TV Review: The Court of Last Resort

TV Review: The Court of Last Resort

In 1948, seven lawyers, including Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the Perry Mason series, formed a group called “The Court of Last Resort.”  They investigated convictions that seemed to have irregularities, to see if the accused had actually committed the crime, much like the modern “Project Innocence.”

the Court of Last Resort

Mr. Gardner apparently thought some of the cases might make good television, and promote the work of the group, so a television series was made and aired 1957-1958.  While the episodes were based on real cases, names were changed to avoid legal problems.  Actors played the Court during episodes, but sometimes the actual lawyers would appear in a postscript.

I watched four episodes.  “The Clarence Redding Case” involved a drifter accused of “assaulting” and murdering a girl in a barn (Rape is implied, but never mentioned.)  “The Jim Thompson Case” has an ex-con mechanic accused of robbing and murdering a man who was shaving at the time.  “The John Smith Case” is another drifter,  accused of murdering a grocer in a robbery gone wrong.  And “The Mary Morales Case” involves a Mexican-American woman accused of murdering a white woman while trying to kill her own husband.

Of the cases, two suspects are proved innocent, one is proved guilty (the irregularity turned out to be a witness covering their own crime) and one did the crime, but it was manslaughter, not murder.

A common theme is suspicion of police misconduct, as the suspects are disadvantaged people that the legal system is weighted against.  It’s not always true.  Certainly the episodes show what we would now consider shocking lack of proper procedure.

The episodes are fairly staid, but the conclusions tend to be very well done emotionally.   The most affecting was the John Smith Case, when the friendless drifter with no family in the world learns that a small kindness he did 22 years ago has cleared him, and he is a free man.

TV Review: The Cases of Eddie Drake/Code 3

TV Review: The Cases of Eddie Drake/Code 3

The Cases of Eddie Drake was a private eye series broadcast on the DuMont network in 1952.  The framing device was that psychiatrist Dr. Karen Gayle (Patricia Morison) was writing a book on criminal psychology, and paid Eddie Drake (Don Haggerty) to tell her about his cases.  The two were clearly attracted to each other, but Eddie also flirted with the women in his cases.

That's a 1948 Davis D-2 Divan. Only 17 vehicles were ever built by the company.
That’s a 1948 Davis D-2 Divan. Only 17 vehicles were ever built by the company.

“Shoot the Works” was the only episode in my DVD collection.  A casino has been robbed, with one man killed during the holdup.  The robber got away with a diamond watch belonging to a woman who was at the casino, but not with the husband who gave it to her.

Eddie is hired to buy the watch back from the thief, no questions asked.  While he attempts to arrange this, Eddie runs into the casino owner, an exiled Russian prince who asks Eddie to find a woman the prince has only seen in a peep show movie.  Things get ugly when the peep show girl turns up dead at the rendezvous point where Eddie was supposed to pick up the watch.

A visit by a police lieutenant provides the clue Eddie needs to crack the case.  Seems that there was more than one murderer.  The writing is only so-so, and the psychological angle in the framing story doesn’t come into the case at all.  The most memorable thing in the show is Eddie’s unique looking three wheeled car.

Code 3 was a 1957 series that featured fictionalized cases from the files of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.  Richard Travis played Deputy Sheriff George Barnett, who introduced and narrated each episode.  At the end of each episode, Eugene W. Biscailuz, the actual sheriff of Los Angeles County, would give a brief message.

Code 3

The opening is especially interesting from a historical perspective, showing 1950s technology such as teletypes and pneumatic tubes in use in the dispatcher’s office.  I watched four episodes.

“The Rookie Deputy” depicts a Czech immigrant going through the deputy training school.  He is having difficulty as having been in the Czech Underground during World War Two, and then fighting the Communists, he has a lot of experience the younger trainees don’t.  He wants to share this information, but comes off as arrogant, with a chip on his shoulder.  In a crisis situation, his knowledge of Hungarian proves vital, and he shows that he’s absorbed American values.

“The Sniper” starts with a man using a rifle to kill random women.  A real estate salesman comes up with the idea of using this as a cover to deal with his wife, an art gallery owner.  Interestingly, his plan seems to be not so much to kill his wife, as to force her into a dependent position–he’s been driven to jealousy by her being far more successful than he is.    His attempts to isolate his wife and exert control over her hit a snag when the sheriff’s deputies notice this crime doesn’t match the sniper’s MO.

