Superman on Radio & Audio
Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews
1940: Airplane Disasters at Bridger FieldReviewed by: James Lantz
Original Broadcast Dates: April 29, 1940-May 10, 1940
"Airplane Disasters at Bridger Field"
For the past two weeks, six airplanes have crashed at Bridger Field with no survivors. The planes have been going down in flames, and the engines have gone missing. Bridger Field is in the Southwest Rockies. The nearest town, Del Rio, is twenty miles away. If an airplane lands anywhere besides Bridger Field, it can be very dangerous for both the plane and the people aboard it. Mr. Ed Hamlin of the National Air Service is telling Clark Kent and Perry White of the airplane disasters. Both Hamlin and Mr. White believe the airline accidents are sabotage. Jimmy Olsen comes into Perry's office with a telegram for Mr. Hamlin. The message says that a seventh plane has crashed. The panicked Mr. Hamlin and Clark leave to take a plane to Bridger Field.
On the flight, Clark and Hamlin discover that Jimmy Olsen was hiding in the baggage compartment. The young copy boy says that another plane is shooting at them. Suddenly, Hamlin, who was flying the airplane, is shot. Clark takes the flight controls while Jimmy looks after the unconscious Hamlin. The other plane continues to shoot at Hamlin's aircraft. Clark asks Jimmy to take the controls while he uses a rifle to shoot back at the other plane.
Kent actually is using the gun as an excuse to become Superman. Superman flies into the shooting plane's propeller and destroys it when he sees Hamlin's plane tail-spinning. When he returns to the plane as Clark Kent, he sees that the plane has lost oil and fuel because of a broken fuel line. The engine sputters, and the airplane is about to crash unless Clark and Jimmy can find a place to land quickly. Clark is forced to land the plane near some railroad tracks.
A circus train going to Del Rio stops, and a man named Baldo lets Clark, Jimmy and the wounded Hamlin onto the train. On the train, Baldo talks with Professor Hagin the animal trainer, who talks in detail about the shooting of Hamlin. He orders Baldo to lock Clark and Jimmy with a savage gorilla named Jo-Jo. Baldo does as the professor says. The gorilla is about to attack Clark and Jimmy when the young copy boy discovers that the door of the train car is locked. Clark then breaks a window and pushes Jimmy out of it. With Jimmy out of danger, Clark Kent introduces Jo-Jo to Superman. Superman fights with the gorilla and puts him back in his cage.
The shocked Baldo tells Professor Hagin that Clark and Jimmy are in the desert and that Jo-Jo was put back in his cage. Hagin says to forget about Jimmy and Clark for now. He has news for Baldo about danger threatening Bridger Field. Hagin orders Baldo to return because something big is about to happen.
Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen have finally arrived at Bridger Field. Clark is talking to Ed Hamlin, who wasn't seriously hurt by the gunshot wound he received, while Jimmy is at the circus. Kent tells Hamlin that he believes the airplane accidents are sabotage caused by an unknown human force. Kent also thinks the gorilla attack on him and Jimmy was deliberate.
While Hamlin and Kent are talking, a message arrives from Fuller, the president of the National Air Service. He'll be in Bridger Field at 12:30, which is in fifteen minutes. A weather report broadcast from Del Rio predicts violent gail force winds just before a dust storm arrives. Fuller's plane is on the way to Bridger Field, and it's in flames in the middle of the storm. Clark changes to Superman and helps guide the plane to keep it from crashing. He helps get Fuller out of the landed plane after resuming his guise of Clark Kent.
Once things are calm, Fuller tells Hamlin that he is here for two reasons. The first is to investigate the airplane accidents, and the second is to tell Hamlin that a most distinguished visitor will arrive at Bridger Field in forty-eight hours. Hamlin has two days to make Bridger Field secure for the visitor. Suddenly, Hamlin's assistant Bailey says that Jimmy Olsen has returned. The copy boy says that he must talk to Clark Kent about something very important. Jimmy was near an old shack on the circus grounds when he overheard a conversation between Professor Hagin and Fodor the circus strong man about Bridger Field.
Hagin said to Fodor that Hamlin actually has no later than tonight to prepare for the distinguished visitor, which is actually a new experimental airplane. According to Hagin a final radio message will arrive in the usual way shortly before the visitor gets to Bridger Field. Hagin says that he'll go to the cabin in the hills tonight to change the wiring for something.
Later that night, Clark and Jimmy investigate the shack where the professor and strong man were. Clark and Jimmy then find a cave entrance behind a cellar door in the shack. They discover a tunnel leading to Professor Hagin's secret chamber. In the chamber, Jimmy and Clark hear another weather report from Del Rio on a radio. Clark asks Jimmy for a pencil and paper. The report says that an important storm is coming with heavy winds. Rains will be arriving near midnight. Special precautions must be taken for planes, and people will have to take shelter.
Suddenly, Fodor enters the cave. Clark hides Jimmy in a closet before changing into Superman. The Man of Steel fights with Fodor until he knocks out the strong man. Resuming his guise of Clark Kent, he tells Jimmy that Fodor tripped and fell. Before leaving the cave, Clark takes a look at the paper on which he wrote the weather report. He learns that the report is really something else. Clark discovers that the weather reports are actually a code. By crossing out every third word in the report, Kent has broken the code. The mysterious new plane will not be arriving on the day after tomorrow. It's coming at midnight tonight, and Professor Hagin has every intention of sabotaging it.
While Jimmy returns to Bridger Field to tell Mr. Hamlin what he and Clark have discovered, Superman searches for Professor Hagin in the cavern. After following Hagin's voice into the next room, Superman battles some bengal tigers and Fodor the strong man. While being taken for a flight by Superman, Fodor tells the Man of Tomorrow that Hagin is in a cabin in the hills, and the nefarious professor can hear everything that's being said. Before flying to search for the professor's cabin, Superman warns Professor Hagin, whose voice came through some speakers, that he will find him no matter what it takes.
It is now nine minutes before midnight. Ed Hamlin and Jimmy Olsen lead a search party that is trying to find Professor Hagin's cabin, and the villainous professor is preparing his mysterious invention for the new experimental plane that is about to arrive. The machine is called the Teleflame, and Hagin will use it to burn the new plane into nothingness.
As Hamlin and Jimmy continue their search, a rock-slide occurs. Fortunately, Superman sees the rock-slide and stops it. Jimmy and Hamlin narrowly escape the slide with the rest of their search party. Both the search party and Professor Hagin see that the new airplane is about to arrive at Bridger Field. However, before Professor Hagin can use his Teleflame on the new plane, Superman arrives and uses the machine on the professor and the cabin. When the experimental plane lands safely at Bridger Field, Clark Kent tells Hamlin and Jimmy that Professor Hagin used the Teleflame, but it hit Hagin instead of the plane. The blast from the machine also destroyed the cabin. With the new experimental airplane safely at Bridger Field, Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen leave to return to Metropolis to give the Bridger Field story to Perry White at the Daily Planet. What they don't know is that new mystery awaits them in the next episodes of The Adventures of Superman.
I must admit that I made an assumption about one thing in "Airplane Disasters at Bridger Field." I assumed the Ed Hamlin was not severely injured when he was shot. I did this because it is unclear how much time had passed between the time Hamlin was put on the circus train and the time he and Clark were talking in the Bridger Field office. Despite this, the action really starts faster than a speeding bullet in this story. The previous arcs, for the most part, have tended to take an episode or two to give the listener a little back-story about some of the guest characters and events surrounding the story in addition to having some action. By the time Hamlin read the message about the seventh plane crash in chapter one, the adventure was non-stop, and that's a good thing. However, I do have a couple of problems with "Airplane Disasters at Bridger Field." They are not major problems that hurt the enjoyment of the story like the problems I had with "The Emerald of the Incas," but I feel they must be pointed out.
First and foremost, I would have like to have seen a little more character development for Professor Hagin. Previous villains in these radio serials were defined well and their motivations were all pretty easy to understand. The Yellow Mask intended to be emperor of the world, Pemberton and Denine were con men out to get rich, and Chip Donelli was out to control the city's organized crime. We, unfortunately, don't get much about Professor Hagin, and the way "Airplane Disasters at Bridger Field" is written leads the listener to believe that more will be said about the character. Instead, we are left with a lot of questions about him.
Who is Professor Hagin? Why does he want to destroy airplanes going to Bridger Field? Why is he only attacking planes at Bridger Field? Why doesn't he destroy them in other places like Metropolis? How does he know so much about the arrival of the new airplane? Is he someone that works for the National Air Service like Fuller, or is someone that works for the air service giving Hagin orders? Who was sending the coded weather reports to Hagin? Hagin's dialogue about the coded messages in "Airplane Disasters at Bridger Field" seems to imply that somebody else was sending the messages. I do wish that more had been done with the character and that the story had answered the questions I had. However, I'll wait and see if the answers are provided in future episodes. Hopefully, we'll learn everything sooner or later.
Secondly, we don't see very much of the Fuller character. If he's supposed to investigate the plane crashes, one would think that Fuller would be in the story more. It would have been especially interesting to see Fuller in some scenes just as Clark Kent needs to change into Superman. It kind of felt like the writers and producers merely put Fuller into the story to kill time.
These problems, however, do not take anything away from the enjoyment of "Airplane Disasters at Bridger Field." It's still an action packed, entertaining story. The characters really made the story move at an even pace, and I did like Professor Hagin as a character despite the fact that I wish more had been done with him. I also liked the fact that the circus was a cover for Hagin. It may seem cheesy or predictable in this day and age to use a circus full of bad guys, but circuses were common forms of entertainment at the time "Airplane Disasters at Bridger Field" had originally aired. That is what makes the circus work so well in the story.
Jimmy Olsen is also an important part of this story. I wasn't expecting to see him so soon after "Donelli's Protection Racket." However, Superman Homepage member David Ballarotto has pointed out to me that Jimmy is in a lot of The Adventures of Superman radio serials. He was possibly created to give the young audience of the show someone with whom they could identify. I also like to believe that the radio version of Jimmy Olsen, at least for now, serves as the listeners eyes and ears throughout the story. No matter what your age may be, Jimmy is you, dear listener. We are Jimmy as Hamlin's plane is about to crash or when the rock-slide rolls down the hills trying to get the search party. Jimmy is us as we see Superman's adventures. At least that's the way I see Jimmy in the Superman radio serials.
Despite the lack of development in the character of Professor Hagin and the fact we only see Fuller in a few scenes in the story, "Airplane Disasters at Bridger Field" is an extremely fun story full of the action of a movie serial during a Saturday Matinee at the local movie house, and it makes the listener feel like he or she is in the bijou of days gone by. The overall story makes one feel like a kid again. It also makes the listener want to wear a towel like a cape and pretend to fly while hearing it. Just don't do that in public, or you'll end up in a rubber room like the one the doctors gave me. At least they let me write this week's review. I'm just kidding, folks.
Seriously, "Airplane Disasters at Bridger Field" is great fun in spite of the flaws I mentioned earlier. Let's hope there's more character development in the next serial. We'll check out "Buffalo Hills" next time and find out. Until then, remember to look up in the sky.
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