I’m glad to see that you’ve gotten here early — as we near the end of our saga, seats are going to be at a premium, and you’re fast running out of opportunities to see Frank Coughlan Jr. and Tom Tyler perform their mystic switcheroo. I mean, once this silly thing is out of the theater, it’ll be forever relegated to the realm of nostalgic memory — it’s not like anyone will be able to watch it at home sixty years from now! That would be magic…
And so, while we still have the chance, let’s join the ragged remains of the Malcolm Scientific Expedition in their struggle against the malific machinations of the sinister Scorpion in this week’s chapter of The Adventures of Captain Marvel, “Doom Ship.” Shazam! (Cough, cough…)
Pay close attention to this week’s title cards, recapping Chapter Nine; there will be a quiz after the main feature. “The Scorpion — Forces Doctor Lang to reveal the hiding place of his lens.” “Doctor Lang — Gives Betty the combination to his safe.” “Captain Marvel — Tries to warn Betty of a death trap at Lang’s home.” “Billy Batson — And Betty decide to get the lens.” Now to pick up where we left off…
Last week, we left Billy and Betty standing in front of the late Doctor Lang’s safe, unaware that two tommy guns were aimed at their backs, primed to fire as soon as the safe is opened. (They’re also unaware that Barnett and two other Scorpion men are watching them from hiding.) Just as Billy turns the safe’s dial to the last number, but before he can open the door, Barnett and his boys emerge from behind the drapes.
One of them shoves Betty out of the way. She slams against the wall and is knocked out (by the serial’s end, this woman will have suffered more concussions than Brett Favre) and then he slugs Billy on the head with a gun, laying the intrepid broadcaster out cold.
With our friends out of the way, Barnett motions for the goon to open the safe and get the lens. When the unfortunate chap swings the door open, however, gunfire explodes from the tommys and the thug sinks to the floor, dead. Barnett and his remaining assistant hesitate a moment, making sure that Lang’s library has no other surprises in store, and then, going over to the now safe safe, reach in to find… no lens, only a folded map of the tomb in Siam where all this nonsense started.
On the floor, Billy has come to, but stays down to hear what the bad guys are saying. “It’s just a map,” the disappointed henchman says, and Barnett replies, “Yeah, but it shows where Lang hid his lens — Lang never brought his lens back to the United States; he left it in the tomb!” Leaving their dead buddy bleeding on the floor, the two Scorpionites start out to return the map to their boss. (I wonder if both the Scorpion and the Malcolm group employ some sort of body disposal service, to deal with all the deceased members that they’ve left scattered all over town — if they do, they should be eligible for the high-volume discount.)
Before they can get out the door, Billy jumps up and leaps on Barnett, who snaps an order to his goon. “Get the map and get out of here — I’ll take care of the kid!” As the compliant thug runs out, Billy and Barnett tussle around the room, knocking things over and generally having a good time, not even worrying about what mom and dad will say when they get home. The battle is fairly even until Billy knocks an off-balance Barnett into a tall cabinet and a bust topples off of it, hitting the Chief henchman on the head and putting out his lights.
While Barnett and Betty are both out, Billy runs outside and says “Shazam!” Captain Marvel now leaps into the air, flying in pursuit of the map-carrying thug, who’s running for all he’s worth. The World’s Mightiest Mortal catches him easily. (The life size flying model is employed here in some very effective shots.) A tackle, a punch, and the ratio of people in the scene killed or unconscious reaches eighty percent.
Captain Marvel takes the map and then, apparently bored with his daily grind of shooting, crushing, and flinging, tries something completely different; he pulls off the thug’s belt (giving us all a quick moment of unease) and uses it to tie the crook up for the police. As he’s doing this, Barnett, having recovered consciousness, is running home to the Scorpion with news of the map, but not the map itself.
Captain Marvel, like a human (or superhuman) cell-phone contract, seemingly can’t exceed his allotted minutes without incurring a stiff penalty, so he wastes no time in turning back into Billy, who then arrives back in Lang’s library just as Betty is coming to. (She’s probably wondering what the score is, and getting ready to plead with the coach to send her back in.) After quickly glancing at and dismissing the bullet-riddled corpse at their feet, Billy and Betty rush back to Malcolm’s to share the news about the location of Lang’s lens.
