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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

DJINN, WITH SUMMONER PT. 2

My recent meditations on the processes of "interiorization" and "exteriorization" with respect to the way that a character summons power into play-- whether it is his own power or that of another entity-- was quite intentionally reflected on the two films I chose to examine in this review from my film-blog.



The 1955 film THE COURT JESTER is yet another variation on the theme of interiorization. The comic hero Hubert is utterly unable to comport himself after the fashion of the martially skilled hero he admires. By chance a princess falls in love with Hubert and she forces her "pet witch" to hypnotize Hubert into believing that he is "the greatest swordsman in the land."  Toward the end of the film this results in an outstanding duel between Hubert and the equally skilled villain of the piece. However, the duel never comes to a decisive conclusion, because the witch's spell can be undone whenever Hubert hears the sound of fingers snapping. After poor Hubert flashes back and forth a few times between being either a peerless fighter or an incompetent goof, he's finally helped out of his troubles by some of his allies. As I wrote in MYTHOS AND MODE PART TWO, the lack of a decisive combat between two megadynamic forces means that the narrative does not possess what I term a "significant combative value."




The other film in this review-essay, 1961's THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN, provides an example of exteriorization, but one which is also, like JESTER, not in the combative mode, though for a different reason. The doofus title character has some limited control of a genie, although this summoner-hero, much like DC Comics' Johnny Thunder-- discussed here-- takes some time to figure out how to invoke his djinn's powers. Unlike THE COURT JESTER, WONDERS does conclude with a fight between Donald O'Connor's Aladdin and the evil vizier (the fellow dressed in black at right in the photo above).  Before beginning the fight, Aladdin tells his genie not to interfere. When it becomes increasingly evident that Aladdin is no match for the vizier, the genie performs a few distracting magical tricks, so that Aladdin is able to triumph.  Yet this film does not satisfy my other criterion for a combative narrative: the "narrative combative value," which speaks to whether or not the narrative's plot decisively builds toward a climactic combat.. There's a battle, all right, but Aladdin is certainly not an exceptional figure, and his victory is, like that of Hubert in JESTER, compromised by another party. So by the same logic expressed in MYTHOS AND MODE 2, the film lacks the "narrative combative value."

Now, I have to ask myself whether or not I am fudging my own definitions. I've stated that Johnny Thunder is merely a "good," not exceptional, hand-to-hand fighter, but that he becomes "exceptional" by dint of controlling the magical Thunderbolt-- all despite the fact that Thunder is a comic hero, and he frequently only invokes his djinn's powers in illogical or roundabout ways.

Yet, one major difference between the serial adventures of comic hero Johnny Thunder and the solo adventure of comic hero Aladdin is that the Thunderbolt is supposed to be a regular ally to the main character, while the genie only exists in Aladdin's world as a short-lived, contingent presence, one who will vanish as soon as he has given the hero his three wishes. This is not the first time I have disallowed a work to have combative status on these terms. In DYNAMICITY/ DEMIHERO DELIBERATIONS I faced a similar problem, in which the "summoners" of the 1934 film BABES IN TOYLAND did call up a group of "djinns," but djinns who were purely contingent on the contrivances of the plot, not as representations of the characters themselves:

I defined the problem first in this fashion:


 Both of these forces, the toy soldiers and the Boogeymen, can be seen as "genies" through which the heroes or the villain respectively seek to accomplish their ends.

However, I rejected both the djinn-characters and the summoner-characters of TOYLAND from having combative status for this stated reason:

But I find myself asking: though the soldiers and the Boogeymen are extensions of the will of heroes and villain, are they central to the struggle, or just supporting characters in the story?  ... By the logic of [cited examples from the teleserials DOCTOR WHO and MIGHTY MAX], then, the toy soldiers and the Boogeymen are support-characters, and their exceptional combat does not generate a narrative value.  They are not comparable to the "iron genies" I discussed here.

And so, unlike a lot of "combative comedy" characters I've discussed in my film-reviews, the protagonist of WONDERS OF ALADDIN lacks combative status because of the contingent nature of his allies; because he is not meaningfully tied to the powers he invokes.

ADDENDUM: Upon re-screening the climax of COURT JESTER, I felt I should note exactly what transpires, even though the actions of the climax don't affect my verdict. As I said above, Hubert under hypnosis has dazzled the evil Ravenhurst with his sword-work, but he himself cancels the hypnotic spell by snapping his fingers. Ravenhurst's sword forces Hubert to back up, toward a parapet overlooking the moat below. Just when Ravenhurst is preparing to kill Hubert, the hero's allies-- a group of dwarves-- intrude and distract the villain. However, they aren't the ones who finish off Ravenhurst, for Hubert, taking advantage of the distraction, manages to grab the wicked counselor and judo-toss him down to the moat below. However, even though Hubert does play a more direct role in the villain's defeat than I asserted in my summary above, he's still a lot like the Donald O'Connor character in the WONDERS OF ALADDIN-- "good" enough to defeat the evildoer with the aid of a distraction, but not great, and therefore, not megadynamic.

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