When the ancient continent of Mu sank beneath the ocean, some of its inhabitant survived in caverns beneath the sea. Cowboy singer Gene Autry stumbles upon the civilization, now buried ... See full summary »
When the ancient continent of Mu sank beneath the ocean, some of its inhabitant survived in caverns beneath the sea. Cowboy singer Gene Autry stumbles upon the civilization, now buried beneath his own Radio Ranch. The Muranians have developed technology and weaponry such as television and ray guns. Their rich supply of radium draws unscrupulous speculators from the surface. The peaceful civilization of the Muranians is corrupted by the greed from above, and it becomes Autry's task to prevent all-out war, ideally without disrupting his regular radio show. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Gene Autry was already a radio star when he went to Hollywood in the early '30s. Naturally, since Autry was known as "the Singing Cowboy," his first starring role was in a sci-fi serial about an underground civilization. One might think that this was a brave example of casting against type; in fact, Autry plays exactly the same character he would continue to play on film and TV for the next twenty years: "Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy."
With a premise like this, one would expect THE PHANTOM EMPIRE to be thoroughly goofy. And one would be right. It doesn't help matters that the serial is directed exclusively to children, without even a nod or wink at the adult audience. Also, the cliffhanger cheat factor is fairly high, mostly involving added footage of the escapes which completely distorts what we saw in the previous chapter (this would, of course, have been somewhat less obvious when seeing only one chapter a week and not having a rewind button).
But if you're a connoisseur of cinematic goofiness, or if you're interested in B-Westerns and SF serials of the 30s, or if you have a burning desire to see Smiley Burnette in drag, you should check this one out. The Alpha DVD release, as others have said, is pretty poor (the worst Alpha DVDs I've seen, in fact), but if you can get through the first two chapters, the quality improves marginally (there does seem to have been some restoration work done on the print used--mainly with Scotch tape).
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