Superman on Radio & Audio

Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews

1941: The Nitrate Shipment

Reviewed by: James Lantz

Original Broadcast Dates: April 21, 1941-May 9, 1941

"The Nitrate Shipment"

Having saved the crew of the Clara M as Superman and retrieved the treasure map that Teak Barnaby had stolen, Clark Kent is in a Panama hotel with Pug Flannigan and Jimmy Olsen. They are waiting for a boat to take them back to Metropolis in the morning, even though Pug and Jimmy want to search for the treasure. Pug, in the meantime, is giving a letter with the story of the Clara M to the desk clerk. He's also trying to prove that a man named Carlos with a scar over his eye doesn't understand English while the boys and Clark discuss the pirate treasure.

Later that night, Carlos proves that he understood every word that Pug, Jimmy and Clark had said. He goes to Manuel the desk clerk. In order to learn more about the treasure, Carlos wants the letter Clark wanted to send to Perry White. Manuel protests because it's supposed to go in the morning air mail tomorrow, but Carlos promises to share the treasure with the desk clerk. While Manuel calls Clark to the front desk, Carlos is going to steal the treasure map.

Meanwhile, in the room adjoining Clark's, Pug is also planning to steal the treasure map. Jimmy wants no part of the plan. As luck would have it, Manuel calls Clark to the lobby of the hotel. This gives Pug a chance to search for the map and take it. However, Carlos grabs the map before Pug even has a chance to steal it. Carlos then takes Pug and locks the boy into the cellar of the hotel.

In the hotel lobby, Manuel asks Clark to sign some papers for their baggage, but Clark and the boys had nothing with them. Clark thinks nothing of it and looks in on Jimmy and Pug. He finds that Pug is missing. Jimmy tells Clark of Pug's plan to take the treasure map, and the mild mannered reporter discovers that the map is also gone.

While Clark - as Superman - is searching for Pug at the harbor, Jimmy overhears Carlos and Manuel talking about meeting a man named Sanchez at midnight on his boat at the same waterfront. They'll use the ship to hunt for the pirate treasure. They also say that Pug is bound and gagged in the cellar. Using the fire escape, Jimmy goes to rescue Pug. The copy boy unties Pug, who decides to go to the harbor to Sanchez's boat. Pug wants to sink the ship before it can be used in Carlos' treasure hunt.

Once Jimmy and Pug get to the harbor, they find Sanchez's boat La Paloma, but the ship begins to leave the dock after the two youths stow away on board. Pug pulls out the engine's fuel line, and La Paloma stalls. Sanchez and Carlos chase Jimmy and Pug all over the waterfront when Pug twists his ankle. Jimmy assists Pug dispite his urging Jimmy to leave without him. The villainous Carlos and Sanchez are now closing in on the two boys.

Suddenly, the timely arrival of Superman prevents Jimmy and Pug from being harmed. Carlos tries to stab the Man of Steel, but his knife breaks on our hero's chest. He knocks out both Carlos and Sanchez. Jimmy takes the treasure map from the unconscious Carlos, and Superman orders him and Pug to go straight to the hotel, where Clark Kent is waiting for them.

The next morning, Clark and the boys are on a ship bound for Metropolis. A messenger gives Clark a message reading, "If you value your life, don't sail on this ship." He receives another peculiar paper under his breakfast dish. One word is written in big letters on it. The word is "BEWARE."

After reading the message, Clark goes to see the ship's captain, but he only tells the mild mannered reporter that there are not many passengers aboard because the boat is carrying a large cargo. However, the captain refuses to tell Clark about the cargo and reminds him that most of the world is at war. It won't help Clark to ask too many questions. Clark then returns to Jimmy and Pug to tell the boys what the captain said, but the reporter doesn't reveal everything that was told to him.

