Saturday, 11 September 2021
Saturday, 17 April 2021
Tuesday, 1 December 2020
Monday, 21 September 2020
Chapter Ten: The Deadly Fog
...and we get another turn by our old friend the reprise reprieve, as the recap shows us that as Rocket Man shuttles into Durken's decimator death trap, he regains his consciousness and footing enough to leap to safety between Durken taking a dive and the bomb-clock striking ten and taking the truck to bits. I know it's a trope I need to deal with and get over, but grrrr.
Shrugging off his umpteenth near death experience, Jeff abandons pursuit of the three fugitives (say, that would make a good name for a movie!) and junior birdmans his way back to the cave lab, whereupon he's surprised mid-unmaking by Burt; the wary PR guru making a very gee-whiz "So you were the Rocket Man all the time!" exclamation upon discovering confirmation of the totally bleeding obvious. Jeff decides to fill Winslow in, prompting a clip show flashback montage from previous chapters of the serial. This is very much 'The One With The Backstory Of Rocket Man' in Friends parlance, King providing brief bits of narration over the older footage and prompting variations of "So that's what happened!" from Burt as he's gradually brought up to speed. Practical and probably necessary as a glimpsed once to probably never be seen again part of a thirteen-week run in the pre-video age, but not the best episode to sit through when watching the serial in quicker succession.
The duo do though come to the conclusion that Dr Vulcan is definitely a choice between Professor Bryant (I. Stanford Jolley) and Dr Graffner (Marshall Bradford), and that the villain has been seated at their conference table alongside them the whole time, being part of all their top secret discussions and planning. Realising that either of their eminent suspects is more than capable of shielding the thromium waves of the decimator and therefore making it impossible to track, they know that time is of the essence in capturing the real Vulcan before he can utilise the device. Meanwhile, the sinister Vulcan plots in the shadows and informs Durken that he plans to deal with Jeff King once and for all and has to this end arranged for King to take a trip into town on a decoy rendezvous. As King takes a taxi for his appointment at the Oasis Hotel with Professor Moore on"a matter of vital importance" the cab driver henchman leaps from the moving vehicle, leaving King locked inside as Vulcan taunts him via the radio speaker that he is guiding the car via remote control - as the car fills with clouds of gas - on Jeff's "last ride" and that "even the Rocket Man cannot help you now"...
Chapter Eleven: Secret of Dr Vulcan
...and the reprise reprieve strikes yet again, as we are shown this time how after Jeff had turned down an offer from Glenda and Burt to drive him to his destination Ms Thomas had glanced back to see the cab driver's dive and the pair raced back to their car to take off in hot pursuit of the hackney cab of death. As the fumes consume Jeff to his doom, Glenda pulls her car alongside the taxi long enough for burly Burt to take the leap between moving vehicles, gain access to the driver's seat and pull over. As the gasping and coughing King is pulled from the "gas chamber on wheels" as Glenda so colourfully puts it, the consternated Vulcan and Durken watch on as Jeff asserts that their cunning opponent may have finally overplayed his hand - he recognised the smell of the gas as Fuminol: a rocket fuel that will lead them to whomever placed an order for the substance and thus trace Dr Vulcan. Durken is duly dispatched by his dire director to the Hunter Chemicals factory in order to get there before the heroic trio and destroy all records of the Fuminol purchase order.
As Jeff, Glenda and Burt arrive at the Hunter plant, they are just in the nick of time to catch Durken and a confederate about to leave - leading to the regulation two-fisted punch up that quickly becomes a gunfight. In the yards of a chemical plant, firing bullets from behind and towards various crates and canisters. man, these guys really are harbouring a wish for self-immolation. Good thing Glenda decided to stay in the safety of her car.
