Saturday, June 22, 2013

Don Winslow of the Navy (1942) – Chapter 12: The Scorpion Strangled

OUR STORY SO FAR (taken directly from the “crawl” that opens Part the Twelfth): Don Winslow, unable to warn the destroyer, cruiser and transport speeding to Tangita that the waters around the north reef are mined, rushes to the station controlling the mine field, hurls a hand grenade at the control switch and blows up the mines before the ships and landing party reach the danger zone.  Don then follows Barsac through secret tunnels leading to the Scorpion’s undersea caves and…

Here are a few things that I will not miss about Don Winslow of the Navy, seeing as this is the final chapter of the serial:

1. The falsehoods.  This chapter play is lousy with…well, perhaps it is a bit inelegant to call it “lying,” but it sure plays fast and loose with the truth.  For starters—The Scorpion (Kurt Katch) is not “strangled” in this chapter.  The fact that a sequel to this block of Velveeta was released the following year (I refer, of course, to Don Winslow of the Coast Guard—the title would seem to suggest that our hero was drummed out of the Navy) tipped me off that His Scorpioness would live to fight another day…but still

Also, too: Winslow (Don Terry) did not hurl a hand grenade at the control switch.  He hurled it at “the control shack” that housed the switch controlling these mines—the opening crawl gives him far too much credit.  (And really—who “controls” mines, anyway?  Aren’t they capable of blowing up by themselves?)  Nor does he follow Barsac (John Holland) through secret tunnels; he’s able to locate the Scorpion’s entrance on his own because the writers are lazy.  So I’m relieved that this will be the last time the writers (Paul Huston, Griffin Jay and Morgan B. Cox) pay no attention to what they copied down in the previous chapter.

2. The laundry.  Any time Winslow or his sidekick “Red” Pennington (Walter Sande) engage in any derring-do, their Navy whites remain immaculate…right down to the crisp creases in their pants.  This defies all logic.

3. Don Winslow.  For a serial hero, he’s an incredibly cocky bastard.  Oh, sure—you can argue that it’s just my innate sarcastic nature…but any occasion that finds me rooting for the bad guys to succeed just so they can wipe the insufferable smirk off Don’s face has more to do with me being just plain twisted.

4. The music.  If I never hear Anchors Aweigh or Fingal’s Cave in my lifetime it won’t be soon enough for me.

Well, where did we leave off?  Oh, yes…Spencer Merlin (John Litel), a.k.a. “M-22,” explodiates a series of devices inside the tunnel entrance to The Scorpion’s headquarters in the hopes that he will kill Don Winslow…and also his henchmen, since an event like that would probably cut off their entire air supply.  (This is what is known as foreshadowing, by the way.)  Henchmen Corley (Lane Chandler) and Spike (Ethan Laidlaw) glance back down the tunnel to see if Winslow was killed in the rubble…and if you’re wondering how Spike could be in the tunnel when it was established earlier that he was leading the charge in the famous miners vs. landing party skirmish topside on the shores of Tangita…look!  Shiny object!

CORLEY: That was the last explosion…
SPIKE: Yeah…that should take care of it!

Barsac makes the same suggestion to Merlin inside the radio room, and so the two of them head for the tunnel as well.  You can see by this screen cap, however…

…that Don’s okay!  A little brushing-off and some Bactene and he’ll be right as rain in a few!  There is then a scene dissolve, and we find Don at the undersea submarine base, staring at the remaining sub (the Z-52) with a big smirkety smirk on his face.  He then hears footsteps in a nearby corridor, and going over to investigate finds Corley and Spike.

DON (brandishing his pistol): All right, you two—reach!
SPIKE: Winslow!

“Yeah, Winslow…you weren’t expecting me, eh, Svengali?”  Now, all through this serial it’s been established that Don Winslow couldn’t get a decision in fifteen rounds with Jane Withers…but all of a sudden, he’s freaking Joe Louis.  Or I should say his stuntman is—there’s a clumsily choreographed fight between three of them, and Don emerges victorious in battle, pointing his weapon at them as they groggily get to their feet.

