TV show, 1952
This week’s induction dates back to the early days of television, when The Adventures of Superman featured an episode entitled, “No Holds Barred”.
The year was MCMLII – 1952, IV those of you who don’t know how II read Roman numerals – and George Reeves was fighting for truth, justice, and the American way*.
Not only did this “No Holds Barred” pre-date the Hulk Hogan vehicle by more than three decades, it may just have been the first “wrestling episode” of television ever!
This might have been a wrestling episode, but that doesn’t mean the 1950s Superman would have ever made it in Vince McMahon’s WWF.
Honestly, Clark Kent and his David Byrne suit look a lot more imposing without the tights and cape.
The episode begins in the wrestling ring, where an announcer tells us that “Bad Luck” Brannigan has just executed his famous Brannigan Paralyzer on his opponent, who, contrary to what the name of the hold would suggest, begins to rise to his feet while it is being applied.
Nevertheless, Brannigan would claim victory in grisly fashion. Why, just look at the next day’s newspaper!
That’s right: “Schoolboy Slate Heavy Today”! As Bobby Heenan said (and as I quote whenever my dad asks me if I saw the college football game), who cares about high school sports!
Sorry, I got sidetracked. The real headline to watch is, “Brannigan Paralyzes ‘Teuton’ Tony”. Now, unless Tony was a Cimbrian War vet, I would think his name ought to be “Two-Ton” Tony.
The graphics department at RKO Pictures seems to have thought so, too, as the headline changes before our very eyes.
Speaking of changing before our very eyes, Bad Luck Brannigan transforms from a bulky guy in dark tights…
…to a slender guy in light tights, while once again applying his signature Paralyzer (which is now apparently a pinning combination).
I’ve never seen a wrestler suffer a career-ending injury from a roll-up, but I guess they worked stiffer back in the fifties.
The staff at Clark Kent’s newspaper take time out to catch another of Brannigan’s matches, where they witness a *third* move called the Paralyzer, this one a sort of armdrag.
“Frankly I never saw wrestling like that in college,” says Wayne Winchester, Lois Lane’s gentleman friend at the Daily Planet. “It looks more like a serious attempt at murder!”
Just as Clark Kent starts pointing out that Brannigan is using dirty tricks with his fingers, resident moron Jimmy Olsen interrupts with a yell, submitting to a hold he put on himself. I bet that one’s called The Paralyzer, too.
Kent goes on assignment to Mortimer Murray Mat Enterprises, the gym where Bad Luck Brannigan trains. Outside, he peruses a poster advertising a main event featuring Brannigan but also, more importantly, an undercard match featuring Lacey Pants Larkin.
Inside, Mortimer is prepping Brannigan for his next match using his secret weapon: an Indian swami named Ramm.
That’s this guy. Maybe brownface wasn’t a big deal in the 50s, but nowadays it’s a definite Hin-don’t.
As Brannigan spars with Crusher Jones, Ramm demonstrates a debilitating pinch on Jones’s thigh, which Bad Luck can use in his upcoming match. Maybe Jones can use it against Lacey Pants Larkin, too.
Now, last time I checked, pinching a guy in a wrestling match wasn’t a crime, so maybe Superman should just butt out for once.
But what is a crime is false imprisonment, which Mortimer Murray and the other bad guys at the gym are committing against the swami.
See, Justin Trudeau over here is actually being forced to teach Bad Luck Brannigan his secret pressure point techniques. You can tell he’s being held against his will because he calls Mortimer, “master” instead of “boss” like all real henchmen.
When Ramm protests that his mystic techniques are being used for evil, Murray has his wrestlers lock him in his room, threatening him with a visit from “the government police” and life imprisonment. “Nature boy’s gettin’ ideas”, says Murray, referencing the popular Nat King Cole song.
In the next match, Clark Kent notices Brannigan press his opponent’s thigh, then quickly pin him. Chalk up another victory to Bad Luck Brannigan and his new move called – you guessed it – the Paralyzer. And you thought it was annoying when people called every wrestling move a body slam.
Wayne Winchester then emerges from the audience to challenge Brannigan for his title at the next week’s event – no holds barred, two out of three falls. Brannigan doesn’t take Wayne seriously until he takes down Bad Luck with a drop toe hold, the only wrestling move so far that no one’s called The Paralyzer.
Back at the gym, Clark Kent overhears Murray and Brannigan’s incriminating conversation about their slave, Ramm. Changing into his tights and cape, Superman leaps to the swami’s window and bends the bars to enter.
The swami is so serene, he completely no-sells this strange occurrence. Superman chats with the swami and gets him to show him his special techniques, then tells Ramm to stay put and keep teaching Bad Luck Brannigan the pressure points. This, rather than just rescuing him right then and there. Why? Because there’s still ten minutes left in the episode, that’s why.
Does Superman know something about Ramm that we don’t? After all, we don’t know why Ramm thinks the police are after him. Maybe he knocked over a liquor store. Let’s hope the Man of Steel at least had the courtesy to bend those window bars back into place, lest they raise any alarms for Ramm’s captor.
At his apartment, Clark Kent tries out the swami’s new nerve pinch on Wayne, who, over an unspecified period of time not exceeding one week, builds up a natural “armor” against it somehow.
Meanwhile, over at the bad guys’ gym, Ramm is teaching Bad Luck Brannigan the same pressure point that Clark taught Wayne to resist. It’s an ingenious strategy – Ramm might as well have not taught Brannigan any new holds at all (just like if he’d been, you know, rescued by Superman in the first place)!
At the Kent residence, Clark gets Jimmy Olsen to try out the new hold. Miraculously, the young boy’s attempt at incapacitating a grown man is totally ineffective.
Wayne launches Jimmy into the air for his trouble…
…and Clark Kent gives his coworker a congratulatory massage.
It’s main event time, and Brannigan has Wayne in a compromising position. Not only that, but it looks like he’s going to win the wrestling match, too. Bad Luck applies his new, never-before-seen unnamed hold on Wayne. “He’s using the Paralyzer”, says Lois Lane.
Fortunately for Wayne, this week’s version of the Paralyzer is totally useless against him. Wayne pops to his feet, hiptosses Brannigan…
…and pins him to win the title…
…presumably having already pinned him once before in the best-of-three-falls match.
These being more innocent times, Jimmy Olsen rubs down the new champ as Clark Kent rushes out to stop the bad guys.
Murray, Brannigan, and the others have Ramm tied up and want answers about his dud of a secret hold.
Superman arrives to punch out all the bad guys, ironically never using the Superman Punch. Come to think of it, Superman barely did anything super at all in this show. This whole episode really didn’t need a superhero.
Regardless, the guy who happens to be a superhero saves the swami, but their celebration is interrupted by a knock on the door – it’s the police coming to arrest the bad guys! The government police, maybe!
Actually, it’s just the newspaper crew, to whom Ramm tells his incredible story about Superman.
Superman, of course, has disappeared without a trace, while Clark Kent arrives mysteriously on the scene from behind a door. Having heard Ramm’s convo with Superman, Kent steps over the bodies and tells his colleagues that swami can heal all of the victims of Brannigan’s Paralyzer.
“Like the only real magic,” says Clark. “The magic of knowledge.”
What the hell does that mean?