The Sunday Intertitle: Penultimate Warrior

Episode 14 of Houdini’s THE MASTER MYSTERY — one to go!

Houdini’s escape from under a pile of rubble is one of his less spectacular — it basically consists of him standing up and dusting himself off. His opponent, Balcom, is less fortunate: not being a trained escapologist, he’s been squashed by boulders. Leave this stuff to the professionals.

Meanwhile, leading lady Marguerite Marsh and Zita the secretary/traitor/possible heiress are menaced by the Automaton and his henchmen, who have also snatched MM’s deranged dad. They’ve thoughtfully gagged him so his Laughing Madness won’t drive them to distraction. Marguerite escapes but Zita is taken.

Q, the Beard Guy, finds Balcom’s corpse and experiences a feeling of something or other ~

Paul Balcom, son of the late creep, visits dad’s house of halberds and ransacks his files, finding something which transforms his outlook and causes him to kick tagalong vamp Deluxe Dora out. What can it be? But meanwhile, Dora has also found revealing documentation and handbagged it away with her. The plot congeals.

We don’t have too long to wait on that one — she hastens to Q’s hissing laboratory and offers him the item for sale: Balcom’s diary. Q is now wholly sane, whatever that means in this context, and accepts the offer with what passes for alacrity with him. DD promises he will learn the truth of Zita’s parentage. Q reads, reacts, and then fetches a small device

Harry somehow knows the location of the Automaton’s new layer, and arrives with a pack of detectives. Since it’s a pleasant day, he brings his girlfriend along too. The lair is some kind of shed or warehouse, rather a come-down after the cavern, the Chinese temple, the hypnotist’s astrological palace, Balcom’s house of halberds, the Black Tom Diner and even the remote roadhouse. It’s jerry-built, too, since our men bash the door down with no trouble and have most of the gang under arrest in an instant. Poor deranged Mr Brent is rescued, but Zita is nowhere to be found. We wait anxiously to see if Harry somehow just knows where she is, the same way he somehow knew where this shed was.

Zita is stowed among halberds by the most obnoxious gang member, with whom Harry has been trading concussions throughout the serial. Somehow this guy has always avoided drowning, falling into the pit of fire or being zapped by the temple laser (what, your local temple doesn’t have a laser?).

HH and MM get Dad home. His Laughing Madness has taken a turn for the worse — his earlier hearty guffaw has faded to a wan grin.

Note to camera operators: always frame for the halberds.

Parentage begins to be sorted out! Paul Balcom tells Zita that she is not the illegitimate daughter of Brent, but the legitimate daughter of nutty scientist Q. Is that good news or bad? Meanwhile, I’ve just worked out who she reminds me of — Mrs Doyle from Father Ted. But that’s probably just a coincidence. She rushes off, apparently no longer a hostage, to share the news with Harry and Marguerite.

Alone with his halberds, Paul Balcom reaches a grim conclusion. But we’re not told what it is.

The last of the gang is arrested, in a bit of plot housekeeping.

And now Q spills the beans freely, as he attempts to win back his daughter’s love. Intertitles pile up like a house of cards. In brief: Balcom had manipulated the insane Q in order to attack Brent — he borrowed Q’s “invention” (some invention, a clunky metal costume) to this end. “Many years ago, Balcom told me that my wife and children were dead. It was one of the blows that wrecked my intellect.” I do like the strange psychology of this serial. Grief dements the scientist, and he is restored to sanity when Balcom, his manipulator, dies. You won’t find that in Freud. You won’t find the Madagascar Madness either, I bet. Anyhow, now Q is overjoyed to learn that Balcom lied about the fate of his daughter, now grown up to resemble Mrs Doyle. You can’t have everything.

Zita (who despite looking like an Irish housekeeper is actually very chic, and a strange, sly sort of actor) reacts to this emotional bombshell by grabbing Marguerite Marsh’s right breast. It’s nice that they’re getting along so well together.

Occasional cutaways of Deluxe Dora, who has nothing to play here, waiting impatiently for the scene to end.

“With a feeble brain, it was impossible for me to complete my invention — so Balcom entered the Mechanical Man to disguise his criminal operations,” explains Q. With Balcom bouldered to extinction, the Automaton must perforce lie inert and trouble the world no longer. But then, just as the light of reason begins to illumine the effluent of plot, the doors crash open and the Automaton marches in ~

Can Harry escape the unlocked room with gaping, broken doors?

Who is inside the Automaton? (Clue: the one major character not already present in the scene).

Are there any more astounding revelations to be made?

Find out in next week’s thrill-packed and CONCLUDING episode of THE MASTER MYSTERY!

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One Response to “The Sunday Intertitle: Penultimate Warrior”

  1. I saw these Houdidi serials playing at my local video store (yes!) and they looked kind of interesting — I gathering up the courage to give them a spin. Got interested in silent serials via “Bound and Gagged”, the LaHue book that made everything seem great, even Officer 444…

    I’m a filmmaker myself, and put together a narrative feature out of a couple dozen silents, serials, and public domain spectacles. With an original story and soundtrack, it got into a few festivals this year and a calendar play at the local arthouse. Here are few clips: http://timeoftherobots.blogspot.com/p/three-clips-from-time-of-robots.html

    Regards–
    Erik H.
    Seattle, WA. USA

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