Take today's review on my film-blog. In the history of popular films, or even of SF-films or buddy-comedies, REAL MEN is pretty negligible. But it did serve a purpose in terms of stimulating an aspect of my "superhero idiom" theory, which I continue to refine "behind the scenes" even when not posting about it here.
In most of my ruminations on works within the superhero idiom, I've paid a great deal of attention to the resources of both heroes and villains-- by which I mean (for the most part) weapons or non-sentient helpers. This can create a problem, though, with respect to a lot of works in which both heroes and villains struggle over some item that they both want, but which isn't something the combatants can employ against one another in a fight, as Wonder Woman uses her lasso and the Joker uses his acid-squirting flower.
REAL MEN is problematic to my system. It qualifies as a "combative comedy," given that if focuses on its heroes-- two good guys in this case-- mounting a struggle against assorted enemy agents. But neither the good nor the bad guys use anything but standard firearms and mundane fighting-techniques. There is one silly moment where some of the villains dress up in clown-outfits for no good reason, and this element by itself does push the film into the realm of the uncanny-metaphenomemal, as per my formulation of the trope "outre outfits, etc." However, I found myself wondering: if REAL MEN had dropped that one visual joke, then the only remaining source of the metaphenomenal was that of the aliens, who offer humanity one of two gifts: a "big gun" or a good package." Toward the end of the film good guy Bob Wilson reaches the aliens and gets the "good package," which is meant to benefit humanity, thus foiling the attempt of the bad guys to get the super-weapon.
The viewer of REAL MEN never sees the "big gun" that the villains desire to possess. However, the gun's function in the story is allomorphic with many of the scientific objects or processes that villains ceaselessly seek to acquire in assorted serials, such as BLAKE OF SCOTLAND YARD, LOST CITY OF THE JUNGLE, and THE MASTER KEY.
All three of these serials bear a slight structural similarity to REAL MEN in one respect. Just as the villains in REAL MEN have one metaphenomenal aspect-- their "clown posse"-- the villains of these serials usually have one or two gimmicks that lift them out of the isophenomenal domain. However, it would be easy to imagine their scripts leaving out those piddling gimmicks, just as one could imagine sending out the clowns.
In my review of THE MASTER KEY, I was at one point particularly exercised by the fact that for most of the serial the viewer sees both heroes and villains in mostly mundane circumstances, except that from the first they're struggling over a scientific breakthrough that allows one to harvest gold from the ocean. I wrote:
The Nazis, working under a mysterious figure called "the Master Key," are trying to obtain the scientific breakthrough of Professor Henderson, whose "Oroton Tubes" can harvest raw gold from the ocean, presumably without spending more than one uses for the harvesting-techniques. Despite the efforts of G-Man Tom Brant (GUNSMOKE's Milburn Stone in his salad days) and his aides, the spies do capture Henderson, but the scientist fears being killed if he simply gives up his secret. He cooperates only to the extent of buying time with requests for the materials to build the Tubes. Thus, as in many serials, both good and bad guys are sent chasing after any number of McGuffins. The idea of a gold-making device is sufficiently advanced that it registers as a marvelous phenomenon, although one doesn't see it in action more than once or twice.
So why is my phenomenality-category still bifurcated? In essence, though the masked mastermind and the zap-trap seem like last-minute additions to the story, they are still *centric* to the story, whereas the gold-machine is truly *peripheral."
Though I'm not going to alter what I wrote in the review, I'm reversing myself on this verdict. The gold-machine might be function the same as a more mundane McGuffin, but it is meant to change the scope of the adventure in the same way that a death ray or some similar gimmick will. The gold-making device has been originated by a scientist aligned with the Allies, but the narrative danger was that it would fall into the hands of the Axis and thus endanger the outcome of the War.
In a handful of other essays I've used this distinction between "in posse" and "in esse:"
My original context for using these paired terms was to state that a particular work-- namely Wilkie Collins' THE MOONSTONE-- possessed clansgressive aspects *in posse* even if neither Collins nor his audience recognized them (more on which here). I've thus belatedly realized that I was only considering the resources of both heroes and villains *in esse,* while overlooking the fact that sough-after McGuffins can function as resources *in posse.* Even if the villains never actually get the powerful dingus, narrative suspense is generated by the possibility that they might-- and so the dingus-- in this case, the gold-making process-- is allied to the sphere of the villains' resources.
More on these matters as they occur to me.