- The Phantom Empire
The Phantom Empire Directed by Otto Brower
B. Reeves Eason
Produced by Nat Levine Written by Wallace MacDonald
Starring Gene Autry
Betsy King Ross
Music by Hugo Riesenfeld Cinematography Ernest Miller
Editing by Earl Turner (film editor)
Distributed by Mascot Pictures Release date(s) 23 February 1935
25 July 1952
Running time 12 chapters (245 min) Country United States Language English Budget Less than $100,000
The Phantom Empire, starring Gene Autry the Singing Cowboy, was a 12-chapter 1935 Mascot serial that combined the western, musical, and science fiction genres. The first episode is 30 mins, the rest about 20 minutes. This was Gene Autry's first starring role, playing himself as a singing cowboy.
In 1940, a 70 minute feature film edited from the serial was released under the titles Radio Ranch or Men with Steel Faces.
Gene Autry plays a singing cowboy of the same name, who runs Radio Ranch, a dude ranch from which he makes a daily live radio broadcast at 2pm. This is a "modern" cowboy story, with planes and such. Gene has two kid sidekicks, Frankie Darro and Betsy King Ross, who lead a club, the "Junior Thunder Riders," in which the kids play at being armoured knights of an unknown civilization, the mysterious Thunder Riders who make a sound like thunder when they ride. The kids, dressing up in capes and water-bucket helmets, play at riding "to the rescue!" (to quote their motto).
A chance to be real heroes occurs when Betsy, Frankie and Gene are kidnapped by the real Thunder Riders, from the super-scientific underground empire of Murania, complete with towering skyscrapers, robots, ray-guns, elevators tubes that extend miles from the surface, and an icy, evil blonde Queen Tika. On the surface, a group of crooks under Prof Beetson plan to invade Murania and seize its radium wealth, while in Murania, a group of revolutionaries plot to overthrow Queen Tika.
The inhabitants of Murania are the lost tribe of Mu and went below the surface in the Ice Age, 100,000 years ago and now live in a fantastically advanced city 20 or 25,000 feet underground and cannot now breathe the air at ground level so must wear masks. Gene Autry however has no trouble breathing their air. The Thunder Guard (Riders) emerge into the surface world from a cave where a huge rock door opens upwards, remindful of Ali Baba. Both Muranians and Prof Beetson's team want to get rid of Autry so he loses his radio contract and Radio Ranch becomes vacant.
- Gene Autry as Gene Autry, singing cowboy at the Radio Ranch
- Frankie Darro as Frankie Baxter, one of Gene's sidekicks
- Betsy King Ross as Betsy Baxter, one of Gene's sidekicks. Ross was an experienced rodeo performer and was billed as the "World's Champion Trick Rider".
- Dorothy Christy as Queen Tika, evil queen of Murania
- Wheeler Oakman as Lord Argo, the Muranian High Chancellor and leader of the rebels
- Charles K. French as Mal
- Warner Richmond as Rab
- J. Frank Glendon as Professor Beetson, villainous scientist after the land's Radium deposits
- Smiley Burnette as Oscar, comic relief. Burnette went on to be Gene Autry's partner in many more films.
- Peter Potter as Pete, comic relief
- Edward Peil Sr. as Cooper
- Jack Carlyle as Saunders
- Roy Rogers and band - "Uncle Noah's Ark" (Written by Roy Rogers and Smiley Burnette)
The idea for the plot came to writer Wallace McDonald when he was under gas having a tooth extracted. The budget was "no more than" $100,000. Frankie Darro and Betsy King Ross did their own stunt riding in this serial.
- The Singing Cowboy
- The Thunder Riders
- The Lighting Chamber
- Phantom Broadcast
- Beneath the Earth
- Disaster from the Skies
- From Death the Life
- Jaws of Jeopardy
- Prisoner of the Ray
- The Rebellion
- The Queen in Chains
- The End of Murania
The 1979 television series Cliffhangers, which attempted to recreate the old movie serial feel by showing three serial chapters in each episode, included a serial titled "The Secret Empire," a pastiche of The Phantom Empire. Events in the underground empire were shown in color, but events on the surface were "in glorious black and white."
Stock footage from the serial, as well as other serials, was used in the animated series Muppet Babies.
- ^ a b c Stedman, Raymond William. "4. Perilous Saturdays". Serials: Suspense and Drama By Installment. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 99–100. ISBN 9780806109275.
- ^ a b c d Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut. "3. Science Fiction/Westerns "Drop That Zap Gun, Hombre"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. pp. 61–62. ISBN 9780713000979.
- ^ a b Cline, William C.. "Filmography". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc.. p. 212. ISBN 078640471X.
- The Phantom Empire at the Internet Movie Database
- The Phantom Empire is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more] (serial)
- The Phantom Empire is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more] (69 minute version)
- The Phantom Empire at AllRovi
- "Cowboys and Robots: The Birth of the Science Fiction Western" by Jeffrey Richardson
- Roaring Rockets: The Phantom Empire!
- "The Phantom Empire," by Gary Johnson
- Serial Robots: The Phantom Empire
- NY Times Review: The Phantom Empire
- Review of the 1986 version on DVD
- Watch the Entire Serial
- Download the Entire Serial
Mystery Mountain (1934)
The Phantom Empire (1935)
The Miracle Rider (1935)
Mascot serials SerialsSilent Serials
(1930-1935)The Lone Defender • The Phantom of the West • King of the Wild • The Vanishing Legion • The Galloping Ghost • The Lightning Warrior • The Shadow of the Eagle • The Last of the Mohicans • The Hurricane Express • The Devil Horse • The Whispering Shadow • The Three Musketeers • Fighting with Kit Carson • The Wolf Dog • The Mystery Squadron • The Lost Jungle • Burn 'Em Up Barnes • The Law of the Wild • Mystery Mountain • The Phantom Empire • The Miracle Rider • The Adventures of Rex and Rinty • The Fighting Marines
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