Feeling Clark is holding back something, Pug and Jimmy sneak into the cargo hold. They find sacks that seem to be full of sugar when someone locks the cargo hold's door. Jimmy wants to call for help, but Pug wants to learn what's in the sacks. As Pug is about to grab one sack, others fall on top of him. Jimmy calls for help after seeing that the sacks are too heavy to lift.

Meanwhile, as Clark is waiting for Jimmy and Pug to meet him on deck, a woman named June Barrington introduces herself. She and her father Doctor Michael Barrington were in Africa providing medical aid to the army, and they're heading home to England. Clark advises Ms. Barrington of the notes he received and of the cargo that the captain refuses to mention. This makes Ms. Barrington curious, and she and Clark head for the cargo hold. Once there, they find Jimmy, whose knuckles were bruised while he pounded on the door to call for help. Ms. Barrington takes Jimmy to her father, and Clark, as Superman, lifts the heavy sacks to save Pug.

Later, Doctor Barrington and his daughter are in Clark and the boys' cabin. Both Jimmy and Pug will be okay, but June Barrington still would like to know what the ship's mysterious cargo is. Clark unfolds a piece of paper to reveal what he found while saving Pug. It's nitrate, which is used in making explosives. Doctor Barrington feels the other passengers - two Brazillian coffee merchants and an elderly woman - should know about the nitrate. Clark will advise the coffee merchants, while Jimmy and Ms. Barrington tell the elderly woman what's happening.

When Jimmy and June go to the door of the elderly woman's cabin, Jimmy hears the sound of a wireless set sending Morse Code. The message says that the ship will be one hundred and fifty miles out of Colan at midnight tonight. Jimmy asks Ms. Barrington to get Clark Kent. Shortly after she leaves, the elderly woman opens the cabin door.

In Clark's cabin, June Barrington tells the mild mannered reporter about the Morse Code. On the way to the elderly woman's room, Clark says that he and Doctor Barrington had no luck talking to the coffee merchants because the two Brazillians don't understand English.

Clark and June are now in the old lady's cabin and asking about Jimmy. She tells them that Jimmy was very polite when he was there, but he didn't stay very long. A shipwide search for Jimmy begins aftrwards. With Jimmy nowhere in sight, Clark is starting to suspect that the elderly lady is not what she seems. Clark's suspicions are correct. The old lady is actually a male foreign agent. He and his partner - having captured Jimmy, the Barringtons and Clark - plan to make the steamship on which they are travelling sink down to the bottom of the ocean at midnight. These same foreign agents sent Clark the messages earlier, and they want to make certain the nitrate never makes it to its destination. They'll kill Clark and the others to make sure there are no witnesses.

Meanwhile, a tropical storm has started, and Pug Flannigan has awakened after being in bed for his injuries in the cargo hold. He's looking for Clark and Jimmy. A man dressed as a waiter is about to take Pug to the foreign agents' cabin. However, Pug is suspicious and kicks the waiter before running off into the darkness.

While Pug is telling the captain what had happened to him, the waiter tells the other agent that he was unable to capture the boy. The main agent then resumes his guise of the elderly lady and later tells Pug and the captain that Clark and Jimmy are in her cabin for a party. The waiter was sent by the old woman to bring Pug, but he apparently didn't understand his instructions. Pug then realizes that it's a bit late for a party, but the elderly woman says that there will be a big blowout at midnight.

When Pug helps the old lady down the stairs, he notices that the old lady has arm muscles like a man and gets away from the foreign agent. As a result of Pug's escaping, the agents will sink the nitrate ship now instead of at midnight. The main agent will contact his men on a submarine and tell them to torpedo the boat while the second agent named Hans looks for Pug.

Speaking of Pug, he's climbing a rope and has figured out how to save Jimmy and Clark. He has tied the rope to himself because the tropical storm is becoming worse. Using the opened portal in the foreign agents' cabin, Pug will shoot out the lights with a rubber band and a nail. Pug's plan succeeds, and the darkness gives Clark Kent a chance to become Superman as shots are fired at Clark Kent. However, Hans has found Pug in that same moment. He's cut the rope, and the young hero is falling into the turbulent waters. Superman's keen ears hear this, and our hero saves Pug.

