Superman on Radio & Audio
Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews
1940: Pillar of Fire at Graves EndReviewed by: James Lantz
Original Broadcast Dates: August 05, 1940-August 09, 1940
"Pillar of Fire at Graves End"
People have been mysteriously disappearing from the backwoods mountain region of Graves End, where a frightening pillar of fire burns in the hills. Lois Lane and Clark Kent are in Perry White's office. Perry is about to read a letter from Lee Jenkins of Graves End when the phone rings. The call is from a man named Harris, another resident of of the region. Lois and Clark listen to the call on the extention phone. Harris says that Lee Jenkins is crazy. He also practically threatens White not to send reporters to Graves End.
After Harris hangs up, Clark reads the letter from Lee Jenkins. It says that the people of Graves End have been scared ever since the pillar of fire appeared. When people go to look at the pillar, they never return. The leader of the Graves End townsfolk believes that the pillar is a sign for the citizens to move away. However, most of the people do not have the money to do so. Jenkins fears that a reporter will be injured or killed if they arrive directly in Graves End. He will meet the reporters on a bridge five miles outside of town at 11:00 tonight.
About ten miles before reaching their destination at 10:30pm, Lois and Clark hear something that sounds like cowbells while they look at the map to the bridge. Someone in the form of a shadowy figure in a white hooded robe is coming toward them. The two Daily Planet reporters ask for directions when the person warns them to go back because danger lies ahead. Clark wants to follow him, but a frightened Lois convinces him not to leave her alone. Seeing that the white shadow man has disappeared, Clark and Lois go to the bridge.
When they arrrive at the bridge on time, they don't see a sign of Lee Jenkins. Lois has a bad feeling that Jenkins isn't coming to meet them. Clark then suddenly smells something burning from under the bridge. He and Lois see a bomb's smoking fuse. They run to the other side of the bridge just before it explodes. Clark believes that whoever put the bomb on the bridge will think that he and Lois are either dead or stranded. Nobody will expect them to go to Graves End.
When they arrive at Graves End, they discover that the village is surrounded by a high wall with a gate. Clark orders Lois to stay in the car, but he gives her a police whistle to use in case she needs help. While Lois is waiting in the car, Clark changes into Superman. He uses his superhuman strength to open the locked gate. He then resumes his guise of Clark Kent when he sees someone coming. It's Harris, who is pointing a gun at Clark. Clark says that he's looking for Lee Jenkins, but Harris won't listen. Harris plans to take Clark to the leader of Graves End when Lois blows the police whistle.
Clark runs off and changes into Superman again. He runs in Lois' direction, but he must turn back to take care of Harris after the villager shoots at him. Superman knocks out Harris and flies back to Lois' location before resuming his guise of Clark Kent. Lois is sitting on the car's running board. The white shadowed man had grabbed her and shook her, but he disappeared as suddenly as he appeared when Lois blew the whistle. He'd called himself Old Man Smith. He said that he was going to teach Lois not to interfere in other people's business.
Believing that Harris and Old Man Smith want to keep them away from Graves End, Clark suggests that he and Lois find shelter in the house of the village elder and investigate Graves End. After some time, Lois agrees to Clark's plan. When they approach the gate to Graves End, Lois and Clark find Harris regaining consciousness. Clark tells Lois that Harris fell on a rock and hit his head when he tried to attack the mild mannered reporter. He later says that Harris believes Clark knocked him out. Clark then orders Harris to take him and Lois to the village elder's house. Fearing another beating, Harris follows Clark's orders.
Upon arriving at the elder's house, Harris tells of the events that occurred at the gate earlier. The elder then scolds Harris, who is the village constable, for using his gun on Clark. He threatens to take away Harris' badge if anything like that happens again. Before Harris leaves, the elder suggests that he go to see the old man before returning home. The elder later apologizes for Harris' behavior and offers to let Lois and Clark spend the night in his house.
Suddenly, Lois feels dizzy and tired. Clark explains about Lois' incident with Old Man Smith. The elder suggests that Lois should get some rest. While he walks Clark and Lois to their rooms, the elder says that Old Man Smith suffers from delusions, but he's otherwise harmless. Clark then asks about the village wall. The elder explains that it had been there for a hundred years and was used to protect the town against Indians.
Later, after Lois had gone to bed, Clark asks about the pillar of fire Jenkins mentioned in his letter to Perry White. The elder replies that the pillar does not exist even though Clark tells him that Jenkins had said the people of Graves End were scared of it. Clark tells the elder that Jenkins had said that someone called the Leader believes the pillar of fire is a sign that people should leave Graves End. The elder dismisses Jenkins' words as crazy ideas brought on by old age. He doesn't believe that the leader and the pillar of fire exist.
