Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Phantom Empire

Phantom Empire
This 1935 film serial (12 parts) has Gene Autry's Cowboy, horse riding, adventurer duke it out with a futuristic hidden empire. This multiple part adventure (which ends up being just shy of 3 hours) is exactly what you would expect from a serial of its day.

The serial stars Gene Autry, Frankie Darro, Betsy King Ross, Dorothy Christy, and Lester 'Smiley' Burnett.

Gene runs a radio program that must be performed every single day, at the same time, or he'll lose his ranch. Yep you read that right - he should have read his contract. His creditors must not trust him. This recurring point of contention to get back to sing a song even with fantastical things going on around the main characters happens in just about all six parts of this serial. This was done so that Autry could sing in almost all the parts.

Okay, so the plot picks up after the first part when some scientists show up (and you know they are up to no good since one of them has a goatee). They're on the search for radium, though the exact reasons why they are looking there are unclear and left to the audience to guess (probably power or just better funding for their department). The important thing is that they want it, and want it badly. They're on the hunt for the super secret Murania, which is interesting because for an "unknown" civilization that has been cut off from the world for 100,000 years they sure know a lot about it.

The children in the story, Frankie and Betsy (played by... Frankie and Betsy) are in charge of a club, the Jr. Thunder Riders ("To the Rescue!"), based on a group of mysterious riders who they attributed a sound like thunder as they charged through the local valley (this area of the United States is real busy!). These unknown riders turn out to be the real Thunder Riders. Frankie and Betsy lucked out and came to the same logical name as the real deal did.

So throughout the series there are many twists and turns (many of which turn out differently the "next week" after the previous episode was shown - a typical convention during that time period), and they enter the hidden city 25,000 feet, or is it 20,000, or is it 5 miles? Consistency people! The serial had two "continuity" people! But hey, it’s a serial and it was great fun.

*** out of *****

No comments: