Superman on Radio & Audio
Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews
1942: The Ghost CarReviewed by: James Lantz
Original Broadcast Dates: February 09, 1942-February 25, 1942
"The Ghost Car"
Jimmy Olsen, who is vacationing on The Bar-O Dude Ranch in Rocky Point after recovering from a poisoning, has just called Clark Kent. The long distance connection is bad, but Kent understands something about an accident and a ghost car. There have been some car accidents in the past three nights on a horseshoe curve near a tunnel not far from the ranch. The drivers in the incidents are blinded by a pair of headlights, and their cars are forced off the road. However, when the drivers get out of their wrecked vehicles, there is no other automobile to be seen for miles. Clark decides to go to the Bar-O Ranch after Jimmy's call is cut short.
With Perry White in Washington D.C., Lois Lane convinces Clark to take her with him to Rocky Point. They arrive by train later that night in the small town and ask the station master if there is a taxi available. There is no cab service, but the man agrees to drive them wherever they need to go after he closes the train depot. However, he has a change of heart when he learns that Lois and Clark want to go to the Bar-O Ranch. The station master knew one of the Ghost Car accident victims and is scared that he'll be next. A persistent Clark rents the man's car by giving him the entire amount of money for which the automobile is worth. Should anything happen to the vehicle, the station master can keep the money, but Clark will get every cent back if the car remains intact.
Despite the station master's warnings about the treacherous horseshoe curve, Lois and Clark drive to the Bar-O Ranch. Clark blows the car's horn as they approach the curve, but that doesn't stop a pair of blinding headlights from approaching the automobile. The Ghost Car came from the nearby tunnel. Clark is forced to crash the station master's car into a tree to avoid the coming vehicle. Lois bumped her head, but both she and Clark are otherwise uninjured. Clark takes a flashlight from the car to help he and Lois find their way to the Bar-O Ranch. Clark sees - rather doesn't see - something on the dirt road. There are no tire tracks from the car that nearly hit them.
Lois and Clark arrive at the Bar-O to find ranch owner Steve Graham and manager Nelson Blaine trying to keep Jimmy Olsen from going to town to call Clark to talk further about the Ghost Car accidents. Both men explain that their nerves are on edge because they believe that the Bar-O Ranch is jinxed. Three weeks ago a horseman was injured, and a couple was seriously hurt thanks to the Ghost Car. Now, Lois and Clark are in the middle of this mystery.
Graham can't handle anymore accidents caused by the Ghost Car. He's going to talk to a real estate agent about selling the Bar-O. The broker seemed very interested in buying the ranch for an unknown client.
A phone call from Sheriff King interrupts Graham's conversation with Clark. King wants to close the road to the Bar-O until the Ghost Car mystery is solved, but Clark convinces him to keep it open for three more days. The mild mannered reporter believes the phantom vehicle must be caught in action in order to solve the case. He, Lois and Jimmy will try to use those three days to figure out everything about the Ghost Car and, hopefully, save innocent lives in the process. This will have to wait until tomorrow morning, however. Lois, Clark and Jimmy need to get some rest.
After the proper sleeping arrangements have been made, Clark and Jimmy are about to turn in for the night. Suddenly, they hear Lois screaming for help from her cabin next door. The barn behind her cabin is on fire. Steve Graham is trying to use a hose to help put out the fire, but it has been cut. Ranch hands take buckets of water to stop the blaze while Clark goes to the back of the barn to save the horses as Superman. The fire has been extinguished, but the horse barn has been completely burned down.
Steve Graham is at the end of his rope. Too many things have been happening on the Bar-O. He may have to sell the ranch. Clark, however, is determined to find out why some mysterious person is insisting to buy Graham's property. The Bar-O itself hasn't been in business very long despite the fact that dude ranches can make hefty profits. The unknown buyer wants to pay less than what the place is worth. There is an abandoned gold mine on the land near the ranch. A local real estate agent named Ed Janks has been calling and practically threatening Graham into selling.
Clark goes to Ed Janks the next morning. The real estate agent is not exactly cooperative until Clark tells him that he could go to jail for threatening Graham and being part of the accidents occurring on and around the Bar-O. Janks doesn't know the enigmatic man interested in the property, but he knows that the buyer has ways of making Graham sell the ranch land.