“The Man of Many Faces” is about a forger who’s using a clever method to pass phony checks.  It turns out he’s an accountant with a terminally ill daughter, and needs the extra money for her treatments, and to pay for a Hawaiian vacation.   He’s caught out because he does tax preparations for some of the deputies, and they spot that he partially matches descriptions of the check passer (he used various simple disguises) and his handwriting looks familiar.

By the time the deputies come to arrest him, the accountant’s daughter has passed, and he gives himself up freely as there is no further reason to lie.  One of the victims of the check scheme reminds us of the financial costs of crime–it will take a lot of fifteen-cent check cashing fees to get back the eighty-six dollars he paid out.

“The Baxter Affair” takes place at the women’s county jail.   One of the women there is awaiting trial on murder (she claims she’s innocent, but it’s one of those “participated in a crime that led to death” things, even though she may not have killed the victim personally.)   She discovers that the sheriff’s office has planted a female deputy among the population, presumably to spy on her.  The woman then begins a search for the evidence she needs to spot the spy and expose her.

The varied cases give this series interest, but the acting and writing just isn’t up to Dragnet standards.  it’s worth looking at for the period piece it is.

Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency

Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency

This 2012 anime series was based on the first two story arcs of the manga by Hirohiko Araki.  The series as a whole deals with the bizarre adventures of the extensive Joestar family, with protagonists having repeated “Jo” sounds in their names, thus “Jojo.”

Jojo's Bizarre Adventures
Dio and Jonathan

Phantom Blood takes place during Victorian times, as Jonathan Joestar, scion of the wealthy Joestar family, gets a new adoptive brother, Dio Brando.  Dio’s abusive childhood has left him charming but utterly evil; he decides to supplant Jonathan as the Joestar heir.  Dio begins a campaign of cruelty and treachery to render Jonathan friendless and broken.

Things are complicated by a mysterious stone mask, which turns out to have the ability to turn humans into vampires.  The second half of the plot has Jonathan learning a special martial art, the “Ripple”, which simulates the effects of sunshine and can destroy vampires.

Battle Tendency picks up the story in the 1930s, with Jonathan’s grandson Joseph Joestar.   Joseph learns that there are more of the stone masks, and in the process of tracking them down, becomes embroiled in a battle against the Pillar Men.  The Pillar Men, it turns out, feed on vampires the way vampires do on humans, and are out to eliminate their one weakness so that they can rule forever.  Joseph must learn how to fully access the Ripple before it’s too late.

The Bizarre Adventure series is well-known for being over the top even by shounen fighting manga standards.  Strange powers, interesting battle poses, unusual fashion choices and clever battle strategies are all part of the charm.  The anime runs with this, often providing stylized versions of key panels from the manga, and visible sound effects.

The two protagonists provide an interesting contrast; Jonathan is an honorable Victorian gentleman who battles in an upright fashion, while Joseph is a wisecracker who uses sleight of hand and dirty tricks to win his fights.  He’s even willing to accept help from a Nazi cyborg (once the Nazi cyborg stops being on the other side, that is.)

The villains are great, too.  Dio plays the charmer in public, while plotting evil secretly (until he turns into a vampire, but still keeps being pretty charismatic.)  The Pillar Men are both amusing and terrifying, arrogant in their overwhelming power, but each with personality quirks that make them individually interesting.

As hinted above, there’s quite a bit of blood and unsettling violence in this series; Dio kills a dog in a horrific way in a very early episode.  Araki feels no compunction about killing off major, minor and incidental characters, even protagonists.  Younger and more sensitive children might find this series upsetting, parental guidance is suggested.

Currently, a new season of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is airing, featuring the third story arc, Stardust Crusaders, set in the 1980s and starring Joseph’s grandson Jotaro Kujo.

Magazine Review: Out of the Gutter #7

Magazine Review: Out of the Gutter #7 (Winter 2010)

Back in the day, the low-cost entertainment option of choice was the pulp magazine.  It contained fast, exciting stories on cruddy paper–a lowbrow art form that is still fondly remembered by some.  “Out of the Gutter” tries to be somewhat in that tradition.

Out of the Gutter #7

This is the “U.S. vs. U.K.” issue, with alternate stories from American and British authors.  They’re handily arranged by the time it takes to read them, with the shortest stories up front, interspersed with somewhat relevant quotes and bits of non-fiction.

