Superman on Radio & Audio
Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews
1941: Fur SmugglingReviewed by: James Lantz
Original Broadcast Dates: July 11, 1941-July 23, 1941
Last time, Clark Kent revealed that Fred Harmon was the White Plague Murderer. He'd killed five lumberjacks in an attempt to hide the fact that he had stolen money from the logging camp to help give his daughter Nancy a better life. Desperate, Harmon fires his rifle as Father Malone tries to take it from him. However, the bullet's target is Fred Harmon himself. The White Plague Murderer has just committed suicide.
While Clark and Bill Dawson give Harmon a proper burial, Father Harmon tells Nancy that her father met his death honorably. He feels she should not know the truth about her father.
The next day, Father Malone goes with Jimmy Olsen and Clark to the train station. While they are saying goodbye to Nancy, who is going to Metropolis to start her new job at the Daily Planet, Malone tells them that Bill Dawson will be the new logging camp foreman. Father Malone also hired a guide named Batiste to take Clark and Jimmy through the border to Canada by dog sled on the rest of their vacation.
Later that night, as Clark and Jimmy listen to Batiste's tall tales during dinner, a sinister figure spies on them from within the forest. He returns to a shack to report to another man about Clark, Jimmy and Batiste. Their camping in these particular woods interferes with a shipment of something. If a man named Frenchy sees Clark and the others' campfire, he won't drop off the shipment for the two men. As a result, the two men must do everything they can to get rid of the mild mannered reporter and his friends.
Pretending to be game wardens, the two men tell Clark, Jimmy and Batiste that their camp is located on a game preserve while they put out the fire. The trio must leave and move their camp. They prepare to leave, but Clark is suspicious off the men's intentions. He tells Jimmy and Batiste to stay at the camp. However, they are not to light another fire. To ward off wild animals, Clark stands guard over the camp while Jimmy and Batiste sleep.
Using Superman's superhuman senses, Clark notices an airplane sending light signals to the two men's shack. The men signal back, and the plane drops its cargo. Clark is about change into Superman when Jimmy Olsen calls to him. The plane's engines awakened the young copy boy. Clark and Jimmy then talk about what Clark saw and debate on whether they should investigate.
At that moment, Clark and Jimmy hear the voices of the two men. They are searching for the cargo dropped by the airplane. One of the men cries out when he twists his ankle. This awakens the sled dogs and causes them to bark. The camp's location is now revealed.
Now, Jimmy and Clark must hide. Jimmy sneaks over to calm the dogs while Clark confronts the two men as Superman. The men shoot at the Man of Steel, but he twists one of the rifles like a pretzel. The two scared men now run away. Superman wants to follow them, but the arrival of Jimmy and Batiste forces him to resume his guise of Clark Kent. Jimmy finds the pretzel-like rifle, and Batiste thinks grizzly bears had twisted it. Clark tries to explain the gun while a new fire is started at their camp site.
Elsewhere in the woods, Bull Ragman and Chuck Conner, the two men Superman had confronted, return to the shack. They think Clark is following them until they see the new fire from the camp site. Bull believes Clark works for the American government. After much thought, Bull decides to place three bear traps thoughout the forest to get rid of the mild mannered reporter.
The next morning, Clark and Jimmy are having breakfast while Batiste feeds the dog team. Jimmy still wonders about the twisted shotgun. Clark asks him to temporarily forget about it while they walk to investigate Bull and Chuck's suspicious activities. The two of them travel down a trail and find the fresh tracks of Bull and Chuck in the snow. Clark's leg then gets caught in one of Bull's bear traps that was hidden in the snow.
While Jimmy gets a file from Batiste, Clark uses Superman's strength to free himself from the trap. Clark tells Jimmy that his boots saved him from losing his leg when the copy boy returns. Clark then uses a stick to help him and Jimmy avoid the other bear traps. Shortly afterwords, Clark and Jimmy find the package Frenchy's airplane had dropped last night. The package is full of mink skins that were smuggled across the American border from Canada.
Seeing through binoculars that Clark and Jimmy are taking the furs back to their camp, Bull gets an idea. Chuck will give himself up while Bull captures Batiste and Jimmy. Bull thinks he can use the lives of the guide and copy boy as bargaining chip to force Clark to give back the smuggled mink furs. All Chuck has to do is bring Clark to the shack after surrendering to the mild mannered reporter. Everything seems to be going according to Bull's plan. The smuggler takes Batiste and Jimmy on the dog sled at gunpoint, bounds them with some rope and traps them in a secluded cave. The cave is no ordinary cave, for inside, there is a large bear that is angry for their intrusion into his home.