Just then, the mystery man calls Janks. Clark and the real estate agent then set a trap for him. Under the ruse that Graham wants to sell the Bar-O, Janks says that the ranch owner wants some money in advance. Janks says that he can meet the man anywhere he wishes. The buyer agrees to make the deal at the abandoned gold mine.
Clark and Janks are at the old mine waiting for the mystery man. The mine hasn't been used in nearly twenty years, and some of the tunnels have caved in. Clark jumps someone who approaches the mine only to find that it's Steve Graham whom he had knocked to the ground. Graham saw Kent and Janks enter mine and wondered what was going on. Nobody is permitted inside because of the hazardous conditions. Clark had told Graham yesterday that he wanted to look over the mine. Graham leaves to allow Janks and Clark to wait for the mystery man. Neither Kent nor Janks told Graham of setting a trap for the shadowy buyer.
Thinking that Graham scared the mystery man away, Janks and Clark go on to explore the old mine. Clark finds a piece of an ore. The ore isn't gold, and Clark cannot recall where he had seen this mineral before. He keeps the rock for further analysis.
As they continue through the tunnels, Clark and Janks hear the sound of hammering. Lois Lane is also in the mine trying to discover the reasons for someone wanting to buy the Bar-O Ranch. She only finds a piece of fool's gold, and the horse she rode has run away. She, Clark and Janks are about to exit from the abandoned mine when a landslide breaks their flashlight and closes the main entrance, which is the only way out of the tunnels. Lois and Janks search for some digging tools while Superman makes an opening for them.
Lois, Janks and Clark Kent are now free. The mild mannered reporter thinks the landslide was deliberate despite Graham's warnings of rotten wooden supports and blocked tunnels. Evidence seems to indicate sabotage. There are rope marks on an old piece of wood. This could have easily started the cave-in if someone had attached the rope to a horse in order to pull down everything. Janks discovers hoof prints. Now all that is needed is to find a saddle pummel with rope marks.
Later, back at the Bar-O Ranch, Clark questions Nelson Blaine about Steve Graham. He says that Graham has no enemies, but there had been an argument between him and Alfredo, a South American Gaucho that works on the ranch. However, the disagreement had been settled some time ago.
Alfredo arrives at that moment to show Lois his Latin charms. Lois pretends to admire his horse and saddle with Clark. Lois discovers that the saddle on Alfredo's horse has rope marks on it. Clark questions Alfredo. The hot-headed Latin doesn't like the direction in which Clark's inquiries is going, but he tells Lois and Clark he used his rope to get a steer out from between some trees. Feeling accused of the recent accidents, Alfredo practically threatens Clark before leaving. Lois is worried for Clark's safety. Clark, however, is more concerned about solving the mystery of the incidents on the Bar-O Ranch.
Lois and Clark are now putting their heads together in order to get a clearer picture of the recent events. Clark shows Lois the gray ore that he had found in the abandoned mine earlier. It is at this point Lois becomes worried about Jimmy Olsen. Blaine asks one of his men to ask about the copy boy only to learn that he went horseback riding with Alfredo. This makes Lois even more preoccupied. Blaine sends a man named Shorty to search for Alfredo and Jimmy while Clark goes into town to have the ore examined.
As for Jimmy and Alfredo, the Gaucho is showing the copy boy his prowess with a whip. The nervous and hungry Jimmy notices that it will soon be dark. He wants to return to the Bar-O, but Alfredo insists that he have dinner with him at his nearby secluded cabin. Alfredo prepares a fire for cooking in the fireplace. Jimmy suddenly hears footsteps. Shorty then enters the cabin holds Jimmy and Alfredo at gunpoint and forces the copy boy to tie the Gaucho to the bed. Shorty then bounds Jimmy to a chair before making his escape.
Back at the Bar-O sometime later, Clark has returned from town, Jimmy has not made it back to the ranch, and Lois is worried about the young copy boy. Shorty has said that he never found Alfredo and Jimmy. Clark talks to Graham about Jimmy's disappearance and the suspicions that Lois and Kent have about the Gaucho and the accidents on and around the Bar-O. A posse is organized while Clark reads a note ordering him to stop investigating the events on the ranch for two days. The sheriff will close the road in that time period. Clark is now more determined to solve this strange mystery.
