Archive for J Grubb Alexander

Astral Projection Booth; or, Carter Beats the Devil

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2013 by dcairns

I’m in London today on a Mission of Great Importance. More later! But meanwhile ~

trail_of_the_octopus.15

Episode 15 of our serial photoplay and THE TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS finally slithers to its corruscating conclusion. Even more excitingly, part of the final episode is missing, thus retaining that all-important sense of mystery and frustration. The lost sequence means we can never know the identity and fate of masked malefactor Monsieur X… those responsible for restoring the serial insert a few shots culled from elsewhere and one bogus special effect, and while leaving X’s ID unsolved, suggest that after a hypnotic duel with oriental mastermind Wang Foo, X is dragged off into another dimension by spectral hands.

I call bullshit on that! You just didn’t get talk of other dimensions in 1919 serials. I have my own theories.

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-13h18m19s116

First, the mystery man’s secret identity — for weeks I was convinced he must be Raoul Bornay, the shifty Tunisian gentleman. But Bornay perished several episodes ago, slain by an envenomed knife handle in Montmartre. Still, I don’t think I’m being unfair to serial photoplaywright J. Grubb Alexander when I suggest that he might stoop to resurrecting a slain character. In fact, he has already done so, three times in this serial.

But there’s another strong possibility, and it has the advantage of also clearing up the question of X’s fate. What if Monsieur X was Wang Foo all along? We know that Foo can bilocate using his “atomic form,” and this bilocation ability becomes central to the plot in this final installment. The only puzzle would be the incidents when Wang Foo and Monsieur X seems to be working to different agendas. But that could easily be explained away as bad writing, which already explains so much in this series.

Anyway, last we saw, Ruth Stanhope was being menaced by a dwarf behind a sofa. However, to all our surprise I’m sure, he fails to stab her to death, and another mystery is cleared up when the disembodied eyes which have been peeping in at us since episode one appear again and turn out to belong to Omar, Professor Stanhope’s manservant, unseen since the first episode.  Omar dispatches the stunted “ape-man” but is himself felled by a poisoned dart, thus closing that loophole neatly. It’s a thrilling action sequence and I suggest we watch it together ~

I like the dainty way Omar wipes his hands after they’ve encircled the ape-man’s unwashed throat.

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-12h37m12s25

And featuring Woodrow Wilson as himself!

Seriously, ever-resourceful/opportunistic director Duke Worne splices in a bit of actuality film of the visiting prez.

What else? Professor Stanhope is rescued and his bearded kidnapper (the false Monsieur X, the guy who seemed to die in episode 1) is arrested. Ruth escapes too.

Meanwhile, Wang Foo succeeds in opening the stone safe with the last of the sacrificial daggers we’ve been chasing since episode one. Conveniently forgetting the crucial symbols (or “symbals”) tattooed on Professor Stanhope’s arm, he uses the ancient Egyptian figurine stashed there to jumpstart his astral projection booth, where he can mass-produce spectral clones of himself to go forth and do his evil eastern bidding. He also plans to cause a blackout, during which his maxi-me army will loot the city using a dirigible fleet.

Waitaminute, dirigible fleet? Did J Grubb Alexander just pull another deus ex machine from his capacious ass? It must be like a TARDIS in there. Like a vast library containing the plots of everything ever written. The Library of Alexander. Up his ass. I hope science found a way to extract it after his death.

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-13h10m07s68

To my delight, the zeppelin raid is rendered using the medium of cut-out animation, a technique hitherto unseen in any serial photoplay I know of. It’s certainly a first for this one. OCTOPUS keeps on giving.

Anyhow, Carter traces Wang Foo to his lair, where the busy megalomaniac is still cranking out astral replicas of himself. The crafty stereotype promptly turns suicide bomber, tugging a lever which, he explains, will cause a cylinder to fill up with “radio gas” so that both men will be “blown to atoms” ~

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-12h43m20s69

Wait a minute — that says “down to atoms.” I guess by Episode 15 J. Grubb Alexander’s faithful spellcheck (the 1919 version of spellcheck was known as “Mrs Alexander”) was worn out.

As Wang Foo, Al Ernest Garcia, persistently billed as “Earnest Garcia,” drops his inscrutable act and suddenly starts cackling like a stereotyped Mexican bandit. His oriental moustache morphs before our eyes into something Alfonso Bedoya would be proud to sport. And is that a gold tooth, or just a missing tooth?

The misspelled Mexican actually had a more distinguished career than anyone else associated with OCTO, appearing for Chaplin in THE IDLE CLASS, THE GOLD RUSH, THE CIRCUS, CITY LIGHTS and MODERN TIMES (as president of the Electro Steel Corps).