Later, the captain has put the foreign agents in the brig. What the captain does not know is that there is another agent in the engine room, and this agent is helping the others escape from the brig.

In the meantime, Jimmy and Pug are talking when they hear the approaching footsteps of the foreign agents. Both boys pretend to be asleep while they overhear the agents say that they'll signal the submarine to fire the torpedo. Jimmy and Pug tell Clark and the captain of the agents' plan. Clark then tells Jimmy that Superman is on the steamship. The mild mannered reporter leaves to make certain that Superman averts the coming danger.

Just then, a torpedo speeds through the waters. Things don't look well for the nitrate ship as the weapon is about to hit it. However, in the last second, Superman sends the torpedo back to the enemy submarine that fired it. The submarine has been blown up, the nitrate shipment is now safe, and the foreign agents' plans have been foiled. What Superman and his young friends don't know is that another mystery awaits them in the next serial in The Adventures of Superman. Be here next week for "The Grayson Submarine," boys and girls.


Toward the end of chapter five of "The Nitrate Shipment," the actress playing June Barrington makes a mistake. She asks which captain the elderly lady is in. Jimmy helps her by asking, "Do you mean cabin?."


I'd like to wish everybody out there a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Let's hope 2008 brings us all joy and happiness in the days to come. Now, on with the review.

While the first three chapters deal with the teasure map from the previous serial, "The Nitrate Shipment" is still an amazing, action packed story. My guess is that the writers wanted to tie up some loose ends from "The Last of the Clipper Ships" before moving on to main plot of "The Nitrate Shipment." They failed to do this with "The Black Pearl of Osiris" at the start of "The Dragon's Teeth," but the plot threads of "The Last of the Clipper Ships" are tied well in "The Nitrate Shipment." That really helped make the actual mentioning of the nitrate shipment worth the wait. It also made the pacing of the story more exciting.

Now, the ending of "The Nitrate Shipment" seems sudden and abrupt when one first listens to it, but I got used to it after hearing it the second or third time. (I normally listen to each chapter of a serial three times when doing these reviews.) Maybe it's because the last story had twenty chapters. I'm not exactly sure why I felt that way, but I eventually adapted to how the last episode was.

That rotten little kid Pug Flannigan is still with Jimmy and Clark in "The Nitrate Shipment," and he's still more trouble than a toilet full of snakes. Jimmy and Superman have had to save him on numerous occasions both in this serial and the previous one. However, it looks like some of Jimmy and Clark's influence rubs off onto him because he ends up saving his friends from the enemy agents. Had he not shot out the lights, Clark would have never gotten the chance to become Superman. Let's hope Pug becomes a model citizen with Clark and Jimmy's help. I honestly would love to see how he'll turn out in the future despite my wanting to strangle him in "The Last of the Clipper Ships."

When listening to "The Nitrate Shipment," one will notice that the word "foreign" is used to describe the agents trying to destroy the ship full of nitrate. However, certain dialogue throughout the story clearly indicates that they are German. This serial was broadcasted some months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and America was neutral in this period when, as the ship's captain in this story had said, most of the world was at war against the fascist regime of Adolf Hitler and the Axis Powers. Much like Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's Captain America, Superman seemed to be saying, "If something isn't done to stop them now, they'll attack us when we least expect it." It's frightening to know that both Captain America and Superman were right to alert us of what was in store for the United States of America. Who knows what would have happened on December 7, 1941 had we heeded their warnings beforehand?

Next week, we'll learn what happens to "The Grayson Submarine." Let's hope it's nothing Superman can't handle. We'll have to wait seven days or so to find out together. Until then, Superfans, don't touch that dial, and remember to keep smiling and look up in the sky.

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