Monday, April 04, 2005

Undersea Kingdom

I’ve already started watching another serial, this one from 1936 – UNDERSEA KINGDOM. This is one of Republic’s science fiction serials, which means lots of bizarre costumes and goofy-looking robots. It seems that eccentric scientist Professor Norton has invented a machine that will predict earthquakes, and he plans to use it to locate the cause of a series of mysterious quakes that are causing great damage along the East Coast. Since the source of the quakes seems to be somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, discovering their origin will necessitate the use of another of Professor Norton’s inventions, the Rocket Submarine. This sub is under the command of naval commander “Crash” Corrigan, who is played, appropriately enough, by Ray “Crash” Corrigan. The sub sets out into the Atlantic, and on board are Corrigan, Professor Norton, a plucky female newspaper reporter, a somewhat crazed assistant, and a couple of comic relief sidekicks played by Smiley Burnette (best known later on as a sidekick to Roy Rogers and Gene Autry) and Frankie Marvin. The professor’s young son is a stowaway, the typical kid sidekick whose main job is to get in trouble and need rescuing.

Unknown to any of our heroes from the surface, at the bottom of the ocean lies the lost civilization of Atlantis, which sunk not in an overnight apocalypse, as many believe, but rather slowly enough so that the inhabitants were able to construct a giant dome over it, where their descendants now live. The people of Atlantis have split into two warring factions, one of which wants to also make war on the surface world. These are the villains responsible for the devastating earthquakes plaguing the United States.

Things really get weird in the scenes set in Atlantis. Despite their super-science (the Atlanteans have flying warships that are dead ringers for the Enterprise in the original Star Trek), their soldiers gallop around on horseback. Of course, this is so that the stuntmen and riding extras I mentioned in my post on ZORRO’S FIGHTING LEGION can play Atlanteans, too. (I can just imagine the reaction of some of those old cowboys when they were told they had to wear Roman-looking tunics and silly helmets.) Some places in Atlantis have a tropical, jungle-like appearance about them, but mostly Atlantis is sagebrush and boulders and looks just like the location where all the Republic Westerns were filmed. I expected to see the Lone Ranger gallop out from behind a rock and give chase to the evil Atlanteans.

Despite my sarcasm, I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode. There’s lot of miniature work by Howard and Theodore Lydecker, Republic’s special effects wizards. I’ve always been able to get in touch with my inner ten-year-old without much trouble, so I don’t mind the goofiness. Ray Corrigan is a likable hero (he played Tucson Smith in many of the Three Mesquiteer B-Westerns from Republic). I don’t expect UNDERSEA KINGDOM to be as good as ZORRO’S FIGHTING LEGION, but I do think it’ll be quite entertaining.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I love this serial, too. It's certainly in my top ten. The worst thing about it is the truly lame "comedy relief" of Smiley and Frankie. There are times when it seems they've been shot on a different set and inserted into the serial at random. Truly pathetic. Aside from that, though, great stuff.