Unfortunately, while the cover promises “pulp fiction and degenerate literature,” the stories tend much more strongly to the degenerate side of the equation.   Lots of drugs, sex (yes, including rape), strong language and of course violence, with few likable characters to be seen.  It’s kind of like pouring habañero sauce on your jalapeños; too much burn and not enough nutrition underneath.

That said, there are a couple of good stories.  “Darkness Creeps” by Stephen D. Rogers is a good snapshot of a petty bureaucrat trying to fix a town one atrocity at a time.  “Real Estate” by Benedict J. Jones is about a finger man investigating drug dealers’ deaths.  And “Pleading and Bleeding” by Charlie Wade follows two police officers tracking down a serial killer with a thing for bankers.

The non-fiction is more varied.  A comparison of infamous murderers of the U.S. and U.K.,  a remixed comic about social etiquette, and a piece suggesting that the Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Paine rather than Thomas Jefferson are a sample of these.

Based on this issue, I would not recommend this magazine, but it was certainly an interesting read.

Movie Review: Spider Forest (2004)

Movie Review: Spider Forest (2004)

Kang Min (Kam Woo-Sung), a line producer for a schlocky “true paranormal” television show, finds himself in a dark forest, headed for an isolated house.  Inside, he finds blood and destruction.  He sees the repeatedly stabbed body of his boss, and then finds his lover Hwang Su-yeong (Kang Kyeong-hyeon) dying and babbling about spiders.  At this point, he detects another presence in the house, presumably the killer.

A misleading scene from "Spider Forest"
A misleading scene from “Spider Forest”

Kang Min gives chase, only to be stunned with a blow to the head.  Dazed, Kang Min finds his way into a nearby highway tunnel, where he glimpses the presumed murderer again.  Before he can act on this, Kang Min is hit by an SUV.  He awakens fourteen days later in the hospital.

His acquaintance Choi, a police officer, is called in, and when Kang Min tells him about the murders, Choi is assigned to investigate.  Kang Min reveals the events that led up to that night in the woods in fragments of memory, dream and possibly hallucination.  Some of what he remembers may not be true.

This is a low-budget psychological thriller from Korea, meant to cash in on the wave of films such as Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.  As such, it’s sporadically violent and frequently bloody.  There’s also several sex scenes, and the film got an “R” rating in the United States.  It’s also mostly shot in dark and dimly-lit locations, with characters whispering their lines (thank goodness for subtitles!)

The story of the film is deliberately confusing, according to director Song Il-gong.  He started by writing a linear script that fully explained what was going on in a way that made logical sense, then cut out as much of it as possible and still have a narrative.   (There are a few deleted scenes on the DVD that fill in some of the gaps, but don’t really explain more of what’s really going on.)

Due to the darkness, whispered dialogue and jigsaw puzzle plot, this is not a movie I recommend for late night viewing.  It’s best when you’re fully alert and able to give it some concentration.  I do not recommend the film for anyone who hates jigsaw puzzle plots or mind screws.

TV Review: Bulldog Drummond & Burke’s Law

TV Review: Bulldog Drummond & Burke’s Law

A couple more episodes from my DVD collection.

Bulldog Drummond was created by H.C. “Sapper” McNeile in 1920, after a prototype police officer version failed to get traction.  Mr. Drummond was an independently wealthy gentleman adventurer and veteran of World War One who got bored and put out a newspaper advertisement looking for excitement.  This being an action novel, he got it.

Bulldog Drummond

There were a bunch of novels, and eventually stage plays and movies based on the character.  Rousing stuff, but nowadays the novels are somewhat out of favor for xenophobia and anti-Semitism that is overboard even by the standards of the time they were written.  The TV episode is actually one episode of the anthology series Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Presents.

In “The Ludlow Affair,” Bulldog Drummond (Robert Beatty) is approached by the wife of an old friend, the titular Ludlow.  After being shot at and receiving a threatening phone call,  Drummond learns that his friend, a scientist, had developed a new antibiotic treatment with the help of his wife and another lab assistant.  The treatment would be worth millions if sold, but Ludlow planned to release it to the world as a public service.  And that’s when he got kidnapped.

Drummond immediately suspects something is up from the way the wife keeps bringing up how much money the formula is worth.   With the aid of his manservant Kelly (Michael Ripper), Drummond  launches an elaborate scheme in which he steals the formula himself to smoke out the kidnapper, Mr. Caselli.  By the end, Ludlow is rescued and the crooks are being led away by the police, even though the Inspector has a feeling Drummond should be arrested too.

