Friday, October 7, 2011

Classic Serials: Undersea Kingdom, Chapter Nine

One of the great things about the old studios is that they never threw anything away.  Old costumes, props, sets, music, decoration... all of it was apt to reappear in some future production.  It gets so that, plopped down in the middle of a movie you've never seen, you can identify which studio it comes from just from what it re-uses from other films you have seen.  If you watch Mystery Science Theater 3000, for instance, you quickly come to see how much mileage Universal-International got out of its score from This Island Earth, its office set, and a bizarre painting that (as Tom Servo observed) looks like a burger.

Considering that Republic, producer of Undersea Kingdom, was one of the "poverty row" studios, you can bet they took as much advantage of their inventory as they possibly could.  Sound effects introduced here recur all through their serials (for instance, the sound of the Juggernaut in motion was used for the atomic gun sixteen years later in Radar Men from the Moon).  The Juggernaut itself was refurbished slightly in that same serial to become the Moon men's vehicle.

But the rampant re-use of Undersea Kingdom's Volkites so dramatically identified Republic serials that they came to be known as the "Republic Robots."  They appeared in Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940) and Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952), to name two.  Here's a still from the latter, lifted from's review:

Cash machines: You're doing it wrong

Much, much later, the Republic Robot also had an affectionate and closely-observed parody in Tom Paris's serial-based holodeck fantasy in Star Trek: Voyager.  I wish I knew enough to give you a complete (or even just longer) list.  Actually, what I really wish I knew is why, in Undersea Kingdom, they appear to have torsos decorated with handlebar mustaches.


1:57 Sentenced?  I don't think the threat to kill him would work too well if he were already as good as dead.  Granted, it didn't work anyway, but...

2:53 I wonder if the kids in the audience stood up and booed these cheat cliffhangers.  I might have.

4:08 Uh, Hakur?  Not to tell you your job or anything, but this is a situation that normally calls for "drop your weapons, then get on the ground and put your hands behind your head" or something.

4:37 Advice for filmmakers: if you want to have your hero look heroic, don't have him squinting into the sun.  Well, unless he's Clint Eastwood.

5:35 "[M]y undersea kingdom of Atlantis."  It's funny, that's exactly how Unga Khan described it back in Chapter Two.  The recurrence gives me reason to ponder what, exactly, distinguishes Holy Sharad as a good guy.  I mean, yes, he doesn't want to conquer or destroy the upper world, and maybe that's the important thing to Crash et al, but his rule seems as arbitrary as Khan's.

7:43 You know, when you think of it, this plan depends for its success on Unga Khan's not having followed the battle with his magic television.

9:12 How does he know what priming powder is supposed to smell like?

10:05 "And why the hell are you dressed like that?"

15:23 Love the Volplane.  This serial has great production design.  I'd love to see more science fiction that shows what modern technology would look like if it had been invented in the '30s, with that great art deco/Frank R. Paul look.  Radiumpunk, anyone?

No comments: