Monday, August 13, 2007

The Undersea Kingdom (1936)

“The Undersea Kingdom” (1936) - Chapter 10, to be precise, is a sliver of a serial produced by Republic in the days when kids would have to come back the next week to see if the hero got free of the mine shaft explosion or the train wreck. He always did, and it was usually by showing how, in re-capping last week’s episode, that he had jumped clear of the train before it crashed, or was never even in the mine when it exploded. One feels glad, but just a little cheated.

Ray “Crash” Corrigan starred in “The Undersea Kingdom,” which also featured a rather down and out Monte Blue, former romantic lead in silent movies, now reduced to playing Unga Khan, the villain of the piece who wants to rule the world. Villains always seem to want to rule the world, despite what a bother it is.

Also featured are Lon Chaney, Jr., and Smiley Burnette, but B-movies were nothing new to them, and Crash Corrigan would never do better for himself than B-movies and serials, where he did have a following. Mr. Corrigan started as what was called a physical culturalist back in day, a physical trainer to the actors. He got his name Crash because once he got into small roles, he did his own stunts. Known for a great physique, he spends much of this serial bare-chested, in what looks like a bathing suit, boots, a cape, and a helmet on his head that resembles a hood ornament. Anyone else would probably have gotten a headache from wearing it after a while, but our man Crash was in good shape, as we are continually reminded.

Crash is assisted by Diana, girl reporter (there are always girl reporters in these things), and Billy, a young boy who wears a dark tie and shirt, and a sailor cap making him look a little like an American Hitler Youth, and young Billy’s father, the Professor, who has been hypnotized and is under the power of Monte Blue, the bad guy.

The acting could be called forgettable, except you can’t forget it, with lines like, “If they see you, it’ll be just too bad.” In this episode, a horse-drawn chariot race occurs on hillsides of California scrub. It doesn’t look very much like Atlantis, unless perhaps Atlantis had a terrible drought that year. There are enough horses to make this seem like a Western, except all the villain’s army are dressed like they’re performing in “Lysistrata.”

There is no blood in the clashing of soldiers, perhaps because we can see that they stab each other with swords under the arm, the way we did as kids with sticks.

What is fascinating about the series is the prescient references to things that were just on the horizon for us as a nation. An attack on a fortress brings retaliation in the form of cannon-like contraptions built into the walls called “flame-throwers.” Unga Khan keeps track of his enemies by viewing them on what looks like a television set. The whole taking over the world scheme is reliant upon Unga Khan’s being able to use the Professor’s experience in harnessing the atom, and a nuclear submarine. This was still 1936. It seems as if we’d heard of these modern marvels, and we couldn’t wait for them to happen to us.

At one point, when Crash is told, “My son, on your shoulders likes the safety of Atlantis,” and he responds by making what looks for all like a “Heil Hitler” salute.

The only aspect of “Undersea Kingdom” that truly is realistic is the bit about a villain wanting to take over the world. Perhaps because of a steady diet kid’s adventure serials and science fiction plots about mad scientists and their evil plans, we reacted too slowly when we saw the mad men wanting to take over the world in real life. It seemed too unreal to be real. It was laughable, until it wasn’t anymore.

And, besides, even though the hero gets crushed by a falling wall at the end of Chapter 10, we somehow think everything will be all right anyway. We’re told, are we not, to come back next week and catch the next exciting episode? Chapter 11 is called, “The Flaming Death.”

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The Undersea Kingdom [DVD](1936) DVD

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