Bulldog Drummond does show a rather flexible approach to ethics in this episode, and if I were not aware of his background, would have assumed him to be a mostly reformed crook.  It’s okay, but I can see why this didn’t become a series on its own.

Burke’s Law was an early 1960s series about Amos Burke (Gene Barry), a millionaire who was for some reason a captain of detectives and head of the Homicide Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.  He was chauffeured to crime scenes in a Rolls Royce.  Each episode would be titled “Who Killed (Insert Name Here)?” and featured a bevy of guest stars as quirky suspects.

Burke's Law

“Who Killed Jason Shaw?” begins with a rather odd young woman named Lucy Brewer coming into a hotel room she’s rented to find a body in the shower.  She’s about to call the police when she notices a rich spread of food, and decides to eat first.  then take a nap, then eat some more.  It’s several hours later when Burke receives a female visitor who intends to stay with him, only to be interrupted mid-argument by the notice of the dead body.  (The visitor is not seen again in the episode.)

It turns out that Lucy was paid to rent the room in her name so that some wealthy men could use it overnight, and she could then use it the next day.  Lucy didn’t ask any questions, and is not seen again in the episode.  The dead body is Jason Shaw, a wealthy businessman.  Eventually it is discovered that he participated in a high-stakes poker game with several eccentric rich men; an obsessive wine collector, a man who breeds flesh-eating plants (Burgess Meredith), a shipbuilder with a thing for Japanese fashion and experimental music, (who happens to be an old friend of Burke’s) and a hostile used car dealer (Keenan Wynn).

Meanwhile, Burke has a passive-aggressive interaction with the plant breeder’s daughter, a sculptor going under an assumed name so she can prove herself without Daddy’s money; while his extremely efficient sidekick Detective Tim Tillson (Gary Conway) starts falling for Shaw’s buttoned-up but very attractive secretary.

There’s way too many characters crammed into a half hour, as evidenced by the one woman simply vanishing from the story altogether after her first and only scene.  It also has an overly high quirky quotient–any one of the guest characters could carry an episode by themselves, but all together they just clash.

I suspect this series would be watchable mostly for the Who’s Who of guest stars, rather than for plot or characterization.

TV Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents

TV Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents

This half-hour anthology program ran from 1955-1962, when it was replaced by The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.  The series concentrated on suspense stories, with rare supernatural elements (and even these usually explained by the end of the story.)  Mr. Hitchcock himself would appear as the host to introduce the episode, crack a dry joke or two, and provide an afterword.

The production values were high, and the show had some cracking good episodes, two of which I was able to watch on DVD.

“The Cheney Vase”:  Darren McGavin plays Lyle Endicott, a museum worker whose lack of work ethic gets him fired in the first minute of the story.  By chance, he learns that Miss Cheney (Patricia Collinge), a wheelchair-bound ceramic artist, is losing her personal assistant for several months, while the museum director that fired Lyle is also going on a long trip out of touch.    While Miss Cheney is not a particularly wealthy woman, she does own a rare vase her archaeologist father discovered.

Darren McGavin as Lyle Endicott in "The Cheney Vase"
Darren McGavin as Lyle Endicott in “The Cheney Vase”

Lyle has a letter of recommendation forged so that he can move in as Miss Cheney’s assistant.  His plan is to gradually isolate her from the outside world  until he can find out where the Cheney Vase is hidden, then steal it.  By the time Miss Cheney realizes what’s going on, it may already be too late….

Mr. McGavin does an excellent job as Lyle, a man who complains that things never go his way while sabotaging himself with negligent behavior.  He puts on the fake charm, avoiding revealing his true self even to his lover until he’s sure she can’t do anything to stop him.

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”:  Sadini the Great, a carnival magician, discovers a boy lying outside his trailer in Toledo, Ohio.   Soft-hearted as carnies go, Sadini brings the boy, Hugo, inside.  Sadini’s wife and lovely assistant Irene, is displeased, although she warms up to Hugo a bit when he calls her an angel.

Diana Dors and David J. Stewart as Irene and Vincent Saidini in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"
Diana Dors and David J. Stewart as Irene and Vincent Saidini in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

It seems that Hugo is developmentally disabled, and escaped from a “home” where he was possibly mistreated.  He has difficulty distinguishing reality from illusion, something that becomes especially obvious when he watches the devilish-appearing Sadini saw his wife in half as part of the magic act.

