Tuesday, March 21, 2023



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

In the same way that a lot of Golden Age superhero comics started out strong with the "origin story" and then devolved into predictable routine, the second and last BLACK SCORPION telefilm blows whatever good will the original movie established.

It's likely that the filmmakers had less money to work with this time, given director Jonathan Winfrey's heavy reliance both on steadicam and on shooting on video rather than film. Every "action" scene in AFTERSHOCK is complete rubbish, and heroine Black Scorpion (Joan Severance) does as little fighting as possible. This may or may not be a consequence of the fact that Severance is listed as "co-producer," which may have translated to, "I don't have to block arduous fight-scenes if I don't want to."

During the opening credits excerpts from the first film provide a quick recap as to how L.A. policewoman Darcy Walker became the costumed vigilante Black Scorpion. In addition to becoming the scourge of Los Angeles criminals, the Scorpion also became Darcy's fantasy-ego, able to make moves on her cop-partner Michael that she Darcy was too inhibited to attempt. However, as I mentioned in my review of the original telefilm, Michael's existence is erased from the sequel. In his place is another good-looking cop-partner named Rick (Whip Hubley), but this time, Darcy has fewer reservations about on-the-job fraternizing. Darcy and Rick live together, with no acknowledgement that police departments usually don't endorse such alliances. 

Argyle (Garrett Morris) is back as the tech-wizard sidekick to Black Scorpion, and the only one who knows her identity as Darcy. This time he's dating the much younger Tender Lovin' from the first film, who has given up prostitution for honest labor. Mayor Worth returns as well, but with a meatier part to play in AFTERSHOCK, and his exchanges with his mistress Babette provide some minor comic relief to the dull proceedings. All four characters became regulars on the 2001 teleseries, though not necessarily played by the same actors.

The Scorpion's first big bust in the movie involves corralling the Gangster Prankster (Stoney Jackson), a sort of mashup between the Batman villains Joker and Two-Face. However, Mayor Worth commits the movie's first major villainy. Seismologist Ursula Undershaft (Sherrie Rose) constructs a device designed to counter the repeated earthquakes that have been plaguing the City of Angels lately. Worth tells Babette that he needs more earthquakes in order to get federal aid and balance his books, so he sends a couple of henchmen to sabotage Undershaft's preventive device. The result is that the device creates a more extensive quake, and Undershaft is almost killed in the carnage. She escapes death, but in a trope clearly lifted from BATMAN RETURNS, the scientist's trauma causes her to adopt the super-villain persona of Aftershock. 

Aftershock decides to destroy Los Angeles with her machine, but the Black Scorpion gets in her way. Despite the fact that Aftershock wins the steadicam-happy fight, she decides to break Gangster Prankster and his homeys out of jail so that they can keep the heroine out of Aftershock's heavily pomaded hair. The Prankster does so by knocking on the door of his former getaway driver, Argyle. Despite the fact that Prankster doesn't know anything about Argyle's connection to the Scorpion, the crook wants the ex-crook to make him a car just like the vigilante's. Prankster kidnaps Tender Lovin' to make Argyle obey, and so he ends up giving Prankster the Scorpionmobile. However, later both Scorpion and Argyle later storm Prankster's hideout to rescue Tender Lovin', so I don't know why they just didn't do that from the start. Gangster Prankster apparently dies, though he's revived later for the series.

Throughout Darcy's interactions with Rick, he seems to sense that she's not fully engaged with their relationship, but never realizes that it's because of her double identity. There's a lot of jibber-jabber about Darcy wondering if she really nurtures some deep-seated fear, and this plays into the climax, wherein Scorpion and Aftershock compare traumas and bury the hatchet. Aftershock heroically dies to prevent L.A.'s destruction, but she too comes back to life for the TV show, reverting to super-villainy without explanation.

There are a few sex-scenes but they're as dull as the fights. Severance seems distant and affected this time, so if she was offered to reprise her role in the teleseries, her absence was no great loss. The worst episode of the TV show is not as bad as AFTERSHOCK.

Monday, March 20, 2023



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*


From glancing over the IMDB credits of director Jonathan Winfrey and writer Craig J. Nevius, it looks to me as if the BLACK SCORPION telefilm and its sequel are the standout accomplishments of their respective careers. That might seem like faint praise, but it's not meant that way. The two SCORPIONS are very nearly the only memorable entries out of the thirty telefilms that appeared under the Showtime ROGER CORMAN PRESENTS rubric-- and, perhaps more significantly, they do a better job of emulating the Tim Burton BATMAN films than did Joel Schumacher in the same year of 1995.

