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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...

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


Having just viewed and reviewed an obscure Zorro-derivative swashbuckler-flick, TERROR OF THE RED MASK, its slightly offbeat narrative construction leads me to expatiate on the transitive effect once more.

First, when I call RED MASK "offbeat," I'm not saying that there's anything original about this low-budget potboiler. As I remarked in the review, it's a little unusual to see the ostensible star of an adventure-film not play the titular masked avenger, but not quite unheard of. In the 1940 serial THE GREEN ARCHER, the top-billed Victor Jory gets the most lines, as a two-fisted insurance investigator looking into the strange goings-on at a castle haunted by the phantom-like "Green Archer." And yet, Jory's character is not really the focal presence of the story, which centers on the identity of the mysterious archer and his relationship to the crooks hiding in said castle. The insurance guy can fight well and proves more than a little ingenious, but the story is not about his character meeting a challenge, but about the mystery that challenges him. There are also a wide number of other serials in which a titular hero or heroine is aided by a figure I'll term an "ally," who isn't central enough to the story's melding of plot and character to be considered a focal presence. Indeed, in the case of a serial like PERILS OF NYOKA, the heroine's ally (played  by future Lone Ranger Clayton Moore) does more fighting and shooting than the top-billed heroine, but she's ineluctably the star of the show.

The story of TERROR OF RED MASK, though, is about the struggle of a skilled but otherwise ordinary mercenary, Lex Barker's Marco, to decide whether he'll devote his services to a well-heeled but evil ruler, or side with the freedom-fighters commanded by the mysterious Red Mask. The film emphasizes Marco's choice, and the revelation of the masked crusader's identity proves secondary. I would assume that the scriptwriters churned out this routine effort out of half-remembered storylines taken as much from Robert Louis Stevenson as from Johnston McCulley, but because they didn't follow the McCulley model as stringently as most Zorro-type flicks, it becomes MY challenge to ask whether or not this story with a masked avenger who is NOT the main star qualifies for inclusion in the superhero idiom.

Drawing on the line of logic I used in THIRD PRESENCE, PERIPHERAL, the answer is "no," though not without some qualifications.

In that essay, I observed that even works that had both metaphenomenal content and a struggle between high-dynamicity opponents might not always qualify for inclusion in the superhero idiom. In that essay, I wrote the following of the obscure oater PHANTOM OF THE RANGE:

The only metaphenomenality in either PHANTOM OF THE RANGE or its remake is that the crooks hire a henchman to pose as a ghost-- albeit in one of the least convincing disguises of all time.

Because the phony ghost adds no power to the villains-- the main hero doesn't even contend with the ghost, who is shot by his confederates-- his slight metaphenomenal presence does not activate the transitive effect, 

For similar reasons, I would say that even though the red-masked ally in the swashbuckler qualifiesa as a metaphenomenal presence, and even though the Red Mask has, unlike the phony ghost in the old western, considerable dynamicity, there's still a "disconnect" that keeps the transitive effect "in neutral." Even though the Red Mask becomes an ally to the centric hero Marco by the picture's conclusion, the ally's metaphenomenal nature does not transfer to Marco, and so Marco's story is, like that of the cowboy-hero in PHANTOM OF THE RANGE, an isophenomenal arc.

In conclusion, thus far I've come across one example of a fictional work in which a metaphenomenal ally did transfer his charisma to an isophenomenal centric hero, and that's 1925's DON Q, SON OF ZORRO.  But in that case the transitive effect is strengthened by the fact that DON Q is a direct sequel to MARK OF ZORRO, so that the later film-- like its main character-- would have not have existed except for the activities of its patrilineal predecessor.

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