Irene, who is having an affair with high-wire artist George, comes up with a plan to have Hugo murder Sadini, supposedly to free Irene from his Satanic powers and allow Hugo to inherit the sorcerer’s wand.  This plan goes horribly right, with an ending that was considered “too gruesome” by Revlon, the sponsor of the series.

Thus, this Robert Bloch-penned episode was not seen in regular network broadcast, but only in syndication, and fell into the public domain.  You can find free versions of it on the internet.   If you like EC Comics, you should really enjoy this episode.

TV Review: The Adventures of Ellery Queen–The Hanged Acrobat

TV Review: The Adventures of Ellery Queen–The Hanged Acrobat

Ellery Queen was the pseudonym of Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee, and also the main character of their long-running mystery series.  He was an intellectual, and a bit of a snob, who often helped his father, a New York City police inspector, solve murders.  The series was noted for its fair play methods, with a point in the story where the reader is told that they have all the necessary clues to solve it before Mr. Queen gives the explanation.

The Adventures of Ellery Queen

Like other mystery series before it, there was a television adaptation, starting in 1950.  I have one episode on DVD, “The Hanged Acrobat.”  This was released on the Dumont network, and featured Richard Hart as Ellery Queen.

After a brief introduction revealing that Mr. Queen once had a summer job at a carnival,  and thus he stopped at one on his way back from somewhere, we go to a small carnival with a gyrating “coochie dancer” dressed in what was for 1950 a pretty revealing outfit.  While the barker extols her exotic talents, we see the dancer chewing gum with a bored expression on her face, and scratching her leg the moment the audience isn’t looking.

Louise (the dancer) also runs the milk bottle stand (knock the bottles down with a softball, get a prize) since the carnival is rather short-handed.  It’s here she meets Ellery Queen, and confesses that she’s more interesting in being a trapeze performer, and has been training for that.

At this point, the female half of the current trapeze act turns up dead, hanging from a noose in their tent.  The knot of the noose is a specialty tie usually found on cattle ranches, where a roustabout named Tex used to work.  Tex was also the last person to see the trapeze artist alive when they went for drinks together.

However, Ellery quickly learns that Tex has taught that knot to several other carnival workers, and the trapeze artist was strangled to death before being hanged, in a most unusual way.  Was the killer Tex?  Hugo, the grieving husband? Louise, who will be promoted to the high act?  Or is it the Colonel, the carnival owner who used to be a strongman and still has impressive gripping power?  Maybe the bumbling sheriff, who seems awfully interested in having this case closed without outside interference?

There’s not really a lot of mystery here, and most long-time fans will be able to figure out the culprit slightly before Ellery does.  The story is padded out with Ellery being tied and gagged so that the killer can proceed with their plans.  It’s a so-so show, with the best performance being Louise as the cynical and worldly-wise character who still has just a sliver of romance left in her soul.

Book Review: Kitty Genovese

Book Review: Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences by Catherine Pelonero

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Kitty Genovese

I am not quite old enough to have any firsthand memories of the coverage of the March 13, 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in Kew Gardens, a quiet neighborhood of Queens, New York City.  Certainly my parents would not have discussed the more sordid details of the case where I could hear.    By the time I graduated high school, I knew the vaguest outline of the case, as it demonstrated the “bystander effect.”

It was, and is a notorious case precisely because of that bystander effect; the crime was committed in the hearing and sight of many of Ms. Genovese’s neighbors, and the final assault was in the hallway leading to a friend’s apartment, a friend who refused to open the door.  For various reasons, many understandable,  the witnesses did not intervene beyond one person shouting at the man, and the police were not properly called until much too late.

The first chapter is a description of the crime itself, as pieced together from the murderer’s confession, witness testimony and police investigation.  This is followed by an account of the initial investigation, then the book moves to biographies of both Kitty Genovese and her killer, Winston Moseley.  After that, the account moves forward in a more linear fashion through the police investigation, and the press pieces that exploded the case onto the world stage.

The section on Mr. Moseley’s trial is perhaps the least interesting part–it’s largely repeating of testimony saying things already covered in earlier chapters.  The defense tried to get an insanity verdict, but although Winston Moseley clearly had something wrong with him, the jury decided he knew what he did was illegal and could have chosen not to kill.

There’s a bit of excitement when Mr. Moseley escapes from Attica in 1968 and Buffalo is terrorized for three days.