SCORPION's heroine Darcy Walker (Joan Severance) is first seen as a little girl whose cop-father (Rick Rossovich) reads her the classic story of The Scorpion and the Frog. Walker then leaves Darcy home alone (Darcy's mother is never mentioned) while he answers a call to pursue armed (and manically overacting) thieves. Walker wounds the two crooks and transports them to an ER, where they manage to take a doctor hostage. Walker recklessly shoots at the thugs and hits the doctor first, though managing to take out the crooks as well.

Fast-forward eighteen years. Darcy's become a Los Angeles cop like her father was-- and I say "was" because Walker got fired from the police for killing the doctor. Walker's become a commonplace security guard, though he still believes that, just as the scorpion of the fable had its own irreducible nature, his nature is that of a defender of the social order. Darcy, for her part, is a by-the-book cop, though, this being a Corman movie, she first appears in a hooker-getup as part of a sting operation to snare a murderous pimp. Darcy's snitch, a prostitute named Tender Lovin', claims that the lady-cop's handsome partner Michael (Bruce Abbott) has a thing for Darcy. The dedicated policewoman doesn't want romantic involvement (Electra complex, anyone?) and resents Michael's gallant gestures. Her feminist ire proves justified when Michael is too protective of her and messes up their operation. Later the brutal pimp will have the honor of being the first victim of a very different kind of sting.

After a brief introduction of the precinct where Darcy works, as well as her future ally the tech-head Argyle (Garrett Morris), Darcy goes to a bar to meet her security-officer dad-- but for the last time. Moments after Walker has complained about lawyers being the enemies of the police, in walks a lawyer from the D.A.'s office, who promptly shoots Walker dead. Later the attorney has no memory of committing the crime, and when Darcy tries to make him talk, her weaselly superior expels her from the force.

Around the same time, a heavily armored villain known as Breath-Taker assembles a motley crew of oddball crooks to commit some "random crimes" in L.A.-- though his real plan has something to do with establishing an anti-pollution enterprise in Smoggy L.A. Town. Though the crimes could be easy ways to acquire capital, their real purpose is to give a new heroine a concerted threat to battle.

For Darcy won't abandon her cop-nature simply because she's fired. She dons a skimpy black costume (complete with a hair-braid), somehow gets hold of boot-jets and a ring that shoots an electrical charge, and proceeds to fight crime as a costumed vigilante. You might think she would be the one to proclaim her scorpion-identity to the world, but it's her prostitute-snitch who dubs her Black Scorpion because the heroine's hair-braid reminds the witness of a scorpion's tail. (?) A little later, she confides in former car-thief Argyle and he becomes her tech-wizard, even constructing her a "Scorpion-mobile."

In the heroine's first bout with two of Breath Taker's minions-- a pair of flamboyant lady wrestlers-- Black Scorpion is defeated and almost captured by police. She gets away after wrestling around with former partner Michael, planting a kiss on his lips before knocking him out with a punch. Being a vigilante loosens up Darcy's erotic urges, and she pursues her former partner aggressively. However, like many an avenger before her, Darcy finds that her masked identity has overshadowed her real one, for Michael's obviously a little more taken with the Scorpion. Later in the story, Black Scorpion obliges Michael's slight SM tendencies by cornering him in his apartment and having a little rough trade with him.

Breath Taker announces to the city a rather incoherent plan: he threatens to release poison gas throughout the city, but he'll allow citizens to purchase gas masks. Darcy and Argyle figure out that his real scheme is to use a hypnotic gas, administered through the masks, to take control of the populace. It's still not a believable scheme, but at least it leads the good guys to Breath Taker's real identity: a cardio-pulmonary specialist with the epic-sounding name of "Noah Goddard." But it can't be Noah Goddard, because that (ta-da) is the doctor whom Darcy's father shot to death.

Of course Goddard isn't dead, though his lungs were so damaged by gunfire that he has to wear heavy armor and a mask to continue breathing. The script doesn't explain how or why Goddard faked his death, but it does bring us full circle by stating that he used his hypno-gas to compel an innocent attorney to shoot Darcy's dad-- little realizing that by so doing, he would create his own nemesis.

