Electric Earthquake (1942, Dave Fleischer)

Outside the racist–though not exceptionally racist all things considered–characterization of the villain, a Native American engineer who’s going to level Manhattan because it was stolen from his people, Electric Earthquake is pretty much great. Well, it’s outstanding. For what it does, it’s outstanding.

So there’s the opening, where only Clark Kent (Bud Collyer) thinks the Native American guy has a point–while Julian Noa’s Perry White is a piece of crap, apparently–but neither think the guy is actually going to do anything. Only Lois (Joan Alexander) thinks to trail him back to the docks, where he catches her and takes her down to his undersea laboratory.

The cartoon has already introduced the laboratory, complete with the wires going to the various parts of the ocean floor so the engineer can shock an earthquake. And he does. Manhattan falls apart. Cracks in the streets, skyscrapers crumbling, the Daily Planet having a big chunk fall away. And no nonsense regarding Superman–he’s in action right away (well, after the disaster starts).

And he saves the day. With some complications and some troubles.

There are a couple things not animated well, but otherwise it’s all phenomenal work. Good direction from Fleischer. Some of the animation doesn’t quite match, but it’s still good. The rocky parts are in the explosions. They’re lacking in detail and size.

And, story-wise, it’s not like the engineer turns out to be some great villain or even an interesting one. He doesn’t beat up Lois, which is nice, though he does leave her to drown in his getaway. He’s almost sympathetic.

The Superman action, including his various troubles with electric wiring, collapsing buildings, and just having enough breath, is great. The ending is fun too.

The fun might be the best thing about Earthquake. Even though it’s obviously full of catastrophic danger, Fleischer and his animators enjoy the heck out of Superman’s response to it.

Though Lois gets a particularly bad part. She’s present for almost everything and gets no reaction other than silent fear.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Seymour Kneitel and Izzy Sparber, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Steve Muffati and Arnold Gillespie; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

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


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Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 11: Human Bait

And it’s back to the Martian imperial city or whatever it’d be called this chapter. After a surprising cliffhanger resolution–brainwashed Jean Rogers does indeed stab Buster Crabbe in the back–Crabbe and his male sidekicks (Frank Shannon, Donald Kerr, and Richard Alexander) go running around in the forest a bit before they have to go back to the temple. So much going somewhere and going back. Eventually they get to Alexander’s rocket ship so they can get to the city and rescue Rogers.

Only Charles Middleton and Beatrice Roberts have her and she’s the Human Bait of the title.

Crabbe and Shannon once again fall for one of Middleton’s questionably contrived plans against them, eventually getting them to the cliffhanger. It’s a very boring chapter. The stuff with Rogers having sympathetic (slightly sympathetic anyway) guards is far more interesting than anything in the finale. Except maybe how none of the four editors realized Middleton was supposed to be away from the trap spot only they kept cutting to old footage of him there, conniving.

Oddly weak performance from Roberts this chapter too. She just stares into space while Middleton talks to her. Meanwhile Rogers is in Mars more, only as a zombie. It’s a disappointment.

With only four chapters left, Human Bait is definitely concerning. There might not be anywhere else for Mars to go and it’s a little too early for it to be in such bad shape. Hopefully they pull it off. Hopefully.

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 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

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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