The remainder of the book is about the continuing legacy of the Kitty Genovese case, including the institution of the 911 system to make it easier to call the police when you suspect a crime or other emergency is happening.   One thing not mentioned in the book is that the case plays a role in the Watchmen comic book series; it spurs Rorschach to take an active role fighting crime, and his mask is cut from cloth meant for Kitty’s dress.

Much of this material has been covered in previous books, but this volume includes the revisionist view that emerged in the 1990s that the stories of the witnesses’ apathy were deliberately exaggerated by the police and media.  The author finds this view suspect, more of an attempt to shift blame than an honest rethinking.

Other issues also are discussed.  The possible effects of racism on Winston Moseley’s psyche, for example (he was black, Kitty Genovese was white.)  For those who are easily triggered, rape and domestic violence are discussed.

There’s a spread of black and white photographs in the center (be aware some of the building photos are much more recent and may be slightly misleading.)  There is a bibliography (and some other media sources), and an index.

Due to the nature of the content, I would recommend this to no lower than senior high students, although younger teens with morbid tastes (like mine at that age) will find it interesting as well.  I would most recommend this book to true crime readers who don’t already have a volume on Kitty Genovese, and students of psychology.

Movie Review: The Miracle Rider

Movie Review: The Miracle Rider

It is 1935 in the Panhandle area of Texas, home to the Ravenhead Tribe Indian Reservation.    The Ravenheads are a peaceful, hardworking tribe.  Sadly, their land is secretly situated on top of the largest deposit of X-94, an ore with tremendous explosive power, in the world.  Somehow, a white man named Zaroff (Charles Middleton) has learned of this and has been secretly mining the X-94 while posing as an oil driller and ranch owner.

The Miracle Rider

If Zaroff could just get the Ravenheads out of the reservation, he could move in openly and become the most powerful mine owner in the world.  To this end, Zaroff tries to scare the natives off their land with a string of bizarre incidents attributed to the evil Firebird spirit.  He is aided in this by one of the tribe, Longboat (Bob Kortman).  It seems that Longboat is not full-blooded, and if this secret was known to the tribe, he could never become chief.

Good thing Texas Ranger Tom Morgan (Tom Mix) is on the case!  A long-time friend of the Ravenheads since his father died protecting them from squatters, Tom is swift to realize that the events are not supernatural.  He acts to protect Ruth (Joan Gale), a murdered chief’s daughter, while investigating the conspiracy.

Early on, Tom is misled into believing Emil Janss (Edward Hern),  a merchant who wants to sell some unprofitable land he owns to the government for a new reservation, is behind the attacks and killings.  Can Tom unravel the tangled web to reveal the truth before the Ravenheads lose their homes?

The Miracle Rider is a fifteen-part movie serial produced by Mascot Pictures in 1935.  It was the last film work by Tom Mix.  While he was still a big box office draw, as he had been in the silent era, Mr. Mix was getting long in the tooth and had nagging injuries that slowed him down.  He still did many of his own stunts in this serial, but you can see him moving stiffly from time to time.

While there are science fiction elements in the story, they swiftly fade out.  The solar-powered heat ray is never used again after the first installment, and the Firebird, a radio-controlled ultralight aircraft, is destroyed only a few episodes in.  That leaves only X-94 itself, and the explosions never live up to the scale the dialogue says they should.  On the other hand, the Western genre bits stay all the way, and there’s plenty of exciting horse chases, gunplay and fistfights.

Typical of its era, the treatment of Native Americans is dubious at best.  The first installment opens with American heroes Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and Buffalo Bill Cody trying to honor Indian territory, only to have greedier white men go and steal the land anyway, leading to war.  Tom Morgan’s father is cast in this mold as well, and it’s clear that Tom is meant to be the spiritual successor of the other heroes.

Tom and the good guy Indian agent Christopher Adams (Edward Earle) behave as paternalistic protectors of the Ravenheads, who are superstitious, easily panicked and speak (except Ruth) in a vaudeville “Injun” dialect.  Naturally, all of the Ravenheads with major speaking parts are played by white actors in makeup.  Longboat is referred to as a “half-breed” and this is the major motivation for his villainous actions.

But still, there’s some rollicking action, a bunch of plot twists, and a couple of good cliffhangers (even if a couple have resolutions that are obvious cheats.)  The antics of Tony, Tom’s preternaturally intelligent horse, are a hoot.  Watch it with your kids, but prepare for some rather pointed questions afterwards.

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