Though Nevius' script is riddled with holes, even leaving out the ones I've already mentioned, he delivers on many favorite tropes of the superhero genre. The vigilante who commits crimes to defeat criminals. The hero's regular identity, eclipsed by his/her own idealized image. The villain with a mysterious connection to the hero's father. Nevius also sticks assorted campy incidents into his script-- for instance, one of the lady wrestlers won't fight the heroine until her wrestler-partner "tags" her. But there's not really a "camp" vision here as there was in the better BATMAN '66 episodes, so all of these incidents are just comic relief.

All of the villains tend to overact while the heroic types underact: even mouthy Garrett Morris' character is relatively restrained as the tech-sidekick who joins the Scorpion's crusade-- well, Just Because. Severance handles the action scenes well enough for a performer who clearly was not a martial artist, and her height does make her fairly convincing, particularly in her domme-scene with Michael. Unfortunately for his character (though perhaps fortunately for the actor playing him), Michael learns Darcy's secret, which meant that he had no more utility as a character. Thus Michael vanishes from the Scorpion's world in both the 1997 sequel and the 2001 teleseries, though both Tender Lovin' and Argyle remain part of said cosmos.

Thursday, March 16, 2023



FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

From the standpoint of all inattentive juvenile serial-watchers in 1936, PHANTOM RIDER was probably more satisfactory than FLASH GORDON. If a kid didn't want to pay that much attention to what was going on, or even be tied down to watching every episode of a chapterplay to keep up with developments, RIDER would be perfect. It would be easy to miss two or three episodes at a time and not really notice any difference. Even if you missed the conclusion of the serial's only memorable cliffhanger, you could probably figure out what happened. In said cliffhanger, the hero and his girlfriend hide from the villains in a closet, but by coincidence the bad guys take it into their heads to hold a markmanship contest by shooting at a wanted poster, which they hang-- on the door of the closet. (Unsurprising spoiler: the good guys save themselves by ducking really low.)

So once again we're in the Old West, and vile villains are trying to drive all the settlers out of a valley because the railroad's planning to buy up all the property from the lucky owners. Delaney, secret head of an outlaw gang, wants to be the only lucky fellow. A state ranger named Buck Grant (Buck Jones) investigates, but for unstated reasons he decides that he'll dress up in an all-white duster, hat and mask and chase down outlaws under the name of the Phantom Rider. As the Rider routs outlaws and they try to uncover his true identity, there's lots of horse-riding, a lot of shooting in which almost no one gets hit, and nearly no fistfights involving either the Rider or his alter ego. In other words, this is the most slackly plotted serial in my experience.

Two elements made RIDER bearable though. In contrast to most serials, there's a consistent romantic subplot between Grant and lady rancher Mary (Marla Shelton). This was a surprise since most serials, particularly western serials, avoid romance like the plague, and so do most B-westerns of the era. The frequent use of romance put me more in mind of a feature film of the period.

RIDER's other plus was an emphasis on oddball comic dialogue. In the serial's most memorable moment, Grant draws on two outlaws and forces them to toss away their guns. Then he tells them it's time for a game called "dog eat dog." What's the game, you ask? Well, not that big a deal: he forces them to take off their trousers, and then he tosses their pantalones up into a high tree. It's not a great scene, but it was diverting.

Still, only for serial completists.




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, sociological*

Almost of the magical elements of GOLDEN ARROW have strong antecedents in the 1924 THIEF OF BAGDAD, with the exception of the one for which ARROW is titled. There is a mystic bow-and-arrow in the 1940 THIEF OF BAGHDAD, with which the hero Abu slays the villainous Jaffar, but the one in this Italian-made fantasia has a very different function. To the credit of the five writers who produced the ARROW script, their magic bow provides an interesting variation on themes introduced by the 1924 Fairbanks fantasy.

In the 1924 film, the Thief of the title is a wily rascal whose career of thievery comes to an end when he falls in love with the caliph's daughter, and she with him. Since fabulously wealthy rulers have come to Baghdad to sue for the princess' hand, commoner Ahmed can only distinguish himself by seeking out a great treasure in a faraway domain. ARROW keeps this basic structure, in that its hero Hassan (the very un-Arabic American actor Tab Hunter) also competes with royal potentates for the hand of a princess, here named Jamila (Rosanna Podesta). However, unlike Ahmed, Hassan is a prince who doesn't know his true ancestry.

