Those Saturday Serial Days

Batman (The Original) 1943

For me, it all started with original Batman serial in 1943. At age five, I could walk about six blocks each Saturday from out little rental duplex on Pecore Street, cross Studewood Avenue by myself, and then make my way straight into the old Studewood Theatre for the weekly showing of “Batman” and transfixation into another world – the world of Gotham City and the original caped crusader’s war on crime and evil.

All I had to do was see that little winged bat introduction logo featured here as I simultaneously tuned my ears to the slow-droning classical-like musical introduction and my voyage to this other land of cliff-hanging action would begin in earnest. For about fifteen minutes each Saturday, for fifteen weeks in a row, the battle between good and evil would play out before the believing eyes and ears of all the faithful who came to cheer Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, as they chased down the bad guys and fought with all their might to protect America and our “American way of life.”

Since the original “Batman” was made during World War II, the arch villain here was a Japanese gentleman named “Dr. Daka,” played by American actor J. Carrol Naish, who portrayed the “bad guy” role  with his eyes taped into an Asian slant in the most offensive way by 21st century standards. As little kids, we didn’t care. All we cared about was that Batman existed to protect us from all harm. The fact that the fight scenes often pushed Batman’s eyes away from the viewing slots in his hooded mask, making it easier for the bad guys to knock him out, was lost upon us back then. We just knew that our hero would always find a way to prevail in the end. I had to see the serial again as an adult to see how all the sight line imperfections of our hero’s costume would have made finding the quickest way to the bathroom difficult enough – and actually fighting almost impossible.

Other serials came our way as WWII ended. After my family moved to Pecan Park in the East End in 1945, all my Saturday movie fare attentions shifted to the Avalon Theatre on 75th, just north of the Lawndale intersection.

All serials followed this course: (1) much fist-fighting and car chasing; (2) a lot of gun-shooting with no concern for bystander safety; (3) little attention to technical details. For example, one rocket ship had an adjustment spot on the flight lever that was marked as “take off;” (4) There was a good chance that one of the principle bad guys was going to be played by an actor named Roy Barcroft; (4) fpr 11 to 14 weeks, the serial hero, and/or his girl friend, would be left hanging near certain death at the end of each mid-story chapter; and, (5) in the end, the bad guys would be vanquished, destroyed, wiped out, and killed in ways that they each major villain so richly deserved.

Here are a few of my other favorite serials from back in the day:

The Purple Monster Strikes (1945)

The Purple Monster Strikes (1945). Roy Barcroft stars as a man from Mars who comes to Earth to learn more about jet engine technology. The Martians want to take over our planet, but they don’t know how to build a plane or a rocket ship that can take off again once it lands the first time. The science deficiency of the Martians is pretty fishy. These are the same Martians who already have invented a little box called ” the distance eliminator,” a device that allows them to understand and speak any language to which they are exposed. – And these same brilliant beings don’t how to build an aircraft that can take off again once it lands?

In the end, the Purple Monster’s plans for world domination literally blow him to smithereens.

Serial Social Note: Linda Stirling plays the hero’s girl friend, a role she often plays in these duels between good and evil.

The Crimson Ghost (1946)

The Crimson Ghost (1946). Linda Stirling returns as the hero’s girl friend and Lone Ranger star Clayton Moore appears as an absolute two-dimensional psychopath who will do whatever the evil Crimson Ghost tells him to do if it serves their goal of building a nuclear bomb they can use to take over the world. In the end, of course, the evil professor who scares the cra-zap out of people with his blatant grabs for power is destroyed – as is the socially irredeemable “Ash,” played by the aforementioned Clayton Moore.

King of the Rocket Men (1949)

King of the Rocket Men (1949). Tris Coffin did a great job as the “Rocket Man.” Saving the world from communism and the evil people who wanted to destroy freedom-loving nations  with the atomic bomb was as ongoing struggle for all the big and little superheroes of the late 1940s.

As kids, we loved how quick and easy it was Rocket Man to find and reach all the crime scenes that kept popping up over the fifteen week course of this serial. We also could not quite figure out how Rocket Man was able to use his rocket-firing flight suit without burning the part of his anatomy that is so critical to sitting down for dinner at the end of the day,

The best answer we could logically discern? Aluminum underwear.

As I’ve sort of written in my other earlier brushes with the movie serials memory, these little open-ended stories were part of the suspension bridge that threaded the childhood years for many of us who grew up in the years following World War II. What we derived from this exposure, for better or worse, is a much longer subject for another day, but I now only look back on it in my own life as a time of joy.

Life was was simpler then. Or so it seemed.

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