Superman on Radio & Audio
Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews
1941: Doctor Roebling and the Voice MachineReviewed by: James Lantz
Original Broadcast Dates: July 25, 1941-August 29, 1941
"Doctor Roebling and the Voice Machine"
In our last serial, Clark Kent was running into a bear cave to save Jimmy Olsen and the dog sled guide Batiste as Superman. Chuck Conner, a fur smuggler, was ordered by Clark to stand guard over his unconscious boss Bull Ragman. The Man of Steel hears the wild roars of the bear in the dark cave. Batiste has been badly mauled, and Jimmy is unconscious. Despite the risk of leaving Bull and Chuck alone to escape, Superman flies both Jimmy and Batiste out of the cave after he wrestles with the bear. The two fur smugglers, however, have not escaped. Two customs officers have picked up Bull thanks to Chuck, who has promised to give up a life of crime. As a result, Bill Dawson gives Chuck a job in Walter Bartlett's logging camp, and Bull will be spending the rest of his days in prison.
Sometime later, Father Malone is treating Batiste and Jimmy's injuries. It's at this moment that Clark decides to cut his and Jimmy's vacation short. He and the young copy boy will be taking the next train to Metropolis. Clark does, however, promise Father Malone to return next year for another trip.
On the train, Jimmy sees a man that is the spitting image of Doctor Roebling, whose picture is in the newspaper. His new machine is very important in the field of communications. Only one model of the device exists for now, and Roebling has insured it for ten million dollars.
Trying to get an interview with Roebling for the Daily Planet, Clark approaches the man. However, the man says that his name is Walter Harris. Jimmy and Clark have their doubts. Clark waits for the man to leave his seat. Clark notices that Harris left a crumpled piece of paper in his now empty seat. Clark picks up the paper in hopes of learning if Walter Harris is really Doctor Roebling. Clark doesn't find the man's true identity, but he does discover a new mystery on the paper. There is a message on it that reads, "This is your last warning."
In the dining car, Harris/Roebling faints during dinner with his daughter. Clark helps the unconscious man to his car. Harris/Roebling's daughter asks Clark how he knows that her father's real name is Roebling. Clark had called her Ms. Roebling while helping her father to his drawing room and answers her by mentioning the newspaper article that Jimmy had shown him. A half hour passes as Clark and Jimmy check on Doctor Roebling and his daughter. They get no response from the young woman or the scientist when they knock on the door repeatedly. Clark asks the conductor if he can unlock the door so he can check on Doctor Roebling. However, the conductor reveals that the occupants of that particular compartment are named Mr. and Mrs. Jack Smith.
After much protesting between Clark and the conductor, the mild mannered reporter asks the conductor to find the train master who can give authority to open the door in cases of emergencies. While Jimmy goes to get a pencil, Clark uses Superman's strength to force the door unlocked. He discovers that the room is empty, and Roebling and his daughter apparently left through an opened window. The conductor suddenly returns and turns Clark and Jimmy over to the police.
Later, Clark returns from prison to the Daily Planet. He was released into Perry White's custody. Clark explains to the irate editor that he believes that Doctor Roebling was taken from his drawing room on the train. He gives Perry the story for the newspaper and is ordered to go with Lois Lane to Martin City in order to learn more.
In the Martin City Hotel, Clark sees Roebling's daughter. He introduces Lois to her, but he stops Lois from revealing that she and Clark are reporters. Ms. Roebling tells Lois and Clark that her father is very sick in the hospital. Lois, however, learns that nobody named Roebling was ever checked into the three hospitals in Martin City. Clark asks the hotel desk clerk about Roebling. He discovers that Mr. and Mrs. Jack Smith are in room number 514.
As Superman, our hero enters room 514 through the window. He goes through a suitcase belonging to Katherine Roebling. The Man of Tomorrow finds a memorandum written on the back of an envelope. The memo says something about 218 State Street in Martin City. Superman is even more curious, but he hears a key turn in the lock before he can discover more about the mysterious blonde woman. Superman quickly flies out of the window in which he had opened. What he doesn't know is that the person unlocking the hotel room door is Lois Lane. She asked the desk clerk for room 514's key in an effort to scoop Clark Kent out of the story of the Roeblings.