Hassan, who has been raised since childhood amid a bandit-tribe, comes to Damascus pretending to be yet another prince from a foreign land. His purpose is purely pecuniary: he intends to abduct Jamila and hold her for ransom. But before Hassan can put his plot into action, he has to submit to a test given to all of the suitors: to attempt drawing the great Black Bow and firing the sacred Golden Arrow. The drawing of the bow doesn't just demonstrate strength, as with a similar weapon in Homer's ODYSSEY; the one who can fire the arrow also shows his merit to be king of Damascus (currently ruled by a Grand Vizier, one Baktiar). None of the other suitors can draw the Black Bow, but Hassan, who only takes part in the contest to cover his real plans, surprisingly does so. Further, the golden arrow doesn't act like an ordinary arrow, for it zooms off into the distance, far out of Damascus. Later Hassan will learn that the bow and arrow worked for him because he really is the heir to the Damascus throne, though later the hero will have to seek the arrow (instead of treasure) to prove his right to kingship.

Hassan, being loyal only to his thief-tribe, signals his hidden allies to attack, and the surprise assault overpowers the Damascus guards. Hassan and his fellow bandits successfully escape the city and hole up at some desert oasis. However, once the hero sees Jamila without her veil, he falls hard for her. He ends up betraying his kindred and sending Jamila back to her royal palace.

This act of selflessness comes to the attention of Allah's heavenly minions, who are called "genii" in the English language translation, perhaps because "angels" might seem out of place in an Arabian fantasy. Three rather comical genii descend to earth and, after convincing Hassan of their true nature, inform him that he is the rightful heir to the Damascus throne, and that his father was slain by none other than evil Grand Vizier Baktiar. The genii want Hassan to secure his kingship by recovering the lost golden arrow. Hassan agrees, but only if they spirit him to Damascus so that he can see Jamila again. After the lovers plight their troth, the genii whisk the hero off to faraway lands to prove his mettle, which is generally in line with the course of Fairbanks' Ahmed. The genii aren't supposed to help Hassan, though the hero, being a bit of a rogue, manages to trick the genii into using their magic on his behalf a couple of times.

Meanwhile, following a subplot from the original THIEF, Jamila's other suitors clamor for her to decide between them. Like the original princess, this one tells the other rulers to compete for her hand by retrieving marvelous prizes. But in a related subplot, one of the rulers has his army stationed outside Damascus, planning to invade the city no matter who wins the contest.

Though Hassan's journey to a fantasy-domain serves roughly the same plot-purpose as Ahmed's quest, the writers and director Antonio Margheriti drop the ball here, at the very section that the film ought to be ramping up the fantasy-content. ARROW's budget was not on the same level as the American THIEF, but Hassan's adventures in fantasy-land-- meeting a queen with some subjects who can turn into flame-beings, or another queen in a land where time has stopped-- seem desultory at best. Hunter's Hassan is tempted by the beautiful women, but his exploits are low-energy and unable to sustain a sense of magical wonder. 

He does recover the golden arrow, so the genii obligingly whisk him back to Damascus (using a very comical method I'd rather not comment upon). Once Hassan is back in Damascus, he takes another leaf from the book of the 1940 THIEF, gaining access to a flying carpet (a gift supplied by one of the competing suitors). He then flies forth to attack the enemy troops with his bow, since the golden arrow can strike down opponents and then return to the bow to be fired again. The arrow doesn't kill anyone, though, and neither do Hassan's allies the three genii, who collect a bunch of pottery-jars from the city and drop said jars upon the heads of the troops. Amazingly, these limited assaults drive the whole army away, after which Hassan avenges himself upon the enemy commander and the Grand Vizier by hurling them into a pit of mud.

Though ARROW can't sustain a sense of wonder as well as the two classic THIEVES, or even the 1961 Steve Reeves remake, it's a diverting enough fantasy. Hunter occasionally manages to sell the audience on Hassan's roguish character, but not so much on the hero's passion for his lady, and the beautiful Podesta comes up short in that department as well. Again, the idea of the golden arrow that represents Hassan's kingship-- which I could loosely compare to the Persian idea of a movable kingship-glory, the Khvarenah-- is the most intriguing element in this very mixed bag of Arabian tricks.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

BRUCE GENTRY's is said to be the first American film to exploit the image of the flying saucer, which term became common parlance in the United States thanks to a highly publicized UFO sighting in 1947. But though one or two previous serials of the forties had included alien plotters, here the saucers are known to be created by a secret cabal in the U.S, believed to be working for a "foreign power." This means that the saucers-- which can cause planes to malfunction and fall from the sky, or can destroy things by ramming into them-- are the same kind of super-weapons over which serial heroes and villains had contended since the silent era. GENTRY's producer Sam Katzman even worked on such a super-weapon struggle in 1937's BLAKE OF SCOTLAND YARD. The great advantage of super-weapons for the serial format was that, even when the combatants weren't fighting over the weapon itself, they could spend time fighting over some resource needed to power the weapon-- and a lot of this sort of thing happens in GENTRY.