Anyway, radio gas, yes. This was the age, you’ll remember, when the word “radio” was irresistibly futuristic and jargon-y, able to enhance any sentence or phrase with a mystical glamour, as in “Radio City Music Hall.” Modern equivalents might be words such as “sharknado,” “sideboob” and “Belieber.” I’m wondering how a gas-powered radio might function, and am forced to imagine the strange apparatus used in Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, whereby messages are sent through the gas mains using pulsations in the pressure which can be detected by spies wearing gas masks connected to the supply. Interestingly, the novel ends around the time of TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS…

Carter Holmes escapes death! By jumping out the window. Big explosion, and the primal Wang staggers about in a classic barnstormer’s death scene, before expiring amid rubble. His clones fade from existence via a series of dissolves, and America is made safe.

Coda: Duke Worne enlists a lookalikey Woodrow Wilson to pop in at the end and congratulate the heroes for “defeating this gigantic octopus” which menaced San Francisco. I fear the faux-Woodrow is confusing this serial with the plot of IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA.

The End.

Advertisements

With this power called ‘Dynolife’

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on July 17, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-07-15-01h07m25s166

Chapter 14 of our serial photoplay, TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS — the penultimate chapter — and the titles writer is frankly exhausted, his spelling and grammar disintegrating like a Damon Lindelof screenplay under critical scrutiny. Still, The House of Shadows is a good title for this blog to play host to.

We were left with an unusual cliffhanger last week. While Ruth Stanhope is in mortal peril as usual, the threat involving Carter Homes, master criminologist, is not one hanging over him personally, but one he has set up to electrocute the fiendish Dr Wang Foo. Can we bring ourselves to feel much anxiety over his fate? Perhaps not, but after thirteen episodes I’ve given up hope of anything really appalling happening to Carter, so at least this provides variety.

Anyhow, the plan works and soon Wang Foo is smouldering at gunpoint in an armchair, nerve-endings frazzled by several thousand volts. Things have been getting complicated in the storyline, so that the filmmakers are obliged to spend the first quarter of the episode recapping the various threads interwoven last week.

vlcsnap-2013-07-15-01h07m09s247

Before our terrified eyes, Ruth is threatened with the deadly oriental black fever, but another pair of eyes, those disembodied ones that keep cropping up, come glowing through the wallpaper and cure vamp Zora Rularde of Wang Foo’s devilish mind control — this results in her expiring of the oriental fever herself but without infecting Ruth.

Another directorial flourish — as Wang Foo, not quite vanquished, tries to hypnotize Carter Holmes, director Duke Worne cuts back and forth incessantly, creeping in to closer and closer views of his staring antagonists. It’s Hitchcock meets Leone! And then Carter, who has failed miserably throughout the series, basically pisses his pants and drops the revolver, bamboozled by the psychic assault. Recovering slightly, he pulls a trick with the lights, distracts Foo, and grabs the gun again, but the Chinese mastermind fades from view — merely an astral projection from a recumbent Wang Foo back at his headquarters. Curses!

Comedy chubster Sandy McNab turns up with news of where Prof Stanhope has been abducted to (Stanhope shares his daughter’s predilection for being kidnapped — perhaps it’s genetic). Leaving the electrical dagger trap in place, Carter rushes off.

vlcsnap-2013-07-15-01h19m55s225

Raoul Bornay prepares a horrible yet absurd torture for Prof Stanhope.

Big raid on Wang Foo’s joss house! But he’s not there. Carter just can’t catch a break.

vlcsnap-2013-07-16-15h42m57s10

But — Abdoul the cultist rug merchant gets electrocuted — in a rather Lynchian visual — while reaching for the booby trapped dagger. Hilarious scene of Carter interrogating the rigid Satanist. And finally, the master plot is “explained” ~

vlcsnap-2013-07-16-15h47m11s240

Abdoul plays the race card ~

vlcsnap-2013-07-16-16h01m11s198

Abdoul is so stiffened from his electrocution they have to pose him like an action figure to get the handcuffs on. That’s what happens when you mess with an ace criminologist.

Now Carter learns that there’s only one sacrificial dagger still at liberty. Forgetting that he could simply blow up the cave where the safe is hidden which the daggers open, perhaps using a charge of trinitrotruol, he resolves to make safe the final blade. Given his track record, I’m ready to start digging a grave for San Francisco’s last professor. It’s no accident, it seems to me, that Carter’s sidekick Sandy McNab (William Dyer) is best known for playing a grave-digger in FRANKENSTEIN — it’s the main labour involved in assisting Carter.

vlcsnap-2013-07-16-16h10m10s187

For no reason, even though he believes Ruth has been infected with a deadly virus, Wang Foo instructs his simian henchman to stab her with a tiny dagger. Which leads to an appropriately menacing cliffhanger ~

vlcsnap-2013-07-16-16h10m20s37

To Be Concluded!