Meanwhile, not knowing that Jimmy and Batiste are in danger, Clark is with Chuck in the shack waiting for Bull. When the smuggler arrives, he tries to get Clark to give the mink skins back to him. Bull tells Clark that Jimmy and Batiste took the dog sled into town to a place where the smuggler has put them safely. Not believing Bull, Clark uses Superman's strength and abilities on Bull and Chuck to make them tell where Batiste and Jimmy are. He nearly forgets his dual identity in the process. Clark forces Bull and Chuck to go with him and follow the tracks of Batiste's sled.
Finding tracks near the bear's cave, Clark hears a cry for help. He knocks out the protesting Bull and orders Chuck to guard his boss. The mild mannered reporter runs into the cave knowing Superman will be needed keep the bear at bay. Is he too late to save Jimmy and Batiste? We'll find out next week. Stay tuned for "Doctor Roebling and the Voice Machine," and find out the fate of Superman and his friends, boys and girls.
I wanted to hear the fate of Fred Harmon and the other characters from "The White Plague" before discussing them in the previous review. While I do hope we see more of Father Malone, Nancy Harmon and Bill Dawson, I'm honestly surprised the writers were allowed to make Fred Harmon suicide. I'm neither offended by this, nor am I squeamish. It's just kind of a surprise to see a "children's show" be able to get away with violence and such a heavy subject matter in that time period. I believe there was a comment of a similar nature on the audio commentaries for the DVDs of the George Reeves TV series' first season. Unfortunately, I don't recall who said this at the moment. In every case, I have two theories on the use of heavier subject matters in in the radio version The Adventures of Superman.
The first is that the writers maybe felt that they could get around the censors with certain subject matters if they were put in a story with a comic book character. At the time, comic books were considered for children in pretty much the same way science fiction was on television in the time period before Star Trek: The Original Series had first aired. In fact, much like Star Trek, The Adventures of Superman would tackle heavy subject matter and certain social issues on numerous occasions.
The second school of thought is more simple. The writers merely wanted to appeal to the adults that were listening to the Man of Steel with their children. In fact, I believe that there were as many adults listening to Superman as children during the years of the radio program.
Whatever the reasons for putting such topics in this radio series, they don't take anything away from a good, believable resolution to "The White Plague," and as I said before, I hope we see the guest characters again in future story arcs.
"Fur Smuggling" is a more basic "Superman versus the criminals" story. However, this makes it a welcomed change of pace after "The White Plague" was a darker storyline. Not that "Plague" wasn't good, I enjoyed it very much. It just had a more film noir aspect to it. "Fur Smuggling" is a more light hearted adventure that really was needed after the grim and gritty saga of the previous serial.
One thing that keeps things interesting about "Fur Smuggling" is the fact that Jimmy, despite his age, questions Clark about the twisted rifle and possibly suspects that Clark Kent is Superman. Granted, I prefer when Lois did this before she was in on the secret, but it's always great to have the regular supporting cast get the feeling that Clark isn't telling them everything. The audience feels the urge to snicker as if we are in on a private joke and say, "We know everthing, and you don't."
Another thing "Fur Smuggling" has going for it is something we see in other Superman radio serials and in old time radio shows in genral, for that matter. We see through our mind's eye that the main character travel somewhere outside of his normal city or habitat. One of the flaws in the team-ups with Batman and Robin later on in the series is that none of them take place in Gotham City, yet they could easily do so. "Fur Smuggling," much like "The White Plague," takes place in the frozen north far from the familiar confines of Metropolis and the Daily Planet, and the story works well for the Man of Steel. Sure, other versions of Superman do the same thing, but the radio shows do it in the best way. The only limits are the imagination.
The story of "Fur Smuggling" itself is an entertaining, fast paced, fun adventure. I'm curious and impatient to see how Jimmy and Batiste escape the bear when "Doctor Roebling and the Voice Machine" begins. We'll have to wait another week to find out together, Superfans. If you're here in seven days, you can learn what Superman will do to help his friends, and we'll even start a new adventure with our favorite Kryptonian hero. Until next time, everyone, don't touch that dial, and remember to keep smiling and look up in the sky.
Back to the "Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews" Contents page.