DON: Now take me to your two prisoners—Miss Gaye and Miss Colby!
MERLIN (as he and Barsac emerge from the shadows): Drop that gun, Winslow!
DON (whips around): Merlin!
MERLIN: Pick up his gun, Barsac…
BARSAC: Pleasure, M-22…
DON: So…just as I suspected—you’re M-22!

Just as you suspected…?  What are you, on dope?

MERLIN: At your service…
DON: Well, I’ll say one thing for The Scorpion…he certainly picks smart agents!
MERLIN: Smart enough to take care of the best that naval intelligence has to offer!

“Oh, Boss…come now!”

DON: Don’t be too sure of that, Merlin…

I laughed out loud at this, because Don is sort of admitting that naval intelligence didn’t send the very best.

DON: …this battle isn’t over yet
MERLIN: It is as far as you’re concerned…put him with the others, Barsac!  Then come back to the radio room!

So Don is taken to the “intercave room” by Barsac, Corley and Spike…where the friends of his that have been captured—Misty (Anne Nagel), Mercedes (Claire Dodd), John Blake (Ben Taggart) and Michael Splendor (Wade Boteler)—are positively giddy at seeing him.

SPLENDOR: I told ya the lad would find us!
DON: I’m afraid I’m not doing you much good…

“Sure, and I don’t mind tellin’ ya…you really suck at this, laddie.”  Back at the radio room, radio operator Parker (Ray Teal) informs Merlin that the man who signs their paychecks requests an audience with him via primitive television transmitter.

SCORPION: I received your call, M-22…I am waiting for your report…
MERLIN: We have obeyed your orders and captured Don Winslow…he is now a prisoner with the others…
SCORPION: Winslow a prisoner…so you finally succeeded in one of your assignments…bring Winslow and his friends to me immediately…use Submarine Z-52…
MERLIN: Yes, master…we will start as soon as the submarine is refueled…shall we destroy the Tangita base?

It is at this point in the serial where the “who-gives-a-frog’s-ass” attitude of the directors (Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor) becomes crystal clear…the next shot of The Scorpion finds him wearing a different suit.  (Well, maybe he changed during Merlin’s line of dialogue…)

SCORPION: No, you imbecile!  We would never replace it!  We’ll abandon it temporarily…until the Navy ceases its snooping…
MERLIN: But Pennington and other naval men know of the location of the base and…
SCORPION: Then your final task before leaving Tangita…is to sink the Navy ships now at anchor near the island…see that there are no survivors to tell the location of our underwater base…

Scorpion out, dog!  Merlin then turns to Parker, and informs him of the audible that’s been called by the master villain.

MERLIN: Parker…you’re to remain on Tangita…watch developments and notify us when it’s safe to return…
PARKER: Me stay on this island alone?  While you and the others get out with your whole skin?  Not this time, M-22…get over there!

Gracious!  It would appear that there is some dissension in the ranks.  Parker pulls a gun on Merlin, and tells him in forty words or less that with regards to his continued stay on the island…he doesn’t see that happening.  “This time you’re the one who’s stayin’!”

MERLIN: You can’t get away with it, Parker…
PARKER: Maybe I can’t get away with it but it’s worth tryin’…for months, I’ve been sittin’ here like a rat in a trap—takin’ orders!  Well, now I’m givin’ ‘em!

As you have probably guessed by now, a bit player in this serial simply cannot take over in the last chapter without experiencing some sort of repercussions—I refer you to Jungle Queen’s “The Secret of the Sword.”  Barsac comes up behind Parker and fills him with a little lead, thus “exterminating” the rat.  But this brings up a problem I mentioned in Chapter 10: if Parker were to meet an untimely death, how do they get in touch with The Scorpion from that point on?  The answer is: they don’t!  “Nice work, Barsac!” exclaims Merlin, as he and Barsac observe Parker’s life’s blood slowly ebbing away.  “We’ll send Higgins to take his place!”  (I’ll bet Higgins is wishing he’d called in sick right now.)

A dissolve finds Merlin and Barsac back at the submarine station, where they meet up with henchman Corley.

