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    - Chapter 106
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    - Chapter 103
    - Chapter 102
    - Chapter 101
    - Chapter One Hundred
    - Chapter Ninety-Nine
    - Chapter Ninety-Eight
    - Chapter Ninety-Seven
    - Chapter Ninety-Six
    - Chapter Ninety-Five
    - Chapter Ninety-Four
    - Chapter Ninety-Three
    - Chapter Ninety-Two
    - Chapter Ninety-One
    - Chapter Ninety
    - Chapter Eighty-Nine
    - Chapter Eighty-Eight
    - Chapter Eighty-Seven
    - Chapter Eighty-Six
    - Chapter Eighty-Five
    - Chapter Eighty-Four
    - Chapter Eighty-Three
    - Chapter Eighty-Two
    - Chapter Eighty-One
    - Chapter Eighty
    - Chapter Seventy-Nine
    - Chapter Seventy-Eight
    - Chapter Seventy-Seven
    - Chapter Seventy-Six
    - Chapter Seventy-Five
    - Chapter Seventy-Four
    - Chapter Seventy-Three
    - Chapter Seventy-Two
    - Chapter Seventy-One
    - Chapter Seventy
    - Chapter Sixty-Nine
    - Chapter Sixty-Eight
    - Chapter Sixty-Seven
    - Chapter Sixty-Six
    - Chapter Sixty-Five
    - Chapter Sixty-Four
    - Chapter Sixty-Three
    - Chapter Sixty-Two
    - Chapter Sixty-One
    - Chapter Sixty
    - Chapter Fifty-Nine
    - Chapter Fifty-Eight
    - Chapter Fifty-Seven
    - Chapter Fifty-Six
    - Chapter Fifty-Five
    - Chapter Fifty-Four
    - Chapter Fifty-Three
    - Chapter Fifty-Two
    - Chapter Fifty-One
    - Chapter Fifty
    - Chapter Forty-Nine
    - Chapter Forty-Eight
    - Chapter Forty-Seven
    - Chapter Forty-Six
    - Chapter Forty-Five
    - Chapter Forty-Four
    - Chapter Forty-Three
    - Chapter Forty-Two
    - Chapter Forty-One
    - Chapter Forty
    - Chapter Thirty-Nine
    - Chapter Thirty-Eight
    - Chapter Thirty-Seven
    - Chapter Thirty-Six
    - Chapter Thirty-Five
    - Chapter Thirty-Four
    - Chapter Thirty-Three
    - Chapter Thirty-Two
    - Chapter Thirty-One
    - Chapter Thirty
    - Chapter Twenty-Nine
    - Chapter Twenty-Eight
    - Chapter Twenty-Seven
    - Chapter Twenty-Six
    - Chapter Twenty-Five
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    - Chapter Twenty-Two
    - Chapter Twenty-One
    - Chapter Twenty
    - Chapter Nineteen
    - Chapter Eighteen
    - Chapter Seventeen
    - Chapter Sixteen
    - Chapter Fifteen
    - Chapter Fourteen
    - Chapter Thirteen
    - Chapter Twelve
    - Chapter Eleven
    - Chapter Ten
    - Chapter Nine
    - Chapter Eight
    - Chapter Seven
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    - Chapter Five
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    - Chapter Three
    - Chapter Two
    - Chapter One

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Chapter One Hundred Six

Cliffhanger Commentary by Bruce Dettman

Ad for Atom Man Vs. Superman.Sequels are a tricky business, in serials as well as feature films. The genre is rife with follow-ups to successful cliffhangers. Sometimes these worked as was the case in several of Republic’s Dick Tracy entries, and sometimes they emerged as pale imitations such as “The Spider Returns” which couldn’t hold a candle to its parent film “The Spider’s Web”. There were also occasions when mediocre productions the likes of “Batman” gave birth to equally mediocre offspring, in this case “Batman and Robin”. The real rarity is the sequel which betters the original and there aren’t many of these. “The Bride of Frankenstein” is often cited as such an instance and there are others but they are scarce.

In the world of serials a case could be made for “Atom Man Vs. Superman” being a decided improvement over its predecessor “Superman”. Neither of these Columbia produced cliffhangers are great examples of the genre and certainly can’t hold a candle to the likes of “Spy Smasher”, “Zorro’s Fighting Legion” or “Adventures of Captain Marvel”, but “Superman” tried hard and made money—something skinflint producer Sam Katzman certainly never put into the original product—so a follow up was inevitable.

Atom Man (Lyle Talbot) and his henchmen (Terry Frost and Jack Ingram) are about to send Superman into the Empty Doom in Chapter 9 of "Atom Man Vs. Superman" ('50 Columbia).