In the Malcolm conference room, Billy gives Doctor Malcolm, Tal Chotali, and Bentley the lowdown. Everyone looks sour; perhaps Malcolm has just announced that due to dwindling membership (high mortality rate and all that), everyone’s monthly dues are being raised. “I got the map,” Billy tells them, “but the Scorpion knows where the lens is hidden.”
He then tosses the document onto the table, and Tal Chotali and Bentey immediately grab for it as though it were the only chicken leg in a plate full of wings. “Gentlemen!” Malcolm admonishes.
“I beg your pardon,” Tal Chotali says, and Bentlet responds with “I’m sorry.” They look contrite, but each one knows that the other is already scheming on a way to get the top bunk.
Malcolm, the author of about a dozen deaths so far, has another brilliant plan. “There is but one course open to us,” he intones as if someone were actually listening. “We must get to the Valley of Tombs before the Scorpion.” Calling Betty in, he orders her to book passage for everyone on the first steamer to Bangkok. “You can count me in sir — and I’ll get Whitey there too,” Billy says, and no one objects. (That’s how I know no one was listening.)
Betty goes out to look into travel arrangements while Bentley and Tal Chotali scowl at each other over the map. Malcolm continues, “We are agreed that the possession of this map will endanger a man’s life so longs as the Scorpion lives. Therefore, I propose this — each one of us, including Betty, shall have a portion of the map. This way I’m sure we shall all reach Siam alive.” Or… each be killed for their portion of the map…
Not realizing that he’s ruining its eBay value (though it’s no longer Mint In Tomb anyway), Malcolm rips the map into five equal pieces and distributes them. Betty then comes back in and announces that she’s “booked passage on the freighter Carfax; it sails for Bangkok at midnight.” All is ready — oh yes, there’s one more thing; the meeting can’t break up until Malcolm puts Betty’s life in danger along with everyone else’s. He hands her her portion of the map and says, “I’ve divided the map as a precaution against the Scorpion; this is your share. Guard it carefully.”
“Yes, Mr. Malcolm,” the secretary replies, accepting the scrap. She’s too much of a lady to stuff it into her brasserie in front of these mugs; doubtless she’ll take care of that later.
While the few remaining members of the Malcolm Expedition head off to pack, one of them has even more preparations to make, that one being the Scorpion himself. Back at his lair, the mastermind lifts the golden scorpion out of its alcove and carefully sets it on his desk as Barnett looks on. The chief henchman is going to have to add a couple of items to his “to do” list — murder stoolies, collect the take from extortion rackets, fix horseraces, bribe police, pick up a good, sturdy cardboard box and some bubble wrap…
“I leave for Bangkok on the freighter Colfax at midnight tonight,” the Scorpion tells Barnett. Wait a minute — Betty said that they were leaving on the Carfax, not the Colfax. Well, it just goes to show how hard it is to read a script with a hood on your head.
The mastermind must have gotten it all straightened out somehow or other, because we next see everyone (except Billy) on board the ship — whatever its name is — sitting in a parlor, playing cards. The game might be poker, but then again it might not be — since Whitey is playing too, it could just as well be Old Maid. (If they only realized that this is their last chance to bag the villain without bloodshed — whoever bluffs the best has to be the Scorpion!)
Outside the portholes, a storm is raging, and Billy comes through a door from the outer deck with the news, “We’re way off our course; we’re somewhere to the Siamese coast. At least we’ll be out of the typhoon by morning.” No, I didn’t drop a word there — Billy did. It’s been a long haul, and I think Frank Coughlan Jr. is getting a little serial fatigue. (You probably know how he feels.)
There’s a nice shot of the ship here, bobbing in the water — it’s the kind of toy boat that third-rank Japanese monsters have a field day with. The process shots of the sailors on deck with enormous waves towering behind them are very nicely done, though — the effect is surprisingly convincing (and anxiety-inducing, if drowning at sea at night in a huge storm is something that worries you the least little bit).
Uh-oh. The ship is headed towards some rocks. The captain has to make a fast decision — should he quickly alter course and try to avoid wrecking the ship? Please! Where have you been for nine chapters? Let’s get the passengers into their life jackets and on deck… and keep heading straight for those rocks! (I think the captain just wants out of his contract.) A sailor notifies the group of this command decision and everyone runs out of the salon. Bentley is the last to go, sitting at the table until the last minute, clutching his cards and shiftily glancing from side to side. He must have had a good hand.