MERLIN: As soon as the submarine is refueled, shut off the main pipeline to our undersea oil well…we’re clearing out…
CORLEY: We’re filling the reserve tanks now…
MERLIN: Good…let me know when you’re ready…Barsac—you help Spike get Winslow and the others on the submarine… (He exits)
CORLEY (to Barsac): What’s the idea of takin’ Winslow?
BARSAC: The Scorpion wants to see him…
CORLEY: I’d hate to be in his shoes when The Scorpion gets hold of him!

Back in the intercave room:

MERCEDES: Well, I can imagine what a shock it was when you found out Mr. Merlin was M-22…
DON: I was pretty sure of it, but…I was more anxious to discover this hideout than I was to arrest Merlin!

“Plus I needed to stretch the action across twelve chapters, so…”

TAGGART: Why did you suspect him?
DON: Mostly because he was always trying to place the blame on others…

Oh, knock it off, you dinkerplatz.  Just because you’re working for Universal doesn’t mean you’re Sherlock Freaking Holmes.  As Don continues to pontificate about his deductive powers, Barsac and Spike have arrived at the cell in which Don and Company are being held prisoner.

DON: …if I had followed my first hunch, we wouldn’t be in this place!
SPLENDOR: Aw, don’t waste your time cryin’ over split milk…we should be figurin’ a way to get out of this gopher hole!
BARSAC (as the cell door opens): You don’t have to worry about getting out of here…you’re leaving now
DON (walking over to confront Barsac): Where are you taking us?
BARSAC: The Scorpion’s planned a nice little sea voyage for you!
(Corley and Merlin arrive at the door)
CORLEY: We’re ready, M-22…
MERLIN: All right…put Higgins in the radio room…round up the rest of the men and tell them to come aboard…all right, Barsac… (He walks off with Corley)
BARSAC: All right, start movin’!

The prisoners begin to file out of the intercave room and in a series of dissolves, we see them herded onto the submarine and then taken to a cabin on board.  “Make yourselves comfortable,” sneers Barsac.  “We have a little unfinished business with the 620 before we leave Tangita.”  He closes the door behind him, and all of a sudden I just thought of something—the fate of those five people rests with Red Pennington.  (They are seriously boned.)

Assured by Barsac that the prisoners are put away for safekeeping, Merlin informs the crew of the Z-52 to set sail, which brings on a little stock footage involving sub preparations.  Back in the prisoners’ cabin:

SPLENDOR: I wonder where them devils is takin’ us?
DON: We’ll find that out soon enough, Mike…right now, I’m worried about the 620…
MERCEDES: Don—you don’t think they’ll try to sink her?!!
DON: That’s exactly what they’re planning to do!
MISTY: Oh!  They wouldn’t dare!
DON: Aw, you’re wrong, Misty—they’re desperate enough to try anything!  That’s why we’ve got to find some way to stop them!

With the Z-52 leaving its underwater port, that brings on more stock footage…and then footage of the destroyer posing as the 620.  On board, Red Pennington—Don’s loyal sidekick—receives a communiqué from an unidentified radio operator:

RED (reading): “Unable to locate Commander Winslow…all entrances to mine destroyed by explosion…await further orders…Chapman…”  (Thinking) Chapman might help me locate the underwater entrance to The Scorpion’s hideout… (To the operator) Tell Chapman to have Blake’s crew continue the search of the mine, then to come aboard at once…
OPERATOR: Aye aye, sir…
RED: We’ve got to find Commander Winslow!

Red…buddy…think about this for a second…you don’t have to do this, you know.  You leave Don right where he is, and I think I can swing you your own serial: how does this sound—Red Pennington of the Coast Guard! Well, the action (such that it is) heads back to the enemy sub, where more stock footage establishes that, in fact, they are indeed on a sub.  Merlin spots the 620 in the sub’s periscope, and orders the stock footage crew to ready the torpedoes…then he issues orders to Barsac:

MERLIN (as he looks through the periscope): Bring Winslow here…it’s traditional for the commander to see the end of his ship…

“Okay, I really just made that tradition up…mostly because I’m a colossal dick.”  So Barsac goes and collects Don, just as he and Mike are mulling over a plan of action…and Don is soon brought before Merlin, who’s gloating away.

