September 20, 2014

Superman Saturday: Raindrops keep falling on my head

Aaaand . . . we're back, after a one-week hiatus. This week: a new Superman adventure: "Horace Morton's Weather Machine." So, without further ado . . .

Episode 52: Horace Morton's Weather Machine, Part 1 (1940/06/10)


Clark Kent and Lois Lane are called into Perry White's office with a new assignment. Dr. Horace Morton is a leading private meteorologist with an uncanny accuracy—"practically 100 percent correct," as Perry puts it—but he refuses to reveal his prediction system. He also happens to be Lois' uncle, so Perry wants her to take advantage of the family relationship to try and soak him for his secret. (I'm sure there's a conflict of interest involved here, but this is a children's program, so we don't have to worry about such trivial matters as journalistic ethics.) Lois is reluctant, but relents, and she and Clark drive to the town of New Birmingham, where Morton lives at an observatory atop Music Mountain with his man Friday, Elmer Rogers. "Give my regards to Uncle Horace," snarks Perry.

As Clark and Lois near New Birmingham, it starts raining hard—despite a forecast of clear weather. Clark pulls the car over. "I only hope it keeps up," he quips, because "if it keeps up, it can't come down" Badum tisssshhh! Just then, another car approaches and stops. Some men jump out, forcing Lois and Clark out of their car at gunpoint, and drive away. It's a carjacking!

Clark guesses that the carjackers are criminals making a getaway, and they've changed cars to throw off the police. He wants to give chase, but unfortunately the goons have taken their own car keys with them. He tells Lois to stay dry inside the getaway car while he goes looking for a phone. Of course, he's just taking advantage of the rain and fog to change to Superman.

Superman catches up to the stolen car and, standing in the road, forces them to swerve into the ditch. Unfortunately, the car is a write-off. Hearing sirens approaching, he thumps the goons so they won't escape before the police arrive, then flies back to Lois.

The following evening, Clark and Lois have hired another car and are driving up Music Mountain to the observatory. Clark remarks that Lois seems a little off. As they approach the observatory, Lois tells Clark to stop the car for a moment. "Mr. Kent, I've been thinking. There's something I want to show you."

"Why, Miss Lane! We've only been working together for a few months," Clark doesn't say.1

Alas, it's only a piece of paper Lois found in the getaway car, which bears a cryptic message: "All set. Professor promises storm at 3:30. Be ready to go when it hits." They realize that at the same time the previous day, according to the police, their carjackers were fleeing a payroll heist. Lois hopes that her uncle isn't connected with the criminals in some way.

As they approach the observatory, they feel something is amiss with the building. Clark knocks, but it's a long time before someone answers: Rogers, Dr. Morton's assistant. He ushers them in, but insists on silence, in case "he" hears from upstairs. Rogers is obviously terrified of something, but before he can tell them what it is, they hear footsteps coming down the stairs . . .

What is the secret Rogers tried to tell them?

Is there a connection between Dr. Morton and the payroll bandits?

Do you think a title like "Horace Morton's Weather Machine" might be giving a way a bit much?

Episode 53: Horace Morton's Weather Machine, Part 2 (1940/06/12)


A few minutes later, Dr. Morton, who has been drawn out of his laboratory by Lois and Clark's arrival despite Elmer Rogers' attempts at stealth, brings them back upstairs. Meanwhile, a "Mr. Collins" telephones Rogers. (The voice actor sounds like the same guy who played the Yellow Mask in previous serials, though I'm sure it's not actually him.) When Rogers tells Collins that Morton is being visited by two reporters, Collins warns him to make sure the professor doesn't grant any interviews. However, what he really called about was the forecast: though the usual weather forecasters are predicting a cool, clear night, he wants to confirm that Morton is predicting fog and hail for 10:45 that evening. It's now 10:30.

Rogers is concerned that Morton's "demonstrations" might be connected with the payroll robbery, as well as some other crimes that have happened lately. It's as though someone knew about them and planned accordingly. Collins responds that if Morton can prove his claims, then "the syndicate will back him to the hilt. If not, it's all off." Rogers threatens to tell Dr. Morton he is being used, if something happens tonight. "I really wouldn't," warns Collins. Mwa-ha-ha! After a few more veiled threats, the phone call ends.

Meanwhile, in the laboratory, Clark and Lois have been trying to cajole Morton into revealing his secret. He won't answer any questions, but he does offer a demonstration. They phone a weather station, which calls for "clear and cool" weather tonight, but Morton says there will be fog and hail, almost immediately. He goes to his equipment, twiddles some controls, and invites the two reporters to go out on the balcony.

Naturally, outdoors it is clear and cool. Clark remarks that Morton's laboratory is nothing like any weather station he's ever seen. He suspects that Morton's "predictions" are actually a diversion. Then, Lois notes that the stars have clouded over, just as they're suddenly bombarded with hail. They rush back inside and close all the windows, as the fog gets thicker and the hailstones larger.

They hear something that sounds like a shot from inside the observatory, and go downstairs to investigate, where they find Elmer Rogers, dead of a gunshot fired at close range . . .

Who killed Rogers?

What secret did he want to tell them?

Was it, "Dr. Morton isn't really predicting the weather, you know"?

I hope my nagging questions this week aren't spoilers, but I find it rather obvious—from the plot, not merely the titles—that Uncle Horace's big secret is that he doesn't predict the weather, he manipulates it. (An alternative title for this serial is, in fact, "Horace Morton's Weather Predictions," which is a little less spoileriffic.) In my opinion, the real mystery here is what the connection is between Morton and the various crimes going on. Is he a co-conspirator with this "syndicate" Collins spoke of? Is he being blackmailed?

This a good start to a new story. While part 2 lacks any Superman action, I really didn't miss it this time. It's been a long time since I heard this serial, so I honestly don't remember what happens next. If the writers can maintain this momentum, it'll go a long way to make up for the silliness that was "Alonso Craig, Arctic Explorer."


1. Come to think of it, at this point I don't know whether the ongoing love triangle between Clark, Lois, and Superman ever comes into play in this series.