Archive for May 1, 2017

The May Day Monday Matinee: Chapter 3, The Lightning Chamber

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on May 1, 2017 by dcairns

We interrupt Screwball Week to bring you the latest installment of our Shadowplay Serial, THE PHANTOM EMPIRE!

So, in last week’s episode, juveniles Betsy King Ross and Frankie Darro were definitely being blown to smithereens by an “aerial torpedo” fired at their plane. It’s no surprise this week to learn that the torpedo, nearly as big as the plane itself, did minimal damage upon hitting the cockpit, and the plane lands successfully, if bumpily.

Now read on…

Enjoyable use of the fabled Schufftan process for the Muranian missile silo, embedding the image of a little room with a real man at the controls, into an elaborate set with moving mechanical parts, which is actually a scale model. The model has a mirror built into it and the set is actually a reflection.

Tedious comedy relief involving cowboys and tear gas.

Gene Autry has evaded capture by both the sheriff and the “Thunder Guard” of Murania (subterranean science city) for now. While I understand the need to hold off the climactic confrontation as long as decently possibly, keeping him from the troglodytes’ clutches does enhance the feeling that we’re watching two entirely different shows, randomly spliced together.

I do like the weird conversations between masked characters. Very EYES WIDE SHUT. The modern crop of superhero movies are not that interesting, but you realise how hard they work to avoid this strange abstract sensation you get when you have a lot of guys in masks around, even down to filming Robert Downey Jr. from inside his helmet.

Another quaint special effect — a glass shot amplifies the size of Queen Tika’s throne room and provides a view of the underground city outside her picture window.

Since Gene Autry is playing himself, it’s somehow hilarious when these science fiction characters refer to him by name. I’d like to make a science fiction serial with, say, Jeremy Corbyn and Ilie Nastase, to get the same feeling going.

Backstory! Apparently the Muranians were driven to the radium-rich dwelling place miles below the earth “by the glaciers.” Explains how they had time to build a city while fleeing, I suppose. Queen Tika declares that the Muranians “have lived a life far more attractive than the life lived by the surface people far above.” The fact that she’s sentencing her underling to death while she’s telling him this does make you wonder if attractiveness, whatever she means by it, is really a good enough argument.

So, it seems the leader of the Thunder Guard, having failed to catch a singing cowboy three times in three episodes, is to perish in the titular lightning chamber. I can’t wait! No doubt escape is impossible, since why would such an advanced society use a means of execution that could be deflected? Yes, I’m afraid this man is definitely doomed, definitely. No way is he going to get out of this!

In the next scene, he gets out of it — the lightning chamber is kind of like the big glass bird box in BARBARELLA, not so much a place of execution as an anteroom to somewhere else.

No singing from Gene this week, and no stunt riding from Betsy. Just Gene driving a car without breaks off a cliff. Well, he’s definitely dead, then. Tune in next week to see his shattered remains bleaching in the desert.

To Be Continued ~