MERLIN: Take a look, Commander… (Don walks over to the periscope and peers through it)

MERLIN: You recognize the 620?  Take a good look…because it’s the last time you’ll ever see it…our torpedoes are ready for firing—when we reach the proper bearing, they’ll be released and sink your ship!

So what brilliant plot device do writers Huston, Jay and Cox concoct to save Don’s beloved 620?  They allow our hero to grab Merlin and cup his hand across Spence’s mouth, yelling “Fire all torpedoes!”  Which the people in the submarine stock footage are only too happy to do.  (That sound you hear, by the way, is not stock footage of torpedoes firing but my eyes rolling back in my head at the utter ridiculousness of this plot twist.)  On the bridge of the 620, Red alerts substitute captain Lieutenant Commander Grady (Dirk Thane) of the approaching torpedo, and Grady observes: “It’s bad marksmanship if they’re firing at us…not even close.”  The 620 changes course and upon spotting the Z-52, Grady orders up a round of depth charges.

How do you like those apples, Scorpion agents?  “Crash dive!” barks Merlin as the loyal stock footage crew complies with his request.  Don smirks at his cleverness.

However, you have to get up pretty early on Tangita to put one over on ol’ M-22.  “Barsac,” orders Merlin, “release some oil—let them think they sunk us…we’ll stay on the ocean floor till night and then try again.”  Merlin then orders Corley and Spike to take Winslow back to the others.

Now Don has a sad.

MERCEDES (as Don is thrown into the room): Don? What happened?
DON: I released their torpedoes before they were on bearing!

You yelled for them to be released.  Try not to let your daydreams of heroics distract you from the serial…huh, big guy?

DON: The 620 spotted us and then unloaded their ash cans!
MISTY: Did they cripple the submarine?
DON: No…Merlin’s going to lay low until tonight and then he’s going to try again…
MISTY: Oh, Don…I wish there were some way we could warn Red…
DON: Well…you know what it means, Misty, if the…620 locates us…
MISTY (nods sadly): We’ll drown with Merlin and his crew…but I’m willing if it will save Red, and…and all the others!
(Mercedes and Don look at her in approval)
DON (sotto voce): Good girl… (Pausing, he turns over to Blake) Well, Blake…how about you?  The rest of us are Navy, but…you’re a civilian…

“Which is why I say…f**k that noise!  I’m not sacrificing my life for that potato-headed friend of yours…”

BLAKE: Go ahead, Commander…I’ll do anything to help the Navy clear out this Scorpion’s nest…

This site for exterminating scorpions says they have no nests or colonies.  So while John Blake may be a fiercely patriotic man…he’s also an idiot.  Merlin’s playing possum ruse has fooled the crew of the 620, but they have failed to reckon with the resourcefulness of Don Winslow, Heroic Tool.  He’s found a wrench in a cupboard inside their room, and is beating out Morse code like he did in Chapter 5.

MERCEDES: How do you expect the 620 to hear that?
DON: Water carries sound…she may pick it up on the sound detector…

Well, this serial threw credibility over the side a long time ago…so why the hell not?  On the bridge of the 620, able Seaman Chapman (Peter Leeds) reports to Grady that they’re picking something up on the sound detector—the submarine is underneath them!

Oh, here comes Barsac…did someone order a party pooper from room service?

BARSAC: Winslow!  Stop that noise!

Don heaves the wrench at him, knocking the gun out of his hand…and Splendor picks it up, getting the drop on him.  As Spike, Corley and Merlin come rushing into the cabin Mike shouts: “Hold it, you cutthroats!  Get their guns, Don!”  It’s that damn simple!