The serial was based on a 1945 comic strip about a troubleshooting aviator, done in the Milton Caniff style and published two years before Caniff himself unleashed his better known feature about a heroic pilot, STEVE CANYON. My impression is that the original strip, like CANYON, included some exotic adventure but no actual metaphenomenal elements. Since the GENTRY strip was not especially popular in its day, Columbia probably acquired the rights at minimal expense. Yet GENTRY the serial spends a lot more time on varied locations than Columbia's 1947 JACK ARMSTRONG, so maybe directors Spencer G. Bennett and Thomas Carr were given a little more money to work with.

The hero (Tom Neal, who did the heavy lifting in the serial JUNGLE GIRL) is chartered to take a government agent on a flight, but first has to rescue the agent from two assailants. During the flight, a mysterious disc draws near Bruce's plane and gives off heat waves that immobilize the plane's controls. Nevertheless, the skilled pilot lands the plane without harm to himself or his passenger. One might expect that the agent would then enlist Bruce against the plotters controlling the discs, but the agent simply disappears from the story. Instead, the head of a private company, name of Radcliffe, hires Bruce to investigate the discs. Radcliffe suspects that the saucers are powered by the rare element "platonium," and there's only one known source for the element. 

But just so Bruce isn't constantly fighting with bad guys over a rare element, the plotters also kidnap a famed scientist, Doctor Benson, to help them with their project. It's through Benson's eyes that viewers meet the men who operate the flying discs, though the leader, known as "The Recorder," only speaks to his men and his prisoner through the vehicle of tape recordings. (Not the most inspired choice; what if someone asks the evildoer a pertinent question?) To change things up, sometimes Benson sends the Recorder's thugs to retrieve items he needs from his laboratory, and that too eventuates fights between the thugs, the hero, and the hero's allies.

Though Bruce is a loner, he quickly befriends a pair of siblings who manage a ranch near the only known source of platonium, and thus is almost certainly the disc-makers' source of the element. Of this brother and sister duo, Frank proves an able fighting ally to Bruce. His sister Nita doesn't provide anything but a little spunky dialogue, but at least she doesn't just sit around making coffee for the guys. The villains are not very interesting characters, though the Number Two man is played by familiar serial-player Tristram Coffin, and unfortunately the revelation of the Record'r's true identity is lame beyond belief. The fight-scenes and cliffhangers are much better done than most of those in the Columbia chapterplays, though none are exceptional. Some serial-enthusiasts didn't like the cheap animation used for the flying discs, but I'd rather have a cheap effect than a super-weapon that remains conveniently offstage for the entire story.

The dialogue flows better than in most Columbia serials. I've mentioned some salty lines given to the Nita character, but there's a little more attention to individual character overall. In the opening chapter, Radcliffe's secretary Louise (unbilled) decides to bring Bruce to her employer by getting a couple of men to menace her so she can play damsel in distress for Bruce's benefit. This was a rather loopy plan, but at least it wasn't boring. Unfortunately Louise only appears a few more times in the serial, flirting with Bruce in the office but nothing more.

The oddest thing about the script is that various people are aware of Bruce's existence even though he's not famous for any great deeds that we know of, like, say, Flash Gordon. Louise seems to know his ladies' man reputation (though we see no evidence of it), a cop knows Bruce from his ID alone, and a newspaper headline addressing the flying discs proclaims that "Bruce Gentry is on the case" or words to that effect. Given that the comic strip wasn't all that well known in its day, maybe the writers were told to pump up the hero's reputation to enthrall audiences, even though viewers aren't told why he's so cool. But good locations, a strong performance by Tom Neal, and a few quirky moments put BRUCE GENTRY firmly in the range of the middle-range of quality serials.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

While PRINCESS WARRIOR is an unremarkable junk-film-- shot on limited locations with very limited funds, by people who never became well-known in the movie industry-- it does offer me the chance to talk about the criteria I use to designate an adventure-filled comedy from an adventure with comic elements.