The Ninth Arm of the Octopus

Posted in FILM with tags , , on July 10, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-07-02-23h55m03s103

Chapter 13 of our serial photoplay THE TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS is entitled The Phantom Manderin, which I love. Typos in titles are so rare. Although I refer you to Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES.

Parisian Apaches try to blow up our heroes, but succeed only in disturbing the surgeon about to saw off Professor Stanhope’s arm in order to make off with his valuable tattoo.

vlcsnap-2013-07-02-23h54m22s200

The sinister hospital has a pleasant awning.

Carter pops through a window in time to prevent amputation and the gendarmerie seizes the evil, masked Night Doctors. As Wang Foo’s ape-man watches from a shrub, Prof Stanhope is tenderly carried back to his hotel, arm still attached. Scenarist J. Grubb Alexander, concussed by his own soaring imagination, abandons grammar altogether, just hoping to make it to Episode 15 so he can sleeeeep…

vlcsnap-2013-07-02-23h57m38s128

And I swear eight episodes or so ago the evil Satanist rug merchant was called “Aboul”…

Wang Foo, presumed dead, emerges from behind a curtain, armed, to startle the rug merchant and his anonymous accomplice Monsieur X. Wang unmasks X, who proves to be Raoul Bornay (I was hoping he’d startle us by proving to be the Tunisian guy who died last week). Now everybody’s behaviour becomes incomprehensible, offering me a glimpse of life through the eyes of the severely autistic. Wang Foo asks Ab(d)oul to keep a secret from Monsieur X. But isn’t that Monsieur X right in front of him? Unless it’s not the real Monsieur X. I dimly recall several episodes ago there were several Messieurs X running around. But even if this is so, how does Wang Foo KNOW Bornay isn’t the real X? Am I crazy to care?

Okay, now a second Monsieur X shows up outside the house. The real one? Or just a Brand X Monsieur X? He’s in league with Aboul/Abdoul, except he’s now keeping a secret from him on Wang Foo’s instructions. My head hurts, but maybe we’re going to be okay, folks. The only problem is there are no more living characters left to be unmasked as the real X.

vlcsnap-2013-07-02-23h59m40s54

Carter Holmes, brilliant criminologist, wonders how Wang Foo can be both dead and alive at the same time, like Schrodinger’s cat. Carter, being less schooled in theoretical physics, compares him to Jekyll and Hyde for his uncanny ability to be in two places at once, rather missing the fact that J&H were uncanny because of their ability to be in one place at once. Still, he’s a criminologist, not a literary critic.

Reintroducing faithful sidekick Sandy McNab! We’re back in San Francisco, where the remaining two scientists with the remaining two ceremonial daggers are to be found (the Bay Area has always been rich in dagger-wielding scientists).

Fiona pauses to look over my shoulder and say “I’m really glad I’m not watching this.”

Carter reasons that, with Wang Foo’s uncanny powers of astral projection, he must be caught TWICE. To do this, he contrives a ridiculously complicated and dangerous plan.

Time for the statutory Ruth Stanhope abduction. Ruth is alone in her hotel room, trying to get a little reading in between kidnappings, when the pygmy ape man locates her. He reports her whereabouts to Wang Foo, who’s thinking one abduction ahead — he’s going to grab Prof Stanhope, then send Zora the vamp to lure Ruth along on a false rescue attempt. He’s also poisoned Zora’s hands so she has to wear gloves otherwise one touch will cause her to die of Oriental Fever (not — Oriental Fever!?!).

Aboul, or Abdoul, the rug merchant and Satanist, is slotting the ceremonial daggers into the stone vault. He only needs three more and he can get the terrible treasure within, whose significance I have entirely forgotten. Much more of this and I will have forgotten how to walk.

Carter proposes to hide in a mummy case with a fake dagger left out as bait, wired electrically to paralyse whomsoever comes to swipe it. I’ve heard worse plans. However, I still suspect the American professor population is going to be reduced again. Presumably Carter has the folks who killed the elephant for Edison lined up to do his wiring.

vlcsnap-2013-07-09-23h56m37s228

I’m wondering if I should just take a few snaps of scenes from the next episode, make up some crazy shit, and not bother to watch. I mean, who’d know?

Ruth is abducted, having been tricked into believing her father was abducted. Now, to save her life, she is ordered to help abduct him. This, on the face of it, makes little sense, but if you examine it more deeply you will realize it makes NO sense.

Zora advances threateningly, each digit imbued with the Oriental Black Fever!

Monsieur X disposes of yet another professor, acquires yet another dagger.

The astral projection / lookalike Wang Foo falls into Carter’s trap — ZAP! —

vlcsnap-2013-07-09-23h57m45s134