Suddenly, Katherine Roebling enters the room. She points her gun at Lois and locks her in the hotel room after receiving a phonecall from her husband Jack Roebling. Katherine has papers that Jack needs. Mrs. Roebling cuts the room's phoneline before leaving. Katherine then checks out of the hotel and leaves in a blue roadster. She's driving at temendously dangerous speeds, and her car is being followed by a taxi cab that has been hired by Clark Kent. The taxi then suddenly loses Katherine Roebling's car and crashes into another car.
While Clark uses Superman's incredible strength to free himself, the driver and the occupants of the other car, Katherine Roebling is giving Jack the papers he needs. Doctor Roebling, who is with Jack, recognizes Katherine as the woman who drugged him on the train earlier. Jack Roebling plans to force his uncle Doctor Walter Roebling to sign over the rights of his voice machine. Doctor Roebling protests signing over the machine's rights to Jack. Jack Roebling wants to make a profit on the voice machine, but his uncle wants to use the machine to help the allied forces fighting in Europe.
Taking extreme measures, Jack and Katherine inject a drug into Doctor Roebling's arm. The drug will make the inventor easier to control, and Jack can make him sign over the rights to the voice machine. Both the drug and Jack Roebling's plan work. Doctor Roebling is in a trance-like state. The scientist is now signing the papers necessary to give his nephew the voice machine.
Meanwhile, Clark has taken the injured parties from the automobile accident to the hospital. He returns to the hotel to search for Lois. The desk clerk tells Clark that Lois went to room 514.
Meanwhile, Lois is climbing out the window on some bed sheets that she has tied together. The sheets suddenly tear, and Lois is about to fall to her death. The timely intervention of Superman prevents this at the last second. He takes her to Clark Kent's hotel room and resumes his guise of the mild mannered reporter before Lois awakens. The star reporter then recounts her adventure with Katherine Roebling to Clark. This makes Clark decide to go with her to 218 State Street to investigate the Roeblings.
When they arrive, Lois and Clark see the blue roadster. This time it's being driven by Jack Roebling. Katherine is now in the passenger side of the vehicle. Clark and Lois follow the roadster. They are on an extremely curvy road to Metropolis. Once in the city, Jack and Katherine Roebling will take the voice machine from Doctor Walter Roebling's house. Someone has offered to pay twenty million dollars for Doctor Roebling's voice machine.
About a quarter of a mile behind the Roeblings' car, Lois and Clark's car runs out of gas. While Lois stays in the car, Clark says he'll go to a nearby house to call a service station for assistance. Clark, in reality, changes into Superman. The Man of Steel grabs the blue roadster and forces the Roeblings to confess their crimes against Jack's Uncle Walter. Jack Roebling shoots and our hero - much to the Roeblings' surprise - is still standing. Superman knocks out Jack Roebling and delivers him and his crying wife Katherine to the police before going back to Martin City to save Doctor Roebling. Both Roebling and the rights to his invention are now safe thanks to Superman.
Later, Lois, Clark and Doctor Roebling are on a train to Metropolis. A mechanic will drive the car that the reporters had taken back to the city. Doctor Roebling is resting in his drawing room on the train. Clark tells Lois that he had found Jack and Katherine Roebling. He was forced to knock out Jack and turn him and Katherine over to the police. Roebling, however, refused to press charges against his nephew. The inventor believes that this was Jack's first crime, and he doesn't want to give his nephew a prison record.
At this point, Clark reveals something. At five o'clock tomorrow, Doctor Walter Roebling will do something for Perry White, Lois and Clark that he had only done for two government agents. He's going to show them the secrets of his voice machine, and to thank the reporters for saving him and his invention, Roebling will allow the Daily Planet to reveal everything about the machine to the entire world.