Alfredo is trying to untie himself at this moment. In his efforts to do so, he accidentally kicks over a kerosene lamp. This causes the wooden floor of the cabin to catch on fire. The flames spread, and Jimmy and Alfredo are trapped in the blaze. Using his superhuman eyes, Clark sees the light of the flames from the Bar-O Ranch. He removes his reporters guise to reveal the red cloaked costume of Superman. Flying at tremendous speeds, the Man of Steel pulls both Alfredo and Jimmy from the inferno just in time. The Gaucho and the copy boy later tell Clark Kent that Shorty started the fire.
A statewide manhunt for Shorty has now begun, and Clark has made everyone believe the Ghost Car mystery has been solved. However, Clark tells Lois and Jimmy his true plans. Using Steve Graham's car to go back to the train station, Clark will call the Bar-O Ranch to say that a man named Orville Winston will drive the car back because he is interested in buying the property. Clark sets his plot into motion. Blaine tells him that he'll tell Graham about Winston. Kent drives the car back to the Bar-O and, shortly afterwards, introduces the Ghost Car to Superman.
The Ghost Car was actually a large mirror that reflected a driver's own headlights back at them. The reflections cause cars to crash in order to avoid collisions. The person that used the mirror to be the Ghost Car was Nelson Blaine. Blaine wanted to buy the Bar-O Ranch for himself because of the ore Clark had found. It was bauxite, which is used to make aluminum. The United States Armed Forces need aluminum for building airplanes and other things for the war effort. Since Graham is too old to serve his country as a soldier, he'll gladly give the government all of the bauxite that it needs.
The strange enigma of the Ghost Car has been solved, but in Metropolis, all is not well. Perry White has sent a telegram for Clark, Lois and Jimmy to the Bar-O. The trio is ordered to return home immediately for urgent reasons. What has happened? Only "A Mystery For Superman" holds the answer to that question. Tune in next week, boys and girls, for The Adventures of Superman, and find out what dangers await Clark Kent and his friends.
While this serial isn't as briskly paced as the previous two, I think the writers wanted a more relaxed speed in "The Ghost Car" when they worked on it. "The Mechanical Man" and "Lita The Leopard Woman" were stories that had action with the velocity of a race between Superman and the Flash. There is a hefty amount of mystery and adventure here, but it feels more like "The Ghost Car," as an arc, is a restful vacation compared to "Lita" and "Mechanical."
My only real complaint about this arc is that we really don't see the Ghost Car all that much throughout the eight chapters in the serial. One would think the plot device in the story's title would be used more often than it is in "The Ghost Car." I don't understand why it didn't cause more accidents throughout the saga. It kind of feels like the Ghost Car was tossed aside for things like the barn fire and the mine cave-in. Those were great, but I wish the Ghost Car had more scenes. Despite this, I really enjoyed the arc.
It does take time to get used to the shift in the serial's flow after the way the previous two stories moved like a runaway train. However, "The Ghost Car" is not a bad story at all. I was expecting something along the lines of "The Howling Coyote" and "The Crooked Oil Association" when I heard that this serial took place on a dude ranch. I shuddered in fear thinking that Superman will be forced into another western tale in which he doesn't belong. Fortunately, that isn't the case here. There are the classic things you will find in westerns, but they're more like sidebars that make way for the mystery of the Ghost Car and the accidents on the Bar-O Ranch.
There are elements of previous Superman radio serials - most notably "The Howling Coyote," "The White Plague" and a little of "Pillar of Fire at Graves End" and "The North Star Mining Company Mystery," in "The Ghost Car." However, they are blended in a way that doesn't feel like a bad rehashing of those stories. Using plot devices that have been utilized before is pretty common. How many times have we seen Superman stop a meteor from destroying the Earth? What depends on the resurfacing of the pieces that were recycled is how well or badly the arc is written, and "The Ghost Car" is crafted fairly well.
The resolution of the plot for "The Ghost Car" was rather predictable by the time Janks spoke with the mystery man on the telephone, but at least made sense to the overall story. It wasn't something that came out of nowhere and made one ask, "Where did they get that from?" The serial went from point A to point B and solved the mystery in a good way despite the lack suspense.
Next time, there will be "A Mystery For Superman." What will it be? We'll have to wait another week or so to find out, Superfans. Until then, don't touch that dial, and remember to keep smiling and look up in the sky.
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