The ship successfully strands itself on the rocks and the crew drops anchor to help hold the vessel in place. What to do now? They can’t launch the lifeboats — the storm is too violent. Billy suggests a breeches buoy (perhaps because it’s just fun to say), but the captain says that there’s “no way to get a line across.” I mean it’s not as if we have someone on board who can fly!
Taking advantage of a moment alone on deck, Billy says the magic word and Captain Marvel appears. He runs up to the startled captain, who’s standing by Whitey and trying to figure out what to do next. (Anyone who stands by Whitey gets startled and tries to figure out what to do next.)
The captain reasonably asks, “Who are you? Where’d you come from?” Before he can add, “And what’s with the outfit?” Whitey informs him that this is Captain Marvel, who “can do anything,” including getting aboard without buying a ticket.
“Give me a breeches buoy line and I’ll take it ashore for you,” Cap says, and taking the line in hand, flies to shore, where he fastens it to a tree. Once this is done, the ship’s crew rigs the buoy, which looks like Oliver Hardy’s underwear with the elastic stretched out. Everyone lines up for evacuation and Betty is set to be the first to be ferried to safety. Just then she says, “I left something in my cabin,” and runs back to retrieve whatever it is.
The captain shrugs (if the latest issue of Modern Screen Romances is that important to her, so be it) and moves on to the next person in line — Whitey, as it turns out. This guy is the worst decision maker since Captain Queeg. Or maybe he was just sticking to the classic rule of the sea: “women and children and idiot comic relief first.”
As Betty runs back to her stateroom, Tal Chotali and Bentley indulge in yet one more bout of shifty eyeball-swiveling. Now that they’re the only two left in the contest, the competition is that much fiercer.
Back in her room, Betty kneels down in front of a cabinet; she opens it and removes her purse while up behind her comes — the Scorpion! Yes, on a sinking ship, in the middle of a typhoon, the man has taken the time to change into his Robes of Villainy to yet again hit someone in the head with a pistol. He must really like the feel of the silky-smooth fabric against his skin. Well, life means so much more when you take the time for the little pleasures…
Betty Wallace, the ideal woman — resourceful, plucky, brave, and with all the lumps on her head, a phrenologist’s dream — sags to the floor. The Scorpion quickly looks around the cabin and then… takes her purse. It’ll go perfectly with that pair of shoes Barnett gave him for his last birthday.
On shore, Whitey has come safely across and Captain Marvel leaves him to help the others as they arrive. “Work this haul line; I’m going to go get some firewood,” the World’s Mightiest Mortal says. Once out of Whitey’s sight, a quick “Shazam!” changes him back to Billy.
Eventually, everyone gets off the ship and onto shore, even Tal Chotali; apparently the buoy was strong enough to handle the weight of his ego and his water-logged turban. The storm abates and everyone settles around a cheery fire. Just as they’re about to see if anyone has some marshmallows and start up a chorus of “Kum-By-Yah,” Billy looks around and says, “Say — where’s Betty?”
The buck now gets passed faster than you can say “Golden Scorpion Atom-Smasher.” “Why, I thought she was around here somewhere,” says Malcolm. “Carlson, I thought you got everybody off,” says the captain. “I’m sure I had everybody accounted for, sir,” says Carlson. “Who will help me eat the bread?” said the Little Red Hen… ooops. A little story confusion there. Where was I?
Oh yes. Not needing any letters typed, pencils sharpened, refreshments served, or lenses retrieved at risk of her life, none of these lunks even noticed Betty’s absence. “She must still be in her cabin,” Billy bleats. “She might have been knocked out when we struck. Quick — get me back to that ship!” As Billy hops back into the breeches buoy for his return trip to the wrecked vessel, we see that the ship’s anchor line is beginning to fray.
Once back on board, Billy rushes to Betty’s cabin, where he finds her still unconscious on the floor. He lifts Betty in his arms and as he does so, the overstrained anchor-line parts, and the ship starts to slide beneath the waves, sending a torrent of water gushing into the cabin. On shore, Whitey, unable to pass up the opportunity to say such a dramatic (if obvious) line, says, “The ship is going down!” and everyone watches as the Carfax or Colfax or whatever the hell it’s called is completely swallowed up by the ocean.
Are Billy and Betty doomed to sink to a watery grave? Will the Scorpion get to the Valley of Tombs before the Malcolm party? What was the name of the ship, anyway? Will that incompetent old fool Malcolm get his before the serial ends?
The answers to (some of) these and other questions will be found in next week’s exciting chapter, “Valley of Death.” See you then!