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Singing cowboy Gene Autry runs Radio Ranch as a mixture of outdoors
recording studio & Western themepark with a hotel on the premises,
& the one condition that he can keep Radio Ranch is that he sings a
song on the radio everyday at 2 o'clock. But little does he know that
the land is rich in radium and 25,000 feet beneath Radio Ranch there is
the underground kingdom of Murania, populated by a lost human tribe
technologically far more advanced than the surface people.
now, with the steadily operating ranch, Murania's queen Tika (Dorothy
Christie) fears it is only a question of time until they are discovered.
Plus, a group of scientists led by professor Beetson (Frank Glendon)
wants Radio Ranch deserted to mine the radium undisturbed, & to that
end they kill Autry's partner, father of Frankie (Frankie Darro) &
Betsy (Betsy King Ross), & blame it on Autry - since he will only
keep the ranch as long as he sings a song on the radio every day &
won't be able to once he is imprisoned.
But Gene, realizing he will lose
the ranch & be unable to find the real killer, escapes the sheriff
who apprehended him, & before long does come to Murania, where the
queen immediately wants to kill him. But she has not accounted for the
treachery of her chief executioner lord Argo (Wheeler
Oakman), who is planning a revolution & to that end saves
Autry's life - why is left at anybody's guess.
Autry escapes Argo's
clutches though & can prevent the Muranians from sending a missile to Radio
Ranch - but unfortunately is killed by the missile himself when doing so
(!). But since the Muranians do have the ability to revive the dead,
Autry's condition soon improves & he can really escape Murania &
make another radioshow, before his junior companions Frankie & Betsy
are abducted to Murania, which forces him - along with his comic
sidekicks Pete (William Moore) & Oscar (Smiley Burnette) to go back
underground & witness the start of the revolution in Murania.
Desperate to save the kids, Autry joins forces with queen Tika, who - in
regard of the events - has a change of heart & supports Autry's
rescue mission & getaway before the very weapon the Muranians wanted
to use to destroy the surface world destroys Murania itself (& queen
Tika with it).
Back on the surface, Autry can even clear his name of the
murder charge when professor Beetson does confess to him, unbeknowest
that the sheriff watches via a tv set Frankie brought from Murania.
great great fun serial, as it carelessly blends ingridients of many a
genre, offering cowboys aplenty, scientists with airplanes, an
underground city with deathrays & all, plus guards in futuristic
outfits, but on horses mind you (called the Thunderguards or
Thunderriders), plus the backstage goings-on of a radio show, all
garnered with a few musical numbers & (admittedly bad) comedy by
William Moore & Smiley Burnette. & it is all mixed together so
innocently that you either have to love it or hate it (for my part, I
loved it), an innocence that was, for some reason, lost in the making of
serials - or moviemaking in general - past the 1930's.
lead role of this serial was to have gone to famous silent b-cowboy
actor Ken Maynard, who played the lead in Mascot's earlier Mystery
Mountain (in which Gene Autry had a small part as a villain shooting
Maynard, actually), but Maynard - always a difficult actor - &
producer Levine had a fall-out that lead to Mascot firing Maynard &
giving the lead in this one - their second to last serial (the last was The
Fighting Marines) before they merged with Monogram,
& Consolidated Film Laboratories to form Republic
Pictures - to relatively unknown singing cowboy Gene Autry - a wise
decision indeed, as he should become one of the greatest assets in Republic's
Richard Talmadge, a popular stunt-movie star in the
silent era, who did not make the transition to sound all that well, is
left to stunt duties here - which are, by the way, far from the stunting
he did in his own movies - as well as playing the rather unimportant
role of a Thunderguard. He did however get occasional leads in movies
until the early 40's & ended his movie career in 1950. Nowadays, he
is largely forgotten.