The Monday Matinee, Episode 5: Beneath the Earth

Kinda outrageous the way THE PHANTOM EMPIRE not only cheats its way out of every cliffhanger, but spends the first five minutes of every episode doing so — that’s 20% recycling! This time, Gene Autry and the kids escape being blown up because… the makers back-engineer a sequence we weren’t shown before, in which a couple of Junior Thunder Riders notice the peril he’s in — a trail of gunpowder has been lit, blazing through the secret tunnel he’s trying to escape down, certain to blow up the bag of powder he’s carrying — and ride to the rescue, somehow outpacing the blazing fuse and opening the secret door to let him out of the exploding tunnel. Nice work. You bastards.

The plot, though not really any more advanced than it was by the end of Episode 1, is now somehow so fankled and guddled that the opening recap cards read like a surreal fold-in exercise by William Burroughs. This one is my favourite ~

Now read on ~

For a man falsely accused of murder, Autry devotes a remarkable amount of time to ensuring his radio show doesn’t go off-air. This episode is mostly about him relocating his broadcast gear to a secret shack so he can continue riding the airwaves. Then the Thunder Riders attack, and once again there are echoes of BIRTH OF A NATION again as the homestead is besieged. The bad guy scorches the lock off the door using his highly technological… fire cock.

Fortunately, all the Thunder Riders ride off for very little reason, leaving the one guy with the fire cock to get beaten up by Gene. Gene then disguises himself as the felled fire cock operator, so that when the Riders come back, they take him with them. Which is exactly what they wanted, anyway. He may as well have just surrendered. His only advantage here is they don’t actually know they’ve got him.

Disappointing that so far the fun robots, with their tin boy scout hats, only wind the garage door leading to Murania open and closed. An automated door would probably be more efficient, and less likely to rise against one.

Queen Tika is not impressed by Gene’s disguise: “You dare to wear your oxygen helmet in my presence? Off with his helmet!” An echo of the Queen of Hearts here — there will be more Alice references later. We’re down the rabbit hole here, folks.

I’m starting to formulate a theory that THE PHANTOM EMPIRE is a prequel to SONS OF THE DESERT, and that Dorothy Christy’s Queen Tika gives up her underground kingdom to marry Stan Laurel. And that’s why she’s so bitter. But I’ll have to finish the serial in order to know how plausible my theory is.

The Queen gives Autry another of her lectures, using her big floor monitor. Over a shot of a beggar: “Feast your eyes. He is from your world. We have none of that here.” Shot of Frankie and Betsy: “There are friends of yours. They may become beggars.