from the safe, moments before the ship went up in a fiery explosion.

Tonight, we conclude the adventure of the North Star mine with the final two episodes, starting with . . .


Episode 14: The Plane to Canyon City (1940/03/13)

But before you get caught by spoilers . . . Listen!

The scene shifts immediately back to Perry White's office, where Captain Anderson (whose first name is Vince) puzzles over the circumstances of his own rescue: found afloat with a life jacket, but no memory of how he got there. Perry chalks it up as one of those "mysteries of the sea"—where, apparently, cause and effect are meaningless. (And this was nowhere near Bermuda, either!) Clark Kent hands over the oilcloth with June's papers in it, claiming he got them from a friend of his in the Coast Guard. Captain Anderson immediately demands the name of this friend and reports him for stealing evidence from a crime scene. On second thought, that doesn't happen. Instead, he marvels at the power of a high explosive to tear through a ship but leave a bundle of papers unharmed and floating on the surface like a . . . "Dead fish?" offers Clark, not helpfully.

The papers are, indeed, evidence that Pemberton and Dineen are swindlers and the North Star mine is worthless. However, they haven't been seen since the explosion. June recalls that Pemberton and Dineen have a house with a Filipino servant, and Clark decides to pay a visit and see what he can turn up, though White chides him for playing detective instead of reporter.

As Superman, Clark swiftly flies over to the house, changing back into his civvies before ringing the bell. The Filipino houseboy answers, and steadfastly refuses to answer any questions, all in an accent that sounds entirely unlike any Filipino person I have ever known. This is 1940, so I suspect the actor simply reverted to a generic Dark-skinned Person Not From Around Here-Ese accent, that we're going to hear a lot of in the future. We will learn later that the houseboy's name is Cita or Seeta, or however it's spelled. I have no clue whether that name is any more Filipino than his accent.

Of course this isn't enough to stop Clark Kent, intrepid reporter. So as not to attract attention by kicking in the front door, he changes into his bright red-and-blue outfit and flies up to the roof, where another skylight falls victim to an act of super-property destruction. Superman again confronts Cita, who invokes the Castle Doctrine and shoots the intruder, with the usual results. Fortuitously, the phone rings. It's Pemberton. He wants Cita to mail him an envelope of traveller's cheques to Canyon City, Idaho. He also asks whether anyone else has been at the house, which Cita denies, fearing that he might otherwise become yet another victim of skylight-related violence. Superman overhears the whole conversation, firmly threatens further beatings if Cita says anything about him, and flies away, chuckling about scaring "that Filipino houseboy out of a year's growth."

Back at the Planet, Clark and White reason out that Canyon City is near the North Star mine. Pemberton and Dineen don't realize that the papers were found, and so they plan to blow up the mine to destroy all the evidence. White orders Kent to hire a fast plane and go to Canyon City with the Andersons. Kent warns White not to call the police in case he tips off the crooks. Understandably, White wonders how his mild-mannered reporter will handle himself if he runs into trouble. "Who do you think you are, Superman?" Ha! Irony!

Flying to Idaho, the plane becomes lost in a snowstorm. Then, bad goes to worse as the wings ice up and the plane becomes uncontrollable. The pilot would normally descend to warmer air, but can't, as they're over the mountains and would run the risk of turning into airplane pâté. There's nothing for it but for Clark Kent to crawl out on the wing and de-ice it by hand. The plane suddenly plunges. June looks out the window and screams: Kent is gone!

What are Pemberton and Dineen up to at the mine?

Has Clark Kent fallen to certain death?

No, really, has he?

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode . . .

Episode 15: Left to Be Killed (1940/03/15)

Listen!

The plane carrying Vince and June Anderson, and formerly Clark Kent, is out of control and spiralling toward the ground and certain death. Suddenly it slows down and stops: the passengers and pilot find themselves safely on the ground! Then, Clark pops his head in and asks, nonchalantly, if everyone's all right. June, who thought he was dead, becomes hysterical. Oh no, Clark reassures her, he just hung on "by an eyelash," and congratulates the befuddled pilot on his flying. He notices that they're close to Canyon City, at least, and heads off to see if he can find a car to get everyone into town.

It must be awfully hard for Clark Kent to pretend not to be Superman. The only way he can excuse his super-feats without giving away his identity, is by pretending to be a timid reporter with great big iron ones. This is his second blatant act of aircraft-related badassedness.

At the mine, Pemberton and Dineen are making their nefarious plans when they are interrupted by the town sherriff. His name is Bailey, and he talks with a stereotypical Irish accent. He is in cahoots with the two crooks, and he comes with news: Clark Kent was seen around town and is probably on his way there. Pemberton instructs Bailey to chase down Kent on a ruse, and then take him for a ride, if you know what I mean. He does this, leaving the Andersons with the car. (No idea what's happened to the pilot in the meantime.) As they light a fire to keep warm, Pemberton and Dineen jump them and take them back to the mine.

Bailey drives Kent somewhere quiet and remote, and pulls a gun on him. As Kent escapes into the darkness, he shoots him. "I never miss," he says. "That's what you think," says Superman, and takes care of him and his car before whooshing back to the mine. Underground, he can hear Pemberton and Dineen talking. Not wasting time finding his way through the labyrinth of the mine, he just smashes his way through the solid rock. The two swindlers have rigged the mine to blow up in seconds, leaving the Andersons behind to die in the blast. Superman smashes his way to them, grabs them both, and leaps directly up the shaft before the explosives go off.

On the surface, Clark Kent reassures June Anderson, who is claiming to have been rescued by a "Superman." Vince Anderson captures Pemberton and Dineen. Clark shows them some rocks from the mine: the explosion exposed a vein of pure gold. The worthless mine is good after all. Huzzah! Clark Kent then leaves to pick up the sherriff, and then phone the newspaper, because June's Superman is the "best story of the month."

And that's it. Although the last episode, at least, was somewhat weak, overall I enjoyed this story, if for no other reason than its amusingly outdated treatment of minorities, and the fact that Supe manages to save the day even after being a bit of a dimwit for the first four episodes.

It's interesting, also, that although Superman is still a bit of a mystery, the legend is starting to circulate: Perry White and June Anderson both call him by name, and it seems that Clark now feels the time may be right to write a news story about him.

Next time: We run into some old friends.

Footnote

1 Now the red boot's om the other footnote: Actually, to be honest, despite multiple issues with Superman Returns that I might get into one of these Saturdays, I did quite enjoy it.