The Magnetic Telescope (1942, Dave Fleischer)

The Magnetic Telescope is about a power-mad astronomer who builds an observatory with a giant magnet on top so he can attract meteors and comets to the Earth for further study. The device, in attracting meteors, is an obvious public safety issue but the astronomer doesn’t care. He’s willing to let thousands die so he can observe a comet.

The cops try to stop him, but he locks himself in and they have to try to destroy the giant magnet’s supporting machinery. They do, but it then means the astronomer can’t control the comet he’s brought to Earth. So he does a run for it.

Lois (Joan Alexander) is the only reporter covering the story. The cops aren’t very worried about her. She ends up trapped. Luckily, when Clark Kent (Bud Collyer) takes a cab over to save her, a fragment of the comet hits the cab and he decides to save the day as Superman. Though his plan isn’t initially much brighter than hitting the comet, which both times knocks him out.

Magnetic is too visually tepid to be exciting. The animation is rushed and lacks detail, the story is weak. Weak might actually be a compliment. The comet fragments hitting the city sequence is all boring–there’s a definite lack of detail throughout, but when not even the set pieces get any attention, well… then there’s nothing to Magnetic Telescope.

The end “it’s all thanks to Superman” tag would almost be amusing if Clark weren’t such a wet blanket. It’s hard to get excited about a Superman too dense to know he can’t stop a comet–and he appears to fly towards it, not jump–not to mention when Clark takes a cab to help possibly mortally injured Lois.

Magnetic it ain’t. But who knows what better animation would’ve done for it.

1/3Not Recommended

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Dan Gordon and Carl Meyer, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Thomas Moore and Myron Waldman; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman/Mad Astronomer), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), and Julian Noa (Perry White); narrated by Jackson Beck.


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Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 10: Incense of Forgetfulness

Okay, Incense of Forgetfulness might be where Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars starts getting into… well, travel trouble. After an exceptionally bad cliffhanger resolution (Buster Crabbe just manages to break free of his bonds, nothing else), there’s about ten minutes of circular narrative. Crabbe, Frank Shannon, and Richard Alexander head back to the Clay kingdom. There’s something of a chase through the palace, but nothing Crabbe can’t take care of by himself… against like five armed guards. Even though Shannon and Alexander are there, it’s all Crabbe.

Back at the Clay kingdom, they reunite with Jean Rogers and a now fully healed Donald Kerr (who was supposed to be convalescing for a few days but whatever). They have to go back to the forest people’s kingdom to get Alexander’s ship. But first, a flashback to the previous serial, and a change in the story of why Alexander is on Mars. Originally he was there to hunt down Ming (Charles Middleton), now he’s there to save his Earth friends. It’s not an earth shattering change (no pun) but it’s some lazy storytelling.

Made even lazier once they go back to the forest, get into it yet again with the forest people, this time with Rogers getting taken prisoner. Crabbe leaves her with Kerr, who obviously isn’t much of a protector. It’s kind of funny watching Kerr and Rogers walk through the forest. She looks like she’s doing a glamour shoot, while he looks utterly terrified. Of course, when Rogers gets grabbed, she doesn’t do anything. Just lets the forest people lead her back to the temple.

The temple where they all were a couple (or three) chapters ago.

Again. Circular.

At least Crabbe figures out Middleton is setting up to double cross Martian queen Beatrice Roberts, but it doesn’t matter here. Forgetfulness is a fairly pointless chapter, with bad editing ruining the possibly dramatic cliffhanger. Rogers is brainwashed by the forest people and now Crabbe’s sworn enemy.

They’ll never get that kiss now.

CREDITS

Directed by Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill; screenplay by Ray Trampe, Norman S. Hall, Wyndham Gittens, and Herbert Dalmas, based the comic strip by Alex Raymond; director of photography, Jerome Ash; edited by Joseph Gluck, Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, and Alvin Todd; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov), Charles Middleton (Emperor Ming), Beatrice Roberts (Queen Azura), Donald Kerr (Happy Hapgood), Richard Alexander (Prince Barin), and C. Montague Shaw (Clay King).


