Archive for The Master Mystery

The Sunday Intertitle: Penultimate Warrior

Posted in FILM with tags , , on September 30, 2012 by dcairns

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!

The Sunday Intertitle: Crunch Time

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2012 by dcairns

First, a Vampira limerick. Next ~


Last we saw, Houdini’s neck was in a noose and he was bound hand and foot by thugs dressed as monks. Foolish monks! Love laughs at locksmiths and Houdini honks at headsmen. More seriously, his significant other, Marguerite Marsh, was about to have her face seared off by the laser beam eyes of a graven idol. And that can’t be good.

Now read on…

As a trap door opens ‘neath Houdini’s feet, he frees his hands by expert wriggling and lifts himself up onto the chandelier from which he is hung. Zita, recovering from a recent concussion, rushes forward and brains one monk with a vase, sending him toppling through the trap and into the fiery furnace below. HH now engages in an impressive bout of inverted fisticuffs, hanging upside-down from the light fitting and punching another monk into the flaming pit. Dropping to the floor he incinerates another opponent, and settles for punching the last one into a state of idleness.

Rushing next door, he saves MM from almost certain disintegration, going so far as to shove one of her assailants under the laser just so we can see what that’s like. Zita, HH and MM flee through the big doors before the Automaton, lumbering at top speed, can catch up with them. Then they all go home for a chat.

Zita has finally decided which side she’s on, with the aid of an intertitle showing a bleak landscape whose boulders are engraved with the names of the supporting cast. I wish I had something like that to help me reach decisions.

The goodies decide to use Zita as a double agent, but vamp Deluxe Dora soon rumbles her and sets a trap. The question of whether Zita is in fact MM’s half-sister remains unsettled, even after Harry produces what purports to be a birth certificate. Oh, and the evil Dacoit turns up again in a wicker basket, and Harry belts him one. I think that’s him out of the picture.

By the way, co-scenarist Arthur B Reeve (THE CLUTCHING HAND) also penned THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE, which I am anxious to see, since an enticing image from it appears in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. Let me know if you have a copy.

Balcom disposes of incriminating documents. Yeah, you can get rid of Mitt Romney’s tax returns while you’re at it.

Mr Brent, MM’s dad, the one with the laughing madness, is abducted from his own home via secret passage. HH rigs up a trick camera to locate the entrance, and snaps the weaselly Balcom in the act of egress. At last, he gains access to the secret underground lair, where he embarks on a tussle with his corporate foe.

BOOM! Balcom had rigged the cave to explode, and Harry falls on the detonator with him. Meanwhile, Zita and Marguerite are menaced by thugs outside.

Can Harry escape from under a big heap of boulders? (I know, it seems inconceivable.) Tune in next week!

The Sunday Intertitle: Laser Eye Treatment

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 16, 2012 by dcairns

Last we saw, Harry Houdini had got himself tangled in a fishing net like a prize chump (that’s a species of fish, right?) while the deadly and misnamed Automaton advanced menacingly upon his girlfriend (she would’ve been his wife but for a previous abduction). Now read on ~

Harry escapes the net by removing it. OK, it was tied round with ropes, but this is still not one of his more impressive-looking tricks: a man can’t struggle out of a net without looking somewhat foolish somehow. He then throws the net over the Automaton, who looked foolish anyway. Our heroes escape and join up with Zita, who is in drag again and has sprained her ankle (a sure give-away: she may be dressed as a boy, but only women sprain their ankles in movies).

Corporate maneuvers in the dark: Marguerite gains control of her father’s company while dad is still struck down with the laughing madness (I feel for his ribs). Rather unwisely, Houdini tells corporate scumbitch Balcom that he’s going to have him arrested and gives him 24 hrs to prepare his revenge settle his affairs. He recruits Zita, now back in a frock and still conflicted — she loves Houdini, he keeps rescuing her, but he loves Marguerite… it’s no contest really, Houdini must DIE!

Luring the ever-gullible Harry to his pad on promises of fresh evidence, Balcom sets his scheme in motion (nice pad: particularly dig the halberds). But Zita quits Balcom’s scheme because he’s consistently failed to prove that she’s the illegitimate daughter of the laughing madman. Instead she joins his dapper son Paul at the home of Professor Q — ah-ha, THAT’S the beard guy’s name! So that’s his cave under the laughing madman’s house? How come we never see him in it? I thought the Automaton was Q for several episodes just because he was always described as being in Q’s cave. Oh well…

The villainous and hirsute old codger concocts a new scheme involving an Evil Hypnotist — Houdini breaks into Balcom’s halberd storehouse with the aid of two plainclothesmen who obligingly use him as a battering ram ~

Three… two… one… ARGH!

But there they find Balcom departed, leaving only a cheerful note predicting their imminent death from chlorine gas poisoning. And sure enough, beneath Balcom’s brass Buddha (those murderous Buddhists!) is a steaming censer of noxious vapours ~ Everybody falls down!

(Things I know from film viewing: chlorine gas can bleach the yellow from a canary’s feathers. THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. What will it do to his halberds?)

Zita tells Marguerite her Evil Hypnotist friend can cure the laughing madness. Marguerite, bamboozled half to death multiple times by this scheming stenographer, is skeptical. “Please believe me,” argues Zita, compellingly. Marguerite is instantly convinced, and goes optimistically to her doom.

Learning about Balcom’s foul gas-plan, Zita, ever whimsical, rescues Houdini by opening the window. Are the cops OK? Nobody seems to care.

Beard guy looks even more bizarre in daylight and on location than the Automaton.

If the Chinese Temple evoked Fu Manchu, the Evil Hypnotist’s dwelling is more Mabuse. Apparently he’s also an astrologer, and he has an even nicer pad than Balcom. He doesn’t even need halberds to tie the room together. And he has a Hypnotic Machine! Marguerite is soon deep in a trance state, which slows her down and cancels out the effect of the undercranking so she’s suddenly moving like somebody in the 21st century.

The Automaton is now operating out of the Chinese temple, where he’s rigged the God statue with laser-beam eyes. The Hypno-lair is right next to the temple, connected by SECRET PASSAGE (why didn’t Marguerite suspect this? Because women can’t read maps). Mesmerized, bound and gagged, the poor girl is rolled towards the deadly divine laser beams as Harry, arriving after a tip-off from the ever-fickle Zita, is mugged by thugs dressed as monks, roped up and noosed —

Can Harry escape death by hanging, and can Marguerite, not actually a professional escapologist, escape incineration by holy laser beam?

Houdini: The Movie Star (Three-Disc Collection)