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

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 ~

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2 Responses to “The May Day Monday Matinee: Chapter 3, The Lightning Chamber”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    Disney’s crew did a neat flip on the Schufftan process in DARBY O’GILL. They scraped some reflective surface from the back of a big mirror, angled it to reflect the huge set of the leprechauns’ cave, and had O’Gill directly behind the transparent part to appear gigantic among the leprechaun actors. Very skillful paint hid the joins. That whole film is full of in-camera perspective tricks.

    My favorite serial cheat is in BUCK ROGERS: The boy sidekick tries to escape through a window, but a ray gun blast hits him and he crumples in agony. In the next episode, the blast misses him and he escapes unscathed. It’s very possible to misremember movies, but it’s dirty pool to make kids THINK they misremembered.

    THE SHADOW ended multiple episodes with the hero trapped in some kind of explosion, and didn’t even bother with an escape. He’d just spring out of the wreckage in the next episode, shaking off some of the dust and running to the next scene. BATMAN pulled the same stunt, with Bats popping out of a crashed plane none the worse for wear.

    The real name thing seemed to be semi-common among B cowboys and comedians carrying the same character from film to film. The oddest I can think of was Johnny Weissmuller as Johnny Weissmuller in some post-Tarzan jungle flicks. The series started out with Weissmuller playing “Jungle Jim”, hero of an Alex Raymond comic strip. At some point the studio decided to stop paying for the rights to the character and had Weissmuller doing the exact same stuff under his real name — which was pretty tightly linked to jungle movies anyway.

    Cluttering up comment sections is how I ignore writer’s block.

  2. Cliffhanger cheats are kind of amazing because, after all, it shouldn’t be THAT hard to come up with legitimate solutions to tricky situations. but TPE so far hasn’t played fair ONCE.

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