Realising that they can't make it back to their own getaway car, Durken and his henchdude decide to hijack the nearest truck and make a break for it with an uninvited passenger as Burt makes his second heroic traffic leap of the day and boards the back of the lorry as the villains pull away and leaving Jeff and Glenda to resort to a vehicular pursuit. As they race to catch up, though, Burt is swiftly overpowered and Durken lights the incriminating purchase papers on fire before untrussing the canvas roof of the truck so that it flies off in the window and blows onto the windscreen of Glenda's car - blinding her and King and causing the car to veer over the side of the road and into the river below...
...and just when I'm about to sigh and moan about yet another cliffhanger followed by a "but you didn't see this!" resolution, that isn't the end of the episode, and we see King and Ms Thomas swimming to the surface and safety. Elsewhere, Vulcan receives the glad tidings that the papers have been disposed of, but also the news that his lackeys have Burt Winslow captive. Spurning the request that Burt be dispatched, Vulcan seems delighted and remarks that he could be of great use as live bait for King, and contacts Jeff with the offer of a meeting if he values his friend's life. Placing the hog-tied and gagged Burt in a room, the door of which his been rigged with machinery to deliver a massive volt shocking surprise to anyone who enters via that portal, Vulcan and his goons await King's arrival. But Jeff has donned the rocket suit in order to jet to the assignation early, and enters in through the window (intruder window!) to be confronted by the villain face to face. As Bryant gloats that he took the name of Vulcan to symbolise his dreams of conquest through "the power of steel" he forces our hero at gunpoint back towards the electrified entrance...
Last Chapter: Wave of Disaster
...and just as he is about to step between the electrical arc machines, Burt manages to use his freed feet to kick the unnamed (his shirt may even be red for the all the monochrome film tells me) co-henchmen straight past him into the sparks of death, allowing him to leap to safety. Untying Burt as Vulcan and Durken flee the scene, Jeff determines to alert the authorities as to Bryant's identity and get them to put out a dragnet (Dunn-de-dun-dun - just the facts, ma'am) and Burt informs him that he overheard their plans to utilise the decimator in some fantastical supervillain extortion plot involving the city of New York. Ransacking the place, they find a receipt for a plane ticket bought by Bryant direct to the city that never sleeps and fear that they may already be too late.
Repairing to Science Associates' administration building, the pair along with Glenda discover that the diabolical duo took off in a small plane heading for the Big Apple, and determine that the authorities there must be warned, and that they might just make it there ahead of the villains using an airliner. Soaring into NYC, they convince the chairman of the civil defence committee to heed their dire warnings about a weapon that can reduce mountains of stone into running rivers of molten lava just as Dr Vulcan's ransom demand over the city for one beellion dollars (honestly, post-Austin Powers, is there any other way to be able to hear a line like that?) arrives. Refusing to give in to the blackmail demands of a madman, the councilman determines to wield the entire police force to discover Vulcan's lair.
Landing on his secret hideaway on Fisherman's Island, 300 miles out from New York harbour, Bryant/Vulcan trains the decimator upon the undersea geological faultline between the island and the city, ready to unleash the molten fury of the ocean bed if his demand is not met by 2 P.M. As time ticks, the police sweep of the city has failed to find any trace and - his ransom unpaid - Vulcan fires the device. As the resultant underwater earthquake sends a tsunami rolling inland, the panicking authorities order an emergency evacuation of the city, directing the fleeing inhabitants to head to the Westchester hills. As the incoming wave of destruction causes first the shoreline and then the city's mighty skyscrapers to buckle and fall in an impressive model effects sequence*, Jeff determines Vulcan's likely location upon the island and dons the rocket pack to jet there ahead of the fleet of bomber planes dispatched in a last-ditch attempt to destroy the decimating device. Taking out first the villains and then the machine (with his trusty ray gun), King takes off again just in time as Vulcan's lair is blown to smithereens and flies from the exploding wreckage back towards the major city whose shoreline and skyline has, like the sky that Ben E. King looked upon, crumbled and fallen into the sea. Which is a bit bleak, really.