Clark is now telling of the bridge blowing up and asks about the recent disappearances in Graves End. The dismayed Elder wants to blame Jenkins when they suddenly hear Lois screaming. They run to her door and find it locked. While the elder goes to get help to knock the door down, Clark uses Superman's strength to break it. However, the Man of Steel finds that Lois Lane is nowhere to be seen. The door was locked and the windows were barred. Superman searches for a secret passage. He finds one inside the closet. Superman then breaks the wall down and continues his search for Lois and the people that took her. Flying down the passage that seems to go down into the depths of the earth, Superman races to save Lois until he sees a solid sheet of orange flame leaping hundreds of feet into the air. The pillar of fire really exists.
Suddenly, Superman sees Old Man Smith up on the edge of a cliff. He's carrying Lois over his shoulders. Superman calls to Smith, but the old man shoots at him. Frightened by the bullets bouncing off Superman's chest, Old Man Smith falls over the cliff and takes Lois with him. Superman catches both Smith and Lois. Both of them are unconscious, but Superman tries to revive Lois after resuming his guise of Clark Kent.
A short time later, Clark Kent is trying to get Old Man Smith to talk about the pillar of fire and how he, the village elder and Harris are involved in the strange happenings at Graves End. The fire is caused by natural gas, and the elder, who is the leader Harris mentioned, is using a machine to control it. He and Harris discovered a silver mine under Graves End recently and planned to frighten the townsfolk away and use the land to mine the silver for themselves. Lee Jenkins was killed because he found out about Harris and the elder's plan. Old Man Smith was to take Lois to the cavern where the silver mine and the pillar of fire machine are. The elder and Harris wanted to dispose of Lois. The two men are now in the cavern, and they're planning to use the pillar of fire to burn down the village of Graves End.
Giving Lois Old Man Smith's gun, Clark leaves to go to the cavern. Lois is to guard Smith. After he's sure that nobody sees him, Clark becomes Superman. The Man of Steel goes through the fire and into the cavern. When he arrives, he sees that the elder wants Harris to apply seven thousand pounds of pressure to the oil lines so fuel can go down the hill and attract fire from the pillar. The fire will burn Graves End if Superman doesn't stop the elder's plan. The Man of Tomorrow confronts Harris and the elder, but pressure suddenly builds up in the machine's fuel lines. A chain reaction of explosions starts, and Superman makes a narrow escape. The elder and Harris weren't so lucky. They were killed by the explosions and the cavern's falling rocks.
Later, Clark Kent returns to Lois Lane. She tells him that Old Man Smith knew that his gun was empty and escaped. However, Smith was caught in the explosions while he was trying to get away. The town of Graves End is safe, and its people now have a new silver mine. Lois and Clark phone in the story to the Daily Planet. What they don't know is another mystery will test them next time in The Adventures of Superman.
Here's a question for you folks that have heard this story. How many of you out there wanted to say, "I've fallen and I can't get up!" when Old Man Smith screams "I'm falling" in the last chapter? Well, I admittedly did say this. Sure the joke is old, but one can't resist a joke like that with the overacting of the Smith part. It seems like the actor is trying to do an imitation of Walter Brennen or Merlin from that Mexican kids film Santa Claus that was in season five of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It's honestly that difficult to take Old Man Smith seriously. He seems like some crazy old coot that comes to a yard sale just to complain about the prices of the items there, or he could possibly be that fellow on the bus that swallows his own chin and swats at imaginary imps while screaming about those darn kids and their rock and roll music.
All joking aside, I think I've said before that if a voice isn't done well, it brings down the quality of the radio episode or cartoon or whatever requires voice work. Old Man Smith is overacted. Many times, it's even hard to understand what he said. I honestly had to listen to his dialogue several times while I wrote the plot summary in order to get what was going on during Clark's interrogation of Smith. Does the exaggerated voice of Smith ruin "Pillar of Fire at Graves End"completely? No, but it does bring down the quality a little bit.
The story itself is very good. My only major problem with it was Lois. She seems extremely out of character for some reason. She seems scared of her own shadow in this serial. I honestly expected to hear her standing on a chair and screaming "EEEEEEEEEEEEK" if she saw a mouse. This is not the Lois that we've all come to know and love over the years. In my opinion, the Lois in "Pillar of Fire at Graves End" is not the same as the one that went into the Atom Man's lair to save Superman in the Atom Man vs Superman movie serial. I get the feeling the writers of "Pillar of Fire at Graves End" had no idea how the character really is. She blows a whistle to call for Clark's help because an old man scared her. Why in the heck doesn't she just beat the old geezer upside the head with something, or use the car door to knock the wind out of him? Lois would normally find a way to defend herself. Let's just hope that Lois is more in character the next time we see her.
Aside from that, "Pillar of Fire at Graves End" is really an entertaining story that's perfect for a rainy night when one just wants to listen to some old time radio shows. It has the action and suspense of an episode of The Shadow, while at the same time, it feels like it could have been part of the Seigel and Shuster run in the comic books. However, I'm sure Jerry Seigel would have written Lois more in character. Plus, we won't have to deal with a screeching old man's voice in a comic book story unless we actually want one
See you next time, and remember to keep smiling and look up in the sky.
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