The Phantom Empire


The Phantom Empire
The Phantom Empire
Directed by Otto Brower
B. Reeves Eason
Produced by Nat Levine
Written by Wallace MacDonald
Gerald Geraghty
Hy Freedman
John Rathmell
Armand Schaefer
Maurice Geraghty
Starring Gene Autry
Frankie Darro
Betsy King Ross
Dorothy Christy
Wheeler Oakman
Music by Hugo Riesenfeld
Cinematography Ernest Miller
William Nobles
Editing by Earl Turner (film editor)
Walter Thompson
Distributed by Mascot Pictures
Release date(s) United States 23 February 1935
West Germany 25 July 1952
Running time 12 chapters (245 min)
Country  United States
Language English
Budget Less than $100,000[1]

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.

Contents

Plot

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.

Cast

Soundtrack

  • Roy Rogers and band - "Uncle Noah's Ark" (Written by Roy Rogers and Smiley Burnette)

Production

The idea for the plot came to writer Wallace McDonald when he was under gas having a tooth extracted.[2] The budget was "no more than" $100,000.[1] Frankie Darro and Betsy King Ross did their own stunt riding in this serial.[2]

Release

Theatrical

Phantom Empire was released in theaters on 23 February 1935.[3] The serial was a "marked box office success."[2]

Chapter titles

  1. The Singing Cowboy
  2. The Thunder Riders
  3. The Lighting Chamber
  4. Phantom Broadcast
  5. Beneath the Earth
  6. Disaster from the Skies
  7. From Death the Life
  8. Jaws of Jeopardy
  9. Prisoner of the Ray
  10. The Rebellion
  11. The Queen in Chains
  12. The End of Murania

Source:[3]

Cultural references

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.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c Stedman, Raymond William. "4. Perilous Saturdays". Serials: Suspense and Drama By Installment. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 99–100. ISBN 9780806109275. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ a b Cline, William C.. "Filmography". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc.. p. 212. ISBN 078640471X. 

External links

Preceded by
Mystery Mountain (1934)
Mascot Serial
The Phantom Empire (1935)
Succeeded by
The Miracle Rider (1935)

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