The next day, in Doctor Roebling's basement, the inventor is demonstrating his voice machine for Perry, Lois and Clark. It looks like a radio with various dials, switches, gauges and buttons. The machine basically grabs sound waves from any place and time chosen by the user. Once the sound waves are captured by the machine, it plays back the waves' contents. Doctor Roebling shows how this works by playing back phrases said by Lois and Perry moments earlier. Roebling even makes the group from the Daily Planet listen to Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address from November 10, 1863. Clark then understands that with Doctor Roebling's voice machine, war would be virtualy impossible. The machine could capture the sound waves of enemy agents making their plans, and the plans could be played back on the machine.
Congratulating Doctor Roebling on his invention, Perry, Lois and Clark are asked by the scientist to keep everything they've seen a secret until the voice machine can be delivered to the government. The Daily Planet will have the exclusive story on the machine once it is in government hands.
After the trio from the great metropolitan newspaper have left Doctor Roebling's house, Katherine Roebling - whose nickname is Chicky - is trying to convince Jack to not go through with his plan. Even though his uncle did not let him go to jail for his crime, Jack wants to destroy the voice machine and take the ten million dollars in insurance money. Jack is Walter Roebling's only living relative, and he knows the aged scientist has no will. Jack will get the insurance money should anything happen to his uncle.
Now, Jack is outside of his uncle's house. He's cutting the bars around the window to the basement with a hacksaw. Chicky still wants no part of her husband's plan. She and Jack argue until he eventually chases her and shoots her in the back. However, when Jack gets to where he had seen Chicky fall, she is nowhere to be seen. Jack Roebling thinks nothing of Chicky's disappearance, and goes back to cutting the bars.
At the offices of the Daily Planet, Clark has just given Perry the story of Doctor Roebling's voice machine to be published later. A phonecall from the city hospital arrives for the mild mannered reporter. Katherine Roebling has been found and brought to the hospital emergency room. She keeps calling for Clark. Clark and Perry arrive at the hospital, where Katherine tells them that Jack wants to destroy his uncle's voice machine.
After rushing to Doctor Roebling's home, Clark and Perry hear the sound of Jack Roebling inside the basement. Clark uses the cover of darkness to become Superman. The Man of Steel makes short work of Doctor Roebling's nephew, but he is still just a split second too late. Doctor Roebling's voice machine has been destroyed.
Throughout the night and on into the morning, the desperate Doctor Walter Roebling and Clark Kent work together to rebuild the voice machine. They test with the same Gettysburg address that was heard on the previous day. Once the machine is fully functional and Lincoln's famous speech is heard clearly, Clark and Doctor Roebling try hearing voices from the city.
At 10:07 AM, Clark and Doctor Roebling overhear an assassination plot. A group of racketeers is planning everything. They need to kill someone named Benson. Benson has been taken to the city prison. The gangsters are afraid that Benson will talk about the rest of the racketeers, and somebody called the Big Guy will not like that. The killer is to be chosen through a type of game of chance. Whoever gets the paper with the black cross will murder Benson. A man named Curly gets the cross and must take care of Benson. The gang leader Duke orders Curly to meet him at the Swan Club in two hours to discuss the job further.
After the gangsters' conversation has ended, Clark wants to tell the police what he and the voice machine's inventor have learned. He doesn't have to go far, for a police car has pulled in Doctor Roebling's driveway. The policemen take Clark by surprise when they point their guns at him. The law enforcement officials have arrived to arrest Clark Kent.
Later in District Attorney Warren's office, an angry Perry White is trying to get Clark out of prison. It seems Jack Roebling claims that Clark was the one that shot his wife Katherine. Clark denies that he shot her, but he does confirm that he met her in the hospital. He doesn't reveal anything further. Perry then tells the district attorney of the events that made him and Clark go to see Mrs. Roebling and try to save Walter Roebling's voice machine. Clark is uncooperative when the D.A. asks if Perry is telling the truth. As a result of his failure to answer questions, Clark is sent back to jail.