*A note on the NYC destruction sequences: this was footage originally filmed back in 1933 for the Pre-Code RKO disaster film Deluge. Republic had purchased the footage (not the entire movie, just the model effects sequences) for use in their own works, and the scenes were incorporated into the self-explanatory 1939 movie S.O.S. Tidal Wave as well as the 1941 serial Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc and eventually this serial. Not many years later, Deluge was considered a lost film and these effects sequences were all that remained. Happily though for those of us who mourn the very existence of the concept of lost films, an Italian-dubbed print of the picture was discovered in the 1980s in the basement of a house belonging to Italian exploitation film director Luigi Cozzi. The subsequent subtitled re-release would have been marvel enough, but as recently as 2016 a nitrate negative of the film with its original English language soundtrack was located in France and the movie was fully restored and released the following year. Now there's a happy ending.
Sunday, 30 August 2020
Wednesday, 12 August 2020
Tuesday, 11 August 2020
Chapter Seven: Molten Menace
...and yet, in another of those "well, you just didn't see this last time" twists that I so know and love (like a mutant stepchild kept in the attic), we see that Jeff recovered from the gunshot long enough to leap from the truck inside the warehouse just before the driverless vehicle caroomed - yes, that's a word - to its doom. Happy that at least Vulcan didn't manage to get his hands on the device which now languishes at the bottom of the river, Jeff and Prof. Millard head back to the cave where after laughing that Dirken must now be convinced that King is not the Rocket Man (maybe that was the title of Tristram Coffin's first volume of autobiography, a la Leonard Nimoy's I Am Not Spock) Millard bemoans that it's the superior intellect of the malignant Vulcan that is keeping him languishing in this subterranean haven and that finding Vulcan's weakness must be their priority. As Millard has finally completed his work of the experimental sonic decimator - which he demonstrates by utilising its beam of 'thromium waves' to melt a thick bar of manganese steel, "One of the hardest metals we know" - they decide that the time will soon be right to try and draw Vulcan out using the machine as bait. But first, suggests Jeff, the time has come to take Burt and Glenda into their confidence.
Jeff tells his friends the truth and arranges for them to take his completed X-22 launcher to the Rocket Cave (which, we discover, is located "near Hermit Mountain") while he, anticipating being tailed by Dirken and his hoods, will head in the opposite direction. However, the wily Vulcan intercepts a radio transmission from King's car transceiver to Millard and orders his goons to turn around and trace the cave. As Winslow and Ms Thomas arrive with the firing mechanism, Millard has scarcely just incorporated it into the decimator when Dirken and his men arrive to seize what is now "one of the most deadly machines ever devised". As Jeff busts the rocket suit out from the boot of the car and jets to the cave, a struggle with the villains results in the decimator being activated and the haywire machine causing the inner walls of the cavern to begin melting into running lava...
Chapter Eight: Suicide Flight
...and as Millard struggles valiantly with the out of control device, Jeff rescues Burt and Glenda from their bonds and they flee down the cavern corridors pursued by the molten magma flow. Spotting an open air shaft in the side of the mountain (what is this, a pyramid or something?), Rocket Man ushers his charges through the tunnel and they break on through to the other side into the open air as the bubbling lava stream sweeps through the caves.
Back at Science Associates Administration, Jeff confesses to the rest of the board that yes, he knew that Millard has survived the initial attempt on his life by Dr Vulcan and that he had kept his secret while he worked underground (quite literally) to complete his life's work. His fellows show understanding, but comment that it was all for nought as the decimator has now been destroyed - to which King declares that as he had worked alongside Millard in the artefact's development he may be able to recreate it. This gets his fellow members to stand to attention (that gag will never get old, because I will never grow up), and many of them offer and assistance and expertise that he may require in making the machine. Thanking the group, he says that he will be in contact should he require anything and as the meeting breaks up moves to place the designs for the decimator in the office safe. When Burt comes over and asks whether he thinks it wise to leave the plans here, King declares that it's the safest place that he can think of loud enough for any and all of the departing experts to overhear.
