Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blackhawk Versus The Deadly Flying Disc

Back in the old days kids used to flock to the local cinema for the matinee serials featuring their favorite heroes. Each segment would end with a cliffhanger, for example, the hero is trapped inside a car that suddenly explodes. Is our hero dead?

Nope. When the fan returned to the theatre the following week, he would see the exploding car but this time an extra preceding scene would be included showing the hero leaping to safety before the car burst into flames and flew over a cliff.

An example of this hokum is the serial, Blackhawk: Fearless Champion of Justice, from 1952. Blackhawk was a popular character featured in Quality Comics during World War II who led his international team of brave aviators in strikes against the Nazis. After World War II Blackhawk relocated his base of operations from Europe to the USA where he continued to battle enemies of justice and freedom.

In this serial he's fighting a spy ring trying to get its hands on futuristic inventions created by American scientists. At one point the bad guys finally come up with a sci fi weapon of their own, a remote-controlled flying disc targeted at Blackhawk and his plane.

As you can see from the above image, special effects were on the crude side for this serial. Instead of a frightening device, the viewer is treated to a cute cartoon flying saucer. Wheee!

And how does Blackhawk manage to stop the deadly disc? Simple. He pulls out his handgun and shoots it down in mid-air.

Note in the above still capture that Blackhawk is aiming his gun out the window of the cockpit door but it appears the gun is still firing through the windshield. There must be a windshield because no air is blasting through, messing up Blackhawk's hair or blowing off his cap. So how can he fire through a window without shattering it? Bad low-budget production values? Naw. You see Blackhawk's special plane must have one-way superscience glass that keeps out the elements but allows bullets to pass harmless through in the opposite direction.

One device the spy gang is trying to steal is the electronic combustion ray. When Blackhawk meets the inventor, he looks at the ECR and says: "So this is the secret device that you have been secretly perfecting for the government."

Here's Blackhawk watching a secret demo of the secret weapon being secretly perfected in secret:

And how well does this device work? Well, if you have an old wooden chair you're too lazy to toss into the trash, check this out:

Previous to the demo the inventor explains that the secret secret is out about the device: he is being watched, he has received death threats. Blackhawk astutely observes:

"Evidently you have created something worth stealing."

The inventor says the weapon emits a ray that travels at three times the speed of light. That statement reminds me of this poem:

There was a young woman named Bright
Whose speed was much faster than light.
She set out one day
In a relative way,
And returned on the previous night.

So this weapon should destroy its target before the button is pressed. But we don't see that in this Blackhawk movie.

If there's anything I hate, it's bad superscience.


X. Dell said...

Back in the 1980s, Scientific American had this article about what they called the "Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner" theory of physics. The point of the article was that popular movies and cartoons, which are often scientifically incorrect, have inflenced how people perceive of physical processes and properties.

One example they gave was for the movie Superman, when Lois Lane (Margo Kidder) falls from this building, whereupon Superman (the late-Christopher Reeve) quickly flies up to catch her. At the speed he would have travelled to reach her, and given his mass (which is also mentioned in the film), poor Lois should have been nearly vaporized pulp because of the force of the impact.

But, you see, never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

And that's the secret of public relations.

Doug said...

Hey, you don't get a helicopter named after you for being accurate; you get it for kicking ass.

And science was different back then, wasn't it?