While in his prison cell, Clark discovers that Benson is in a cell not far from Clark's. The mild mannered reporter asks Lois to find information on both Benson and Duke. He then tells her of the assination attempt that Duke had planned with Curly and the other gangsters. Clark refused to answer the district attorney's question in order to be put in prison in hopes of stopping Benson from being killed.
Just then, while Lois and Clark are talking, Clark lifts his prison cell's mattress. Both he and Lois find a dictograph under the bed. Someone has been listening to every word Clark has said to Lois about Benson and Duke. Clark removes the wires to the dictograph's microphone and says goodbye to Lois. He then escapes prison as Superman. The police are now searching for the mild mannered reporter.
In Perry White's office, the editor is trying to learn why Clark escaped and why Lois is being held by the police. Perry is then shocked to see Clark enter his office. Clark recounts the details of the conversation that he and Doctor Roebling had overheard before the police had arrived at the inventor's house.
Meanwhile, in the Swan Club, Duke is giving Curly his instructions on the way he'll kill Benson. Curly is to throw a rock through a store window in order to be arrested. The Big Guy will arrange it so Curly will be in the cell across from Benson. He'll then kill Benson and not have to worry about getting out of jail.
At that moment, Duke receives a call from the Big Guy. The plan has changed. Because of what was heard on the dictograph in Clark Kent's cell, Benson will be transferred to the state prison at 9:00 PM. Curly and a man named Spud will now be following the car carrying Benson. The two men will kill Benson once the car reaches an open stretch on Conway Turnpike before crossing Red River Bridge.
Back in Perry's office, Clark has finished telling his chief everything that he knows. Perry then reveals to the mild mannered reporter who Duke and Benson are. Henry Benson was the Metropolis city treasurer. A hefty sum of money had gone missing, and it is believed that Benson had possibly stolen the money. Duke is Duke Renard, a man that went into the building racket. He had used inferior building materials to construct the Metropolis City Courthouse. District Attorney Warren had fined Renard eighty-five thousand dollars and had Benson arrested for the missing money. Now, both Clark and Perry know that Benson knows something about someone Duke Renard calls the Big Guy's criminal rackets, and all of the gangsters in Metropolis think the former treasurer knows too much.
After Perry finishes telling Clark of Benson and Duke, Doctor Roebling calls them, The inventor overheard the new plan to kill Benson over his voice machine. Perry wants to call the D.A. However, Clark insists that he should try things his way because he wants to be there to stop the gangsters from killing Benson. Clark doesn't want District Attorney Warren to know too much in case he is the Big Guy or associated with the gang leader. Clark is suspicious because he believes Warren had the dictograph planted inside of Clark's prison cell.
Suddenly, two policemen storm into the offices of the Daily Planet. They arrest both Perry and Clark. However, the two men learn that the policemen are really Spud and Curly. They take the handcuffed Clark and Perry to Duke Renard. Duke gloats about the two men staying with him until 10:30 while Curly and Spud get rid of Benson. Clark tries to make Duke believe that the Big Guy will make him take the fall for Benson's murder. The angry racketeer then attacks Clark.
After Clark pretends to take Duke's punch, the mild mannered reporter gets an idea. Clark talks to Doctor Roebling in hopes that the scientist is listening to everything with his voice machine, and he's telling the inventor exactly where he and Perry White are located. In the process, Clark makes Duke and his men believe that he is insane.
In the office of District Attorney Warrren, Lois Lane, who was put in prison earlier for helping Clark escape, is being questioned about the arrest of Perry White and the mild mannered reporter. She knows nothing of the incident, but she suspects that Warren knows something even though the police have no knowledge of the arrest. Lois says that Warren knows Clark is innocent of the murder of Katherine Roebling because her husband recently confessed of the crime. However, this doesn't change the fact that Clark is still a fugitive.