When later that evening a shadowy behatted figure makes its way into the room, opens the safe (constantly muttering the combination as if 'twere an incantation) and removes the plans, Jeff and Burt pounce on him to find that it is Dr Von Strum. As they begin to interrogate the suspected villain, they begin to realise that the terrified Teuton is under the influence of a malign mesmerism and has no idea why he was there or what had befallen him beforehand. Jeff resolves to pursue the only clue that they have: Von Strum's only memory is to deliver the papers to an address at Mink Shoals (Or: considering the whole enemy destroying a country from within angle - Moseley Shoals? Eh? Eh? Amirite? Tell me why does the river run red?).
Leaving the recovering Von Strum at Glenda's apartment to recuperate and recover his wits in the care of Glenda and Burt, King locates the assigned address and finds a house on a lonely road wherein Durkin dwells. Disappointed to find the monkey rather than the organ grinder himself, Jeff gets into one of his regulation two-fisted dust-ups but comes off second best as Durkin flees with the information that Von Strum lives and that Dr Vulcan is compromised. Tracing the errant professor to Ms Thomas' building, Vulcan decrees that Von Strum must be destroyed before his memory returns and he can finger the Vulcan (if you're having bad thoughts about T'Pol right now, you're a very naughty nerd).
Bursting into the apartment and overpowering Burt, Durkin and his co-conspirators prepare to execute the inhabitants when a roaring of engines alerts them to Rocket Man's rapid approach. As the airborne ace jets towards the windows, the gunmen level their weapons at the approaching target and open fire...
Chapter Nine: Ten Seconds to Live
...yet somehow our hero manages to outmanoeuvre the oncoming hail of bullets and lands on Glenda's balcony. Realising that the jig is up, Durkin and his men hare out through the apartment door pausing only to pump a couple of slugs into the prone Professor Von Strum. As Rocket Man makes his entrance onto the scene of the crime Bury is already checking the fallen scientist's vitals and pronounces him dead.
"I'm sorry," says our tardy hero flatly over the corpse. "If I could only have gotten here sooner, I might have prevented this."
Oh, you think?!?
Back at S.A. H.Q. (which in my head is pronounced exactly the way that the CPU says "SARK!" in Tron), King also has to face the quite correct accusations of the board when the coroner's verdict of homicide comes in and his co-workers opine that had he let some of them in on his plans Dr Vulcan may not have made such a gambit and Von Strum might still be alive. Acquiescing, Jeff states that in future he will report any and all further progress with regards to the decimator - adding as an aside to Burt after the meeting breaks up that they might be surprised just how soon that may be.
At the new Rocket Cave (the original having been destroyed by magma), Jeff shows Burt the completed decimator but seems unsure as to whether it can be safely tested without devising some kind of shielding - as the thromium may be detectable even beneath the ground. Meanwhile, Dr Vulcan is unveiling his own device to Durkin (tee hee): a machine that can track the thromium waves from a distance. He gives the tracer to Durkin and instructs him to locate the secret hideout and the decimator. When Durkin's mooching around the entrance sets of a proximity alarm, Jeff and Burt make their way outside just in time to see one of Durkin's confederates zooming away on a motorcycle. Falling for the decoy they hop in the car and head off in hot pursuit, tailing the biker around the mountain road until King gets off a well-aimed gunshot that propels the fleeing felon over the side of the cliff to his certain doom. Our hero once again, ladies and gentlemen.
As Killer King and his accomplice return to the cave, they realise they've been had when they find the decimator predictably gone. Checking the secret camera hidden outside, they get a good look at the getaway van that the villains have mounted the errant device inside and Jeff changes into the rocket suit to head heavenward to give chase. Reaching their rendezvous with another of Vulcan's goons, Durkin and his pal load the machine from the van into another car before setting a bomb with a ten-second fuse in the van. As Rocket Man arrives and enters the truck hoping to find his invention, the vehicle is blown to smithereens...