South of the Border – The Return of Captain Invincible – tape 620

This tape opens with the last in the series of South of the Border, a drama about female detectives, with a predominantly black cast. This episode, written by series creator Susan Wilkins, concerns a charity record to ‘raise awareness’ of Acid rain, whose master tape goes missing.

The singer of the song is very concerned about the cause. “You know there is a lot of poisonous shit falling on us.”

This show definitely makes a virtue of its London location, with plenty of boat rides and riverside views.

It’s OK. Nothing mindblowing, and it has that slightly meandering feeling that a lot of mid-level 80s drama tended to have. But London looks great.

BBC Genome: BBC One London, 13 December 1988 21.30

Recording switches to BBC Two, who seem to be having problems in Presentation.

The movie is The Return of Captain Invincible. Alan Arkin plays the eponymous Captain, a washed-up alcoholic wreck who’s forgotten his powers, but is desperately needed by the world when the villainous Christopher Lee unveils his plans for a whiter America.

The film was directed by Phillipe Mora, who’s had a variable career, including some pretty dodgy sequels to Joe Dante’s The Howling, but this one is actually pretty good, mostly down to a smart script co-written by the great Steven E de Souza, writer of Die Hard and 48 Hrs amongst many others.

The film opens very much like Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, with some very well done faux newsreel footage, showing the Captain in his heyday, and also his fall, when the McCarthy hearings accused him of being a ‘premature anti-fascist’. He’s charged with impersonating a military officer, flying without a licence and wearing underwear in public. The Captain vanishes from public life.

Cut to 1979 in Australia, and a news report on the falling to Earth of the Skylab space station. The reporter interviews a drunk eyewitness, who says he was ‘flying through the air’ when he saw it, and he attempted to catch it.

Yes, Captain Invincible has moved to Australia, and is on the booze.

Cut to New York, where Mr Midnight is coordinating a wave of crime to run down inner city areas.

Mr Midnight

Elsewhere in Australia, the US President is visiting, and is angry to discover the research project he was there to inspect, the Hypno Ray, has been stolen. In fact, he’s so angry, a chamber orchestra is wheeled into the room and he starts singing.

Small chamber orchestra


Yes, this film is also a musical. This, I suspect, is the point at which a large percentage of the audience probably stopped watching. It’s a gospel number, and not particularly good. Which is a shame, because there are at least two truly excellent songs later in the film.

Kate Fitzpatrick plays an Australian police officer who recognises Arkin as the long-missing superhero, after an urgent bulletin is issued by the US President looking for Captain Invincible.

But Invincible doesn’t want to come back. Until the President asks him personally.

And his efforts to rediscover his powers aren’t always successful, and oddly seem to cause the clothes of attractive women to fall off. Was this movie co-written by Patrick Stewart? I’m not kidding. In one scene, his magnetic powers obviously undo the buttons on the blouses of the various women in the room, and when he and Officer Patti are menaced by animated hoovers, naturally one of them managed to remove her blouse too. It’s downright creepy.

Mr Midnight’s grand scheme turns out to be to use the hypno ray to persuade various minorities to move out of the city into his own ethnic-themed housing projects.

Afro Acres

So Mr Midnight has basically the same plan as Nigel Farage.

Invincible and Patty are double-crossed by a spy in the President’s organisation, and they have to go undercover, when Invincible tells Patty about his nemesis in the first of the songs written for the film by Richard O’Brien and Richard Hartley, of Rocky Horror fame.

Eventually, Invincible confronts Midnight in his lair. At which point Midnight exploits Invincible’s own Kryptonite in the best song of the movie: Name Your Poison.

Song written by Richard O’Brien and Richard Hartley again.

But, thanks to Patty reactivating the Voice of America broadcasts, Invincible stands up to his greatest fear, and defeats Midnight. Of course.

There’s a third O’Brien/Hartley song in the movie, played earlier but reprised in a longer form over the end credits, ‘Captain Invincible’.

BBC Genome: BBC Two England, 14 December 1988 21.00

After the movie, there’s a trailer for Musicians for Armenia, a benefit concert put on to help victims of an earthquake in Armenia. This rearranged the schedule for Saturday night to look like this:

BBC Two Schedule Sat 17 Dec 1988


The recording ends just as a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Social and Liberal Democrats starts.


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