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Phantom Empire

USA 1935
produced by
Nat Levine for Mascot Pictures
directed by Otto Brower, B. Reeves Eason
starring Gene Autry, Frankie Darro, Betsy King Ross, Dorothy Christy, Wheeler Oakman, Warner Richmond, Charles K.French, Frank Glendon, Smiley Burnette, William Moore, Wally Wales, Jay Wilsey, Henry Hall, Richard Talmadge
written by Wallace MacDonald, Gerald Geraghty, Harry Friedman, Armand Schaefer, John Rathmell, photographic effects by Ellis Thackery, special properties by Howard Lydecker, Theodore Lydecker, Billy Gilbert, music by Lee Zahler


review by
Mike Haberfelner

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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

But 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.


A 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.

Initially, the 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, Majestic, Liberty & 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 b-Western-stable.

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.


review © by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD



Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
... und stell Dir vor, der Penner von der U-Bahnstation hat doch recht ...
... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...


Und an diesem Tag geht natürlich wieder einmal die Welt unter!!!


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