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Mandrake, the Magician

D: Sam Nelson, Norman Deming / 13m

Cast: Warren Hull, Doris Weston, Al Kikume, Rex Downing, Edward Earle, Forbes Murray, Kenneth MacDonald, Don Beddoe, John Tyrrell, Lester Dorr

Mandrake and Lothar manage to avoid plunging into the raging torrent created by the dam burst and head back to the gas station where the Wasp’s men disappeared before. Beside it is a locked fence with a Private No Thoroughfare sign on it. The attendant (Dorr) tells Mandrake he doesn’t know anything about where the path beyond leads but Mandrake isn’t convinced and offers him $5000 for any information about a “rare” insect called a Wasp. He leaves the attendant his card and he and Lothar return home. There, with Betty and Dr Bennett in attendance, Mandrake receives a call from the attendant (whose name is Gray). But the Wasp’s chief henchman, Dirk, listens in on his call and sends his men to make sure Gray doesn’t talk.

Mandrake and Dr Bennett leave with Lothar to meet with Gray but just as they get there, the gas station is blown up and Gray is killed. Later, the Wasp informs Dirk that Mandrake is removing the platinite from his home and taking it to the smelting plant in the Crestline mines, and is planning to travel there by train from Giles Crossing. The Wasp wants him stopped before he gets to the train station, but his henchmen fail to do so, leaving the Wasp no choice but to use the radium machine to cause a landslide and derail the train that Mandrake and Lothar are travelling on. With the pair on board, the train leaves the tracks, sending them to “certain” death.

Mandrake 9

Just when you thought the chapters couldn’t get any shorter, along comes Chapter 9: Terror Rides the Rails. Brief, but containing as much incident as can be crammed into approximately ten minutes (the remaining three minutes feature a recap of Chapter 8 and a preview of Chapter 10), it’s a pacy, animated episode that once again reveals the Wasp’s uncanny knack for knowing what Mandrake will do next, a half decent explosion at the gas station, Mandrake and Lothar calmly climbing up out of the way of the dam burst (after appearing to fall into it), a car chase involving gunfire from both vehicles, Betty reduced to having one line: “But it may be a trap!”, and the Wasp standing up from behind his desk as if it will strike home the importance of stopping Mandrake from getting to the train station.

With so much crammed in there’s little time for any advancement of the plot, and even less time for subtlety. Co-directors Nelson and Deming, who have so far shown a fleeting regard for coaxing good performances from their cast, let Hull off the hook from some shameless eye-rolling once the train comes under attack, and allow Kikume to wrench the steering wheel all over the place during the car chase – even though both cars maintain a fairly straight line throughout. A lot of scenes have the appearance of being the first (and only) take, but again, it’s the energy and the vigour of it all that sees it through, and leaves the viewer anxious to see the next chapter.

Rating: 5/10 – you can’t fault the approach, with writers Poland, Dickey and Dandy maintaining the hell-for-leather vitality of the previous chapters, and despite its obvious flaws, making Chapter 9: Terror Rides the Rails as entertaining as its predecessors; throw in some unexpected sleight-of-hand at the gas station and an equally unexpected lack of fisticuffs, and you have an episode that offers more surprises than usual.

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