Just then, Warren receives a call from the police. Doctor Roebling has contacted the authories and told them of the location of Clark Kent and Perry White. Warren and the police believe that Roebling's call is possibly a prank, but Warren thinks they should send a couple of cars just in case everything is true. Warren then asks Lois if she knows Roebling. The star reporters admits this by mentioning the inventor's voice machine. Warren is about to leave his office to go to the house where Duke Renard has held Clark and Perry prisoner. He orders Lois to go back to her detention cell, but she is suspicious of Warren's intentions for going to Duke's hideout.
In the hideout, Duke and his men are enjoying Clark's broadcasting to Doctor Roebling. The reporter told them that he believes to be a radio station. The uproar of laughter from the gangsters is ended by Clark stopping his message to the inventor. Clark and Perry reveal to Duke that they know all about the Big Guy's gang's plan to kill Benson because they're afraid the former treasurer will talk about the racketeers' involvement in the theft of the money from Metropolis treasury.
Just then, Duke receives a telephone call. Clark uses Superman's fantastic hearing to listen to the conversation. He hears a woman's voice on the other side f the line. She warns Duke of Warren and the police coming to find Clark and Perry. Duke is to call her later after he eliminates the reporter and editor. Duke then uses rope to tie up Clark and Perry and sets the house on fire. Clark frees Perry and himself from the ropes. The deperate editor tries to find a way out of the burning house, and Clark is forced to knock out Perry. This gives him a chance to carry Perry out of the fire as Superman just before the police arrive.
Meanwhile, Duke is on the telephome at a gas station with the woman who spoke with him earlier. She reveals that Benson will be transferred to the state prison at 8:00 instead of 9:00. It's now, 7:20. The gangsters only have a little more than thirty minutes to get to the Conway Turnpike to kill Benson, and Superman doesn't know that the transfer hour has been changed.
In Perry's office at the Daily Planet, the editor is nursing a swollen jaw while listening to Clark's plan. The reporter wants to disguise himself as a prison guard in order to be in the sheriff's car with Henry Benson to prevent his death. It is now 7:50, and Clark believes he has more than hour to get to Conway Turnpike. Despite having objections, Perry calls a friend of his that owns a costume shop to get the prison guard's uniform for Clark.
Meanwhile, Duke and his men are on the way to Conway Turnpike. They hear news of the fire that Duke had started, but the deaths of Clark Kent and Perry White are not mentioned. Even though someone got the car's licence plate number, Duke is more worried about what Clark and Perry will tell the police. He believes that a bunch of police cars wll follow the car that will transfer Henry Benson if the editor and/or reporter talked to the authorities. Duke then suddenly gets an idea.
The Red River Bridge on Conway Turnpike is a drawbridge that opens up to let boat traffic travel safely. Duke will open the drawbridge when the car with Benson crosses, and it will fall into the water killing former treasurer in the process. While Spud stays with their car off to the side of the bridge, Duke and Curly go into the bridge's control house. Curly knocks out the bridgemaster while Duke studies the bridge's controls. While Duke is learning the levers, Curly shoots the bridge's warning lights. Duke's henchman then take the unconscious bridgemaster to the car.
Meanwhile, Clark Kent is disguised as a prison guard and learns from the prison warden that Henry Benson left in the sheriff's car at 8:00, which was forty minutes ago. Removing both of his guises of the prison guard and Clark Kent, Superman races against time to save Henry Benson. He finds the car carrying Benson and lands atop it just before the Red River Bridge opens. The Man of Steel catches the automobile just before it can fall into Red River. Duke and Curly witness everything and leave the control house to investigate. They are then confronted by Superman, who makes short work of Duke and his men.
Later, Clark Kent is in District Attorney Warren's office. They question Warren's secretary Miss Caroll, who has now been unmasked as the Big Guy thanks to Duke Renard's confession to Superman. Clark speaks in the same code Duke used when talking to the Big Guy. Apparently, Miss Caroll had a relationship with Henry Benson and influenced him to steal a million dollars of treasury funds to give her nice things. She had also used the stolen money to pay Duke Renard and his racketeers to keep Benson quiet by any means necessary. Miss Caroll then cries just before being arrested.
