austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Give me the open sky

[ Late, but for happy reasons, to be explained anon. ]

So what did I learn from watching the Ace Drummond serial?

First, I learned that Mongolia looks a whole lot like southern California. I half-expected they'd run across the 4077th MASH.

Second, I learned that The Dragon is a stupid, stupid man. Almost approaching Buck Rogers stupid. I'm not even talking about the average Evil Overlord kind of stupid. He's got a fundamentally stupid streak. Let's give a pass on his forging his way into a Mongolian monastery for no obvious reason; maybe he figured he'd get that sweet monk lifestyle for himself.

Here's the big stupid: he wants a mountain of jade that was coincidentally discovered near him. Reasonable enough. He holds the only person who knows where it is captive, waiting for him to break. He doesn't break, and escapes his cell about twenty times a day based on the plot evidence, but still. No problem there. But he starts attacking International Airways planes, killing westerners, and drawing the attention of Ace Drummond who, in accord with the rules, stops him. Nobody cared about his jade mountain or even knew it was there until he made international authorities get involved. Only Peggy Trainor cared that he'd held Dr Trainor hostage for months. Drummond didn't know a thing about it to start and it took some effort to rope him into the search for Dr Trainor. If The Dragon had left the airline alone he'd have got his stupid jade mountain.

Next there's implementation stupidity. The Dragon's got this neat gimmick where he can use, apparently, any spinning object as a radio receiver and transmitter. I don't know the exact specifications but it was shown to work with a hand-cranked prayer wheel, an electric fan, a water wheel, and airplane propellers. OK, it's the midst of the Great Depression, but I'm fairly sure you could make all the money in the world by selling radio receivers fitted to any spinning object anywhere.

OK. Let's suppose that he doesn't want to fall in David Sarnoff's crosshairs. His other invention is a death ray that can crash any airplane that's not maintaining radio silence. It's 1936, the heyday of the ``bomber will always get through'' philosophy that made every government in the world wet its pants over the threat of airplanes. He could sell this gimmick to every Air Force in existence and buy a dozen jade mountains, for crying out loud. He's sitting on two money factories and uses them just to draw the attention which foils him. Dumb, dumb dumb.

Third, I learned that obscure Mongolian airfields are the key to a worldwide transportation network despite everything I thought I knew about the world's geography.

Fourth, I learned that High Lamas of vaguely defined Orientalist religions are pretty laid-back, easy going folks. Even as their underlings may be worked up about the sky-demon airplanes clogging up their sense of harmony with nature, they aren't going to get all demanding about, like, the westerners removing the wreckage of their planes from the holy grounds. He's only ever upset by learning one of his underlings is The Dragon, and at least that underling is one of those pesky Westerners faking a committment to the vaguely defined Orientalist religion. That's ... well, that's several papers worth of work for the cultural appropriations department, really.

Fifth, I learned some familiar names pop up all over the place once you start looking into serials. Co-director for Ace Drummond was Ford Beebee, who's vaguely familiar to Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans as the director of the second-season serial used for shorts, The Phantom Creeps. I can't say I noticed any particularly striking directorial notes that he relied on, but it was before the auteur theory of directing really got going. And among the editors of this was a certain A Todd, so I'll go on pretending this is the Todd famous for Cinerama, Todd-AO, and Around The World In 80 Days, the loved film, although those were Mike Todd's work.

Sixth, I learned that being a G-Man Of The Air gives you, apparently, jurisdiction over the whole world to investigate what may or may not be crimes relevant at all to anyone outside local officials. It also means you never have to say sorry for blowing the deep cover of local espionage agents.

Seventh, I learned that if you're true of heart and on the side of good, you can survive crashing your plane into a cement wall or having your car blown up with nothing worse than a look of deep disappointment that your trip has been thus interrupted on your face.

Mostly, though, I learned The Dragon was stupid, stupid, stupid.

The next serial on TCM is Zorro Rides Again, but I'm skipping reviewing that one, partly because it's on hiatus for August anyway, but mostly because it's really not doing anything for me. Despite making it about the original Zorro's grand-nephew or somesuch and moving the action into the 20th century so there can be planes and cars it's not producing enough stuff to get excited about. Also that everybody knows this rich-layabout is the grand-nephew of the Original Zorro, and a New Zorro has turned up just at the same moment this guy has, and yet they're not making the secret identity connection here. I can buy the Clark Kent/Superman thing --- honest; look at a picture of Harold Lloyd without his glasses and you'll notice the simple gimmicks can work --- but this is total disengaged-brain stuff.

Trivia: On winning, in 1914, a patent covering ailerons as well as wing-warping methods of controlling aircraft, the Wright Company announced it would charge a 20 percent royalty on every airplane manufactured in the United States, although Orville Wright said he would follow a ``policy of leniency'' for every company with the exception of Glenn Curtiss's. Source: To Conquer The Air: The Wright Brothers And The Great Race For Flight, James Tobin.

Currently Reading: Dark Lord Of Derkholm, Diana Wynne Jones.


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