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The Bulleteers (1942, Dave Fleischer)

Three genius mechanical engineers come up with a flying, rocket-powered bullet car, with a penetrating nose, and try to extort millions from Metropolis. When their extortion fails, they attack. After some trouble, Superman stops them. The Bulleteers is nothing if not concise.

The cartoon starts introducing the bullet car, then its owners. They’re in a mountain hideout, of course, but it doesn’t turn out to be important. The emphasis of the cartoon, for the first half, is on the city. Lots and lots of people in Bulleteers–since they’re in a mountain the Bulleteers are able to use a very loud speaker to threaten the city, everyone comes outside to listen. So it’s a lot of beautiful design work, then nice, deliberate animation of the crowds. Until the nighttime attack, Bulleteers’s Metropolis feels vibrant and full.

The attack is a bunch of disaster sequences, as the bullet car easily knocks through police defenses and starts shooting through buildings, sending debris everywhere. Luckily, Lois Lane (Joan Alexander) has ditched Clark Kent (Bud Collyer) and he’s able to put on the longjohns to try to save the day. There’s some good tension in whether or not he’ll be able to do it.

The finale with the Bulleteers is a tad perfunctory, but the cartoon’s already done its stuff–the first part of their attack is on a power plant, which leads to some great disaster inserts. And some of the Superman action is excellent. All of the animation is excellent, regardless of content.

Bulleteers’s exquisite visuals and simple narrative add up to a nice eight minutes.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Bill Turner and Carl Meyer , based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Orestes Calpini and Graham Place; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman/Bulleteer), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Julian Noa (Perry White/Bulleteer), and Jackson Beck (Bulleteer); narrated by Beck.


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Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 9: Symbol of Death

Nine chapters in, Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars hasn’t had any majorly repetitive chapters. The overall story moves along, at least moderately, by the end of the chapter. But not so with Symbol of Death. The chapter opens with Buster Crabbe escaping Charles Middleton’s imprisonment and death ray; it ends with Crabbe imprisoned and Middleton bombarding him with another death ray. A different death ray. Middleton’s got all sorts.

In between, Crabbe tries to escape, but gets caught destroying the beam zapping the Earth’s atmosphere. Now, he uses a weapon near the hanger, far away from where he got caught last chapter; Symbol never addresses why Crabbe went to Middletown’s lab to destroy the Earth-sucker when he just could’ve done it from the hanger.

One big change is Crabbe loses his advantage over Martian queen Beatrice Roberts, forcing Frank Shannon and Richard Alexander to go back to the palace to rescue Crabbe. So they’re in trouble at the end too. And it’s confirmed Middleton is plotting against Roberts. But it’s a fairly boring, pointless chapter just to get all those story switches flipped.

Though there’s one great scene where Alexander knocks around two Martian guards. His helmet’s barely hanging on to his head by the end of it.

And there’s some decent stuff with Crabbe’s escape through the palace city–and, eventually, the first decent miniature effects of the palace city. Usually there’s a strange profile shot but there’s finally the city next to the Martian landscape here. But once you realize Crabbe’s just going somewhere better to destroy the Earth-sucker ray… the circular narrative gets annoying.

It’s competently produced–Crabbe gets nothing to do–and it’s nice to see Shannon and Alexander team up, but Symbol of Death is Mars’s weakest chapter so far.

CREDITS

Directed by Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill; screenplay by Ray Trampe, Norman S. Hall, Wyndham Gittens, and Herbert Dalmas, based the comic strip by Alex Raymond; director of photography, Jerome Ash; edited by Joseph Gluck, Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, and Alvin Todd; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov), Charles Middleton (Emperor Ming), Beatrice Roberts (Queen Azura), Donald Kerr (Happy Hapgood), Richard Alexander (Prince Barin), and C. Montague Shaw (Clay King).


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