Doctor Roebling's voice machine has helped Superman stop one of the biggest criminal organizations in Metropolis, the identity of the Big Guy has been revealed, and Clark Kent must write the story for the Daily Planet. However, another mystery awaits in the shadows for the Man of Steel. Be here for "Metropolis Football Team Poisoned" next week in The Adventures of Superman, boys and girls.
There is a continuity error in "Doctor Roebling and the Voice Machine." Superman says he's going to turn on the lights to make it easier for him to search Katherine Roebling's hotel room. However, in the previous story arcs, Superman has said many times, "It's a good thing I can see in the dark."
During the point in which Duke and Curly laugh at Clark's contacting Doctor Roebling, Bud Collyer almost begins to laugh while trying to deliver his lines.
"Doctor Roebling and the Voice Machine" would later be redone as another serial that aired on the dates October 27, 1944-November 08, 1944. Unfortunately, the serials after "A Mystery For Superman" (February 27, 1942-March 09, 1942) and before "Doctor Blythe's Confidence Gang" (September 04, 1945-September 21, 1945) are either missing or incomplete. Hopefully one day, the lost episodes and story arcs will be found.
Okay, the continuity error really bothered me. I still don't understand how the writers were allowed to get away with such blatantly a obvious blunder. Superman has pointed out the listeners of the progam that he's able to see in the dark. Now, if he had only said this once or twice, perhaps I would have cut the writers some slack. But the Last Son of Krypton has pointed out his spectacular night vision in numerous serial story arcs. Therefore, turning on a light to make things easier denies the audience a mind's eye view of Superman using his tremendous visual abilities of that time period. Hopefully, future storylines don't make this mistake again.
"Doctor Roebling and the Voice Machine" itself, despite the blunder, isn't a bad story. In fact, it's an incredible blend of action and science fiction. However, the serial would have been better if it had been divided into two eight chapter story arcs. Chapters one through eight focus on Roebling and his invention, while parts nine through sixteen seem to center more around the assassination plot Duke and his gang were discussing while Roebling and Clark listened to them on the voice machine. The second half of "Doctor Roebling and the Voice Machine" could have been easily called "Doctor Roebling and the Racketeers" or something to that effect without taking anything away from the quality of the story
Jack Roebling was an intersting character that I wish had been used more in "Doctor Roebling and the Voice Machine." It kind of feels like he was tossed aside in the second half of the story to make room for Duke Renard and the rest of the Big Guy's gang. It would have been very interesting to see Jack Roebling be a part of the organization of criminals and racketeers. It could have made for some interesting family conflict between Jack and his uncle that could have possibly rivaled the one between Lionel and Lex Luthor in Smallville.
Back onto the subject of the Big Guy, I like the fact that he - or rather she - didn't turn out to be District Attorney Warren. Corrupt politicians were relatively new, hidden or unheard of in the 1930s and the 1940s, but they were used to death in radio and comics. In fact, if my memory serves me well, Superman's first adventure in Action Comics #1 has our hero fighting with someone connected to a crooked congressman toward the end of the story. Anyway, had the Big Guy been Warren, I would have been disappointed. I'm glad Warren's secretary turned out to be the Big Guy. It gave a nice twist to the story arc. However, I did expect more of a "You'll never take me alive, you dirty coppers!" attitude from her once her true identity was unmasked. Her crying when she was discovered seems out of character for someone who had planned to commit a murder, and it felt rather anti-climatic and forced.
Despite the various flaws I mentioned, "Doctor Roebling and the Voice Machine" an entertaining action packed arc. My complaints, for lack of a better word, are merely things I feel that would have made the story more interesting. They don't take anything away from the quality and fun of this amazing serial. Let's hope "Metropolis Football Team Poisoned" is as entertaining when we meet again, Superfans. Until next week, don't touch that dial, and remember to keep smiling and look up in the sky.
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