I subscribe to the theory that comedy's appeal is that of "incongruity," as suggested by the philosopher Schopenhauer. Most of the time, comedies use either verbal wordplay or slapstick violence to engender a sense of an incongruous world. However, some stories with adventure-elements invoke the ludicrous just by the dominant look of the characters. Japan's gentleman-thief Lupin III oscillates between comic absurdities and straightforward daredevil action, but Lupin himself, with his angular body and monkey-like face, always evokes the ludicrous. Same thing with the DC comic book CAPTAIN CARROT, which hardly ever includes a real joke or a pratfall, but features a bunch of funny-animal superheroes fighting funny-animal villains.

And what's the dominant image of the kickass heroine of PRINCESS WARRIOR, who can clobber grown men with a few choice blows? Well, she spends most of the film clad in a wet T-shirt that reads "Better When Wet." From that image alone, I think her place in the annals of ludicrous cinema is secure. Of course, it also helps that her proper name is Ovule, which word means "an unfertilized ovum," while her main opponent, Curette, is named after a small knife used in biopsies. Oh, and other characters have names like Exzema, Bulemia, and Ricketsia.

The nub of the conflict between Ovule (Sharon Lee Jones) and Curette (Dana Fredsti) is played fairly straight, though, aside from the Ed Wood look of their alien homeworld. Ovule and Curette are sisters who stand to inherit the rulership of their planet when their ailing mother kicks the bucket. Since Curette is a cruel bitch whose every word sounds like she's auditioning for the part of Joan Crawford in a MOMMIE DEAREST revival, the current queen gives the much nicer Ovule the nod. I'm not sure if the Queen Mother passes away just then, but Curette, who has a gang of henchwomen, immediately decides that Ovule's got to die. Having no other recourse, Ovule uses a teleport device to hurl herself to another planet, which just happens to be 1989 Earth. Nothing daunted, Curette, Exzema and Bulemia use the same device to follow. The teleport-device must have been made by the same inventors as those that made the Terminator's time-portal, since the ladies all have to travel naked (which provides the film's only moments of live nude girls).

By the way, did I mention that the unnamed world is a matriarchy, in which all the residents seem to be hot young women? Even the Queen Mother, who's a little older, is a glamourpuss. Not till the film's end is it mentioned that there are men on the planet, but they're slaves of their feminine overlords.

Anyway, naked Ovule happens to manifest near a club holding a wet T-shirt contest, so the exiled princess snags a spare shirt and tries to take her leave. She gets pulled into the contest (which takes up a fair amount of time-- not complaining, though). Ovule clouts a grabby promoter and escapes. The club's deejay Bob takes a shine to the comely blonde and goes after her, eventually offering her a place to stay. For some reason Ovule won't consider Bob's offer, but she will flag down a passing automobile and appeal to an equally unknown (and not good looking) stranger for shelter. The latter guy tries to take Ovule to his place. Bob interferes and gets punched out, after which Ovule clobbers the clobberer. Did she have to see Bob play Galahad before trusting him? Maybe, since she does go with him.

Curette and her followers wind up at the club, and in the best Arnie S. fashion they beat up some locals and take their clothes. They learn from the promoter that Bob took Ovule to his place, and to save his own skin the sleaze guides the alien amazons to Bob's address. Curette thinks that Ovule and Bob are lovers and decides to torture Ovule mentally before killing her. In this lightweight flick's only gruesome moment, Curette orders a henchwoman to heat up a metal spoon, promising to stick it right in poor Bob's mouth. 

Up to this point, the film, while stupid, has at least been energetic. Bob is then saved when a couple of largely incompetent cops barge in and try to arrest everyone. Bob and Ovule escape, and the cops, instead of turning in their other prisoners to other cops, drive around with Curette and her minions in the back of the patrol car. I'd cut the filmmakers a tiny bit of slack here, though, because if Curette and company were taken to a precinct, that would be the end of the conflict. But there's no excuse for all the tedious chase-scenes that serve to pad the running time. Prior to the climax of the film, the only points of interest is that when Ovule explains her alien origins to Bob, he thinks she's nuts and tries to get her mental help, only to end up escaping with her again. At one point, the betrayed Ovule reveals her priorities re: good slave-keeping by uttering the deahtless line, "If I weren't so tired I would beat you." Nevertheless, all the fighting and running may have an effect on her adrenaline, since she finally makes love to her Galahad. At the conclusion the film ramps up its energy slightly when Ovule and Curette square off and have a fistfight in an abandoned warehouse. After the heroine wins, her allies from the homeworld send her a teleport-device, and she persuades Bob to be her co-ruler. Oh, and she promises to do away with slavery as soon as they get back, just to ensure a happy ending. 

