Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Black Widow (1947) – Chapter 9: The Spider’s Venom

We’re back, baby!

Since it has been an eternity between this and the last time I did a Serial Saturdays (okay, more like December of last year) I’m going to need a few minutes to catch up on my notes.  Let’s see…(turning pages) good guys spirit Professor Henry Weston (Sam Flint) to undisclosed location…bad guys “kidnap” irksome lady reporter Joyce Winters (Virginia Lindley) to learn Weston’s whereabouts…intrepid faux detective Steve Colt (Bruce Edwards) turns tables on villains and finds their hideout…villains set warehouse hideout en fuego, thus sealing Steve and Joyce’s doom.

Well, yeah…I could have waited for that.  I just chose not to.  If you need to refresh your memory with Chapter 8 it’s copacetic with me…but the gist of it all is that it looks as if Steve was about to be explodiated in that warehouse (since the drums marked “linseed oil” were anything but)—instead, his quick thinking enabled him to duck into the underground space previously revealed by a trap door (Joyce is already down there, still hilariously handcuffed to that steering wheel) before the place blowed up real good. 

The news of Colt’s death comes as quite a shock to the delectably diabolic Sombra (Carol Forman), the villainess whose reign of terror sets most of the chapters in this serial in motion, and she grieves in her office along with henchman Nick Ward (Anthony Warde).

SOMBRA: …with Steven Colt dead, we’ve cut off our only link to Weston’s secret laboratory…and Hitomu’s whole plan for world conquest lies in our securing Weston’s atomic rocket!
(Dr. Z.V. Jaffa [I. Stanford Jolley], the brainier of Sombra’s minions, enters the office with newspaper in hand)
JAFFA: Madame need not regret the untimely death of Mr. Colt…for he and Miss Winters are alive… (He shows Sombra the newspaper)
SOMBRA (reading): “Steven Colt Narrowly Escapes Death”…
WARD (sarcastically): That’s too bad…

You seem all busted up about it, buddy.

SOMBRA (continuing): “Trapped in the explosion of a burning warehouse, the celebrated author and criminologist lies in Mercy Hospital…”

Mercy?  Nah, they probably would have sent him to Grady.  (Little location joke for those of you familiar with Atlanta.)

SOMBRA: “…suffering from a severe concussion and possible internal injuries…Joyce Winters, Clarion reporter who was with Colt, escaped unhurt and was able to summon aid…” (To Ward and Jaffa) This is our chance to make him prisoner…and force him to lead us to Weston’s hiding place!

Sombra is then interrupted by that old familiar gong, and she announces that Ward and Jaffa need to make themselves scarce because her father (Brother Theodore Gottlieb) will be arriving tuit suite, and that means the grown-ups will be talking.  What happens next is one of my favorite moments in the history of chapter plays.

WARD: Wait a minute…why must the Doctor and I take orders and risk our necks for someone we’ve never even seen?
JAFFA (impatiently): Come on, Ward…

“Dude…you do not want to piss her off in moments like this!”

WARD: No…wait till I’ve had my say…you tell me there’s a Supreme Master who lives on the other side of the world…and can be brought here in a few seconds by…some sort of super-scientific Rube Goldberg contraption…
SOMBRA: You doubt the existence of my father?!!
WARD: When my neck’s at stake I believe only what I see!
SOMBRA (after a pause): Perhaps you’re right…watch closely…

So Sombra addresses Ward’s crisis of faith by turning the knobs on the ol’ machine and…

…meeska mooska Mouseketeer!

"Sh*t's about to get real!"
Don’t ask me to explain why I think the Ward-and-Jaffa-meet-Hitomu bit is high hilarity—maybe it’s because I get a kick out of unexpected developments in these things, particularly since they’re pretty rote and formulaic to begin with.  There are more guffaws to be had, however:

SOMBRA: Welcome to our counsel, Father…gentlemen—this is your Supreme Leader…Hitomu…
WARD: Pleased to meetcha…Ward’s my name… (He extends his hand for a greeting)
HITOMU (with unconcealed contempt): I’m aware of your identity…and I am disappointed in the results you’ve achieved…there are delays…delays…delays!  The fate of my world empire hangs in the balance!

Gee, Nick…maybe there was a reason she didn’t want you to meet the old man.  This twist in the narrative is really the only highlight of “The Spider’s Venom,” because Chapter 9 is what is known in the serial bidness as a “recap” chapter.  Basically, it allowed Republic to skimp a little on the production costs of The Black Widow by featuring previous footage from Chapters 1 and 2 to pad out Chapter Nueve with a lot of repetitive plot exposition.  (In other words, Hitomu gets to hear how his daughter and her underlings have continually botched his mahd scheme for world domination by flashing back to the time she impersonated Ruth Dayton [Ramsay Ames], explodiations, warehouse scuffles, etc.)  When that little trip down Memory Lane is completed, it’s back to the real action.

HITOMU: Perhaps you’ve done well…up to the limit of your capabilities…but more subtle means are needed to destroy Mr. Colt…
SOMBRA: But, Father…we need Colt alive!  To find Weston!
HITOMU: No, no…the man is far too dangerous to risk his recovery…now…while he lies in the hospital…helpless…now he must meet the fate of the other victims…of The Black Widow

Dun-dun-DUN!  There is a dissolve, and though it was established earlier that our hero is interned in Mercy Hospital, apparently the Mercy administrators have slashed the budget in order to answer to their stockholders…because they cannot afford a decent sign:

Inside Steve’s room, the unfathomably nosy Joyce peppers his physician (Larry Steers) and nurse (Peggy Wynne) with questions—because that’s the way she rolls.

JOYCE: How is he, Doctor?
HARCOURT: Doing as well as can be expected…he needs rest and absolute quiet…

“So you need to get the hell out of here.  I’m not joking.”

The nurse, identified as “McIntyre,” is summoned to another station via the hospital intercom…and so she excuses herself for a moment while she tends to matters.  Dr. Harcourt reiterates that “the patient will do quite well if left alone for a while,” and so he and Joyce exit, pursued by bears.

A door opens, and a mysterious nurse enters with medicine and a glass of water (but no silly straw) for Colt.  Her identity is then revealed to be…

…boy, you weren’t expecting that—were you?  (Of course you were.)  Nurse Sombra then produces a syringe hidden underneath the tray linen, and she commences to inject Steve with its contents!

"God, no!  Not the catheter!"


grouchomarxist said...

One of the things I love the most about these serials is how these diabolical plans for world domination always seem to depend upon henchmen who were apparently picked up from a corner somewhere while holding a sign saying "Will stooge for food". And what kind of would-be ruler of the world bases his wardrobe on Zoltan the fortune telling machine?

Unknown said...

As always, amazed at the work you put in to these blog posts, so funny and well done. Glad I'm back to reading them after time away.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

grouchomarxist mused:

One of the things I love the most about these serials is how these diabolical plans for world domination always seem to depend upon henchmen who were apparently picked up from a corner somewhere while holding a sign saying "Will stooge for food"

I picture something like out of On the Waterfront: "Everybody works today! I need four men to work with a mad scientist and his robot!"

pete added

As always, amazed at the work you put in to these blog posts, so funny and well done.

Thanks, Br'er Pete. Apologies for the dearth of serial posts; I've just been wrestling with the winter lazies.

Stacia said...

Big lulz at that last screen grab. Looks like he got a shot in the hinder.