Mike locks the saboteurs in the same cabin they in which they were held prisoners, and Don pats him on the back…then tells him they need to find a way to get the sub to the surface.  At the same time, the 620 releases more depth charges…and some stock footage shows the fictitious Z-52 crew blown to smithereenies while the set shakes like Star Trek.  There is then a shot of Don closing the cabin door, and he looks sadly at Misty, Mercedes, Blake and Splendor.  “Poor devils…that depth bomb wiped them out.”  (And yet—somehow, they have been spared despite being on the same freaking sub.)  To add insult to injury, they didn’t even have enough money in the budget to allow us to watch them die.

Don orders Splendor to release the marker buoy, and in the next scene we see it float to the surface, where it is acknowledged by the 620.  Back down in the briny depths, Don is attempting to contact the destroyer by radio…but their air supply is starting to run out.  (You know—this might possibly be the best chapter in this whole serial.)

DON (with headphones): Hello?  Hello?  Hello? (Smiling, to the others) It’s the 620!

The scene shifts to the 620, where Chapman informs the crew on the bridge that the marker buoy has been picked up and this message follows: “Commander Winslow…aboard submarine…with others…”

RED: Don’s aboard!

“He’s my friend…really and truly he is!”

CHAPMAN: “They can’t use…escape lungs…the pressure’s…too great…they’re on bottom…at 200 feet…”
RED (to Grady): Can we get Pearl Harbor to send a rescue chamber immediately?
GRADY: We won’t be able to get it here in less than 72 hours…
CHAPMAN: Their oxygen will be gone long before that, sir…

“Well…sucks to be them!  Coming soon to a theater near you: Commander Grady of the Coast Guard!”  Oh, of course you know they’re not going to die because we simply aren’t that lucky…so what happens is Pennington is sent down in the diving suit used in Chapter 10, with an airline so that Don and the others don’t suffocate.

So as the scene shifts back to Blake’s warehouse for the wrap-up, Don bursts into the office calling Red’s name—he has a telegram that he wants to show off:

Yes, Red is the guy who pulled Don’s fat out of the fire…and the Secretary of the Navy gives Don all the credit.  What. A. Dick.

BLAKE: I’m glad they realized what you’ve done, Commander…without you, I’d never have been able to finish building the new naval base…
DON: Well, how about Red?

“I don’t see his name on this freaking telegram…”  Don, to his credit, points out that if Red hadn’t attempted that suicide mission none of them would be standing around smirking today.  Misty wants to give her a man a celebratory hug, and Red goes in for a clinch—but Mike stops him short, and gives him a look that says “Save the sex for the sequel, laddie.”  (Seriously…I did laugh out loud at this.)  Finally, Seaman Chapman enters to put the capper on this thing: Don reads a telegram from Captain Holding that orders him and Red to report for duty in Honolulu because there is evidence of “Scorpion activity in Alaska.”

BLAKE: That about finishes your part of the job on Tangita—eh, Commander?
DON (as the camera goes in for a close-up): On Tangita, yes…but my job won’t be finished until The Scorpion and all others who encourage sabotage…are wiped off the face of the earth!

Bro-ther…oh, well—a good cast is worth repeating:

And a truly painful experience comes to an end.  Next week on Serial Saturdays, we’ll begin a new adventure—the rootin’, tootin’ Western saga that Universal trumpeted as “The Million Dollar Serial!”  Let me just say before you get any ideas that this chapter play did not cost a million dollars to make.  But it does have an amazing lineup of stars, and doesn’t really get the respect it deserves.  Join me for the first chapter of Riders of Death Valley (1941) next week!


Stacia said...

Yaaaaay! You made it! Well done, old chum. I haven't commented here enough but rest assured I have been frustrated right along with you the whole way, thankful for your snark to make it bearable.

the title would seem to suggest that our hero was drummed out of the Navy

That... is hilarious. It's about as bad as having only part of a submarine blow up. Dammit, Ford Beebe, you suck at this.

I'm starting to think the mistake of having a sidekick in two places at once during the finale was a running gag with these people.


Seriously, once you start saying it, you cannot stop.

Very excited for your next serial!

James Vance said...

Don, we hardly knew ye.

And that's fine.

Ivan, fantastic job surviving the experience. Now, don't let us catch you doing this again.

Looking forward to 15 exciting chapters of Leo Carillo.