As a last touch of not-funny comedy, the producers imitated a schtick from MST3K-- which had premiered three years previous-- in that at the very end of the credit sequence, a line of dialogue from the film is replayed.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023



FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

As far as I know, DON DAREDEVIL is the first of two times that Republic Studios recycled footage from the 1944 ZORRO'S BLACK WHIP to cut costs on a new, equally western-themed serial. This was made possible by the writers devising a new hero with a costume very similar to that of an earlier one, so that clips from the earlier work could be repurposed. I made a comparison between the 1944 WHIP and the second clip-show serial, 1954's MAN WITH THE STEEL WHIP here. At the time I wrote that dual review, I was amused that sometimes I could see the male hero being "played" by a female stunt double for the heroine of ZORRO'S BLACK WHIP. DON DAREDEVIL came three years before STEEL WHIP, and on the whole the 1951 serial looks better, with less use of clips that make the male hero look as if the size of his body changes. 

Unfortunately, all the plot-elements of this 12-episode chapterplay suffer more "recycling" than any visual elements. In BLACK WHIP, the heroine took the place of her brother, the first Black Whip, who was slain by the outlaws whom the young woman then pursues. In the 1951 serial, the first Don Daredevil was a costumed vigilante who overcame some unspecified outlaws, but he's been deceased for some time. In order to battle a new set of criminals,the "Daredevil" mantle is then taken up by the original's descendant, which mirrors the developments of 1937's ZORRO RIDES AGAIN-- which gives DON DAREDEVIL more of a likeness to the Zorro-movies than ZORRO'S BLACK WHIP, where the name Zorro only appears in the 1944 serial's title. Presumably the original "Don Daredevil" was an actual Spanish "don," since it's a major point that the unnamed town where all the action happens was founded by Caucasians from a Spanish land-grant.

Doug Stratton (familiar heavy Roy Barcroft), prosperous town-citizen, has the courts invalidate the land-grant. Thus all the settlers have dubious ownership of their property, which will make it easier for Stratton to buy up all the land cheap. To make certain the settlers sell, Stratton secretly commands a passel of outlaws with whom he terrorizes people. Stratton sets his sights upon the ranch once owned by the man who was Don Daredevil (though Stratton does not know this), where the late hero's grand-niece Patricia (Aline Towne) lives. Stratton is thwarted when Patricia's cousin Lee (Ken Curtis) rides up and shows off his law-degree by blocking Stratton's acquisition. The villain rides away, planning new villainies.

Lee, Patricia, and Patricia's ranch-hand Buck (Hank "GREEN ACRES" Patterson) are the only ones who know that the former owner of the ranch was Don Daredevil. As they reflect on the threat Stratton poses, Lee gets the bright idea of becoming the new Don Daredevil, and the other two immediately agree with him. Unlike Diego de la Vega, Lee gets into fights almost as often as his masked alter ego, and sometimes receives assistance from other locals in contending with the raiders.

For the next eleven chapters, nearly all of the fights, stunts and cliffhangers in DON DAREDEVIL whether original material or clips, are re-iterations of previous fights, stunts and cliffhangers from earlier Republic serials. One chapter even swipes a schtick from a prose Zorro tale, in which the masked hero is visibly wounded by the evildoers, causing the bad guys to see if the man they suspect of being Zorro's alter ego has an identical wound. This is the closest this make-work serial comes to suspense, and Lee gets out of the difficulty the usual way: someone else dons the costume and diverts the villains' suspicions. As it happens, Patricia takes up the costume very briefly to provide this diversion, though unlike the heroine in ZORRO'S BLACK WHIP Aline Towne's character gets no action-scenes.

Aside from the presence of Barcroft as the main villain, DON DAREDEVIL's main asset for modern viewers is that Ken Curtis, the actor essaying the non-clip exploits of the titular hero, is today best known for playing the scruffy "Festus Hagen" of GUNSMOKE fame.