The Spider Lady (Carol Forman) and cohort Driller (George Meeker) seem to have defeated Superman (Kirk Alyn) as Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen (Noel Neill, Tommy Bond) are stunned in Columbia's original "Superman" serial ('48).The big improvement this time around is the Man of Steel’s adversary. In the first serial the criminal kingpin was the so-called Spider Lady played by a largely indifferent Carol Forman who, with her formal attire and stone-faced demeanor, suggested more a bored Powers Model than a legitimate foe for Superman. Not only was it near to impossible to take the Spider Lady seriously, it was pretty difficult not to break into peels of laughter when she entered the scene in heels and dark gown (and sometimes mask), trying her best to project legitimate menace. Krypton’s favorite son certainly deserved better and got it in “Atom Man Vs. Superman” when writers David Mathews, George H. Plympton and Joseph Poland brought Lex Luthor to the screen for the first time.

Portraying the criminal genius was Lyle Talbot, journeyman actor who had been kicking around Hollywood for decades and would later appear in hundreds of TV shows as well. He’d also show up in a number of other serials including “Mystery of the Riverboat”, “Chick Carter, Detective”, “The Vigilante”, “Batman and Robin” (as Commissioner Gordon), “Son of Geronimo”, “Gunfighters of the Northwest” and “Trader Tom of the China Seas”. He was a competent and versatile performer, comfortable on both sides of the celluloid law, and brought his professionalism to the role of Luthor. Unlike later incarnations of the character which were not always played straight (Gene Hackman immediately comes to mind), Talbot approached the part completely straight and it paid off. His Luthor is civilized and urbane on the surface but beneath it snake venom runs in his blood.

Superman (Kirk Alyn) flys into the window of the DAILY PLANET to observe Perry White (Pierre Watkin), Lois Lane (Noel Neill) and Jimmy Olsen (Tommy Bond) in Chapter 13 of Columbia's "Atom Man Vs. Superman" ('50).

Another improvement is Kirk Alyn in the dual role of Superman and Clark Kent. Alyn wisely toned down the posing, smirking, bullyboy interpretation which had characterized his performance in the first serial. He’s not quite as cocky or over-the-top acting-wise this time around so that the Man of Steel seems more genuine and not quite so cartoon-like.

Speaking of cartoons, animation is once again the technique employed to simulate Superman’s flying, although there at least are a few close-up shots in this serial showcasing Alyn in flight.

Noel Neill, thanks to a different hairdo and attire, comes off a bit more mature and grownup than in her first outing as Lois Lane when she seemed too collegiate for a big city news hound.

Tommy Bond also returns as the feisty and sometimes overly aggressive cub reporter Jimmy Olsen and Pierre Watkin has his second outing as Perry White, editor of the DAILY PLANET. The rest of the cast are familiar Columbia feature players, several of whom such as Jack Ingram and Terry Frost, appeared in the first serial in a similar capacity as bad guys. Fleshing out the cast are Don Harvey, Wally West, Paul Stader and George Robotham. Uncredited performers include future Lone Ranger John Hart, venerable Western bad guy Charles King, stuntman and John Wayne crony and co-star Chuck Roberson, Tommy Farrell and William Fawcett.

The plot is also more outlandish with additional science-fiction trappings that serve it well and keep special effects designer Howard Swift, limited my economic restraints, busy. Director Spencer Gordon Bennet, limited by a tight—some may say suffocating—budget also keeps things moving as Luthor, who has developed a number of scientific gizmos to aid his mad scheme of world domination including a disintegrating machine which can scramble and reassemble matter, blackmails Metropolis by threatening to obliterate the entire city. Posing as the masked Atom Man (complete with cloak and a kind of ridiculous cinder block looking mask) Luthor sets out to create artificial Kryptonite to put an end once and for all to Superman’s heretofore successful thwarting of his nefarious schemes.

Thrown into the mix is a strange other dimension, The Empty Doom, a sonic vibrator and Luthor’s personal spaceship.

Reportedly, there were plans to produce a third Superman serial at Columbia, but the studio couldn’t acquire the rights and instead the character would next appear in the feature film “Superman and the Molemen” followed by the long-running TV series, both with George Reeves in the lead.

While “Atom Man Vs. Superman” is hardly stellar stuff, it cannot be faulted for a lack of imagination or for attempting to keep its audience satisfied and entertained, something at which many Columbia serials failed miserably.

Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon.Buster Crabbe: The Serial King

by Barrie Hanfling

We all know of the early “Queens” of the silent chapterplay because cinema history pays them due respect. Their male counterparts, the “Kings of the Silent Serials”, are less well known. In the eyes of responsible film historians they deserve, and receive, little mention. But then we serial fans may be a bit hazy ourselves on that one, since few of us have a large quantity of silent serials on film or video, we have tended to concentrate on the sound serials, both because they come within our time and because they are more easily available. I don’t think there has ever been any doubt as to who was the King of the Sound Serials. Buck Jones and Johnny Mack Brown made overtures as Western kings, challenged later by Allan Lane and Jock Mahoney, but the actor who led them all in making chapterplays, of varied quality as the years went by, was Larry “Buster” Crabbe, erstwhile swimming star, Tarzan player, juvenile TV favorite and, later in life, purveyor of life-style fitness living, mainly to do with his life long pleasure, swimming. Through all this he remained over the years a stalwart of the serials, from ‘36 to ‘52. Most serial fans grew up with him as he aged, and his range of serial work, as with the serial itself, contracted and narrowed until, by 1952, it was near the end of the trail for both Buster and the chapterplay format. That fun-filled form of cinema entertainment had passed its peak in the ‘30s and by ‘52 was in its last throes of existence.

At Buster’s beginning he had witnessed the essential change in the genre from a full family entertainment form, especially in the silent era when serials and serial stars were much respected, to the mid ‘30s when it had become a juvenile preserve, yet was quietly enjoyed by many adults who still found fun in the frenetic adventures of the weekly chapter conclusions, secretly following adventures like Universal’s great production of “Flash Gordon”, which was Buster Crabbe’s first staring role in the genre.

Title card for Chapter 13 of "Flash Gordon".

Larry Crabbe, born in Oakland, CA, in 1908, was a swimming champion. From an early home in Hawaii, Clarence Linden Crabbe represented the USA at the Olympics in 1928. He was successful and moved to California. In the 1932 Olympics Crabbe won a gold medal and broke numerous world records. He broke into movies, following the footsteps of former Olympic champion Johnny Weissmuller.

Crabbe, now named Larry and for some reason nicknamed “Buster”, settled at Paramount where in ‘33 he was cast as a Tarzan-like figure in “King of the Jungle”. In a short term loan to producer Sol Lesser he played the jungle man himself “Tarzan the Fearless” for Principal while Weissmuller was still the legit Tarzan at MGM. After this first serial he returned to Paramount as a contract player, where he essayed many roles, including a series of Zane Grey Westerns.

Larry “Buster” Crabbe was handsome, athletic and personable, but no great actor. Paramount kept him busy as a supporting player and loaned him again in ‘36 to play Flash Gordon in Universal’s big budget (for the time) serial of that name, based on the comic strip character. “Flash Gordon”, then and now, proved a big hit and one of the truly great serials with an outstanding supporting cast, brilliant direction, special effects and an enthusiasm that helped (along with Republic’s early efforts) to propel serials back into prominence again. Hair dyed (much to his embarrassment), Buster became extremely popular as Flash.

Title card for Chapter 13 of "Red Barry".

Title card "Buck Rogers" starring Larry Crabbe.

Universal rushed him into further serials, having him playing other comic characters, “Red Barry” and “Buck Rogers” in ‘38 and ‘39, but most of all, in sequels to the Flash effort, “Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars” in ‘38 and “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe” in ‘40.

Title card for "Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars".

Title card for "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe".

Yet while Buster Crabbe was hugely popular with serial fans, at Paramount he was not highly valued and he left the studio in ‘39. Buster settled at minor PRC for a Western series, first as Billy the Kid (later as Billy Carson). For a while the King of the ‘30s serials made no more cliffhangers as he concentrated on these five day wonders at PRC but when he left PRC in ‘46 he starred in more serials for Columbia.

Buster changed from sci-fi hero to hero of the waves in “The Sea Hound” (‘47) (based on a popular radio serial) and “Pirates of the High Seas” (‘50) and finally back to the African jungle in “King of the Congo” in ‘52 for more Tarzan-like adventures.

Title card for Chapter 15 of "The Sea Hound".

Buster Crabbe, Tommy Farrell and Lois Hall, stars of Columbia's "Pirates of the High Seas" ('50).

All in all Buster Crabbe made nine serials. When he made his last in ‘52 he was still the virile, fit, dashing man he had been as Flash Gordon in ‘36. Sure, he had aged, but it looked good on him. He also, in the ‘50s, made a TV series (“Capt. Gallant”) with Fuzzy Knight and Buster’s son Cuffy, and appeared in half a dozen feature films, mostly Westerns. His movie career faded in the ‘60s but he remained a busy business advocate for various swimming endeavors to do with fitness and health. Larry “Buster” Crabbe was indeed King of the Sound Serials.

Buster's final serial--seen here with Rick Vallin in "King of the Congo" ('52). Serial is based on the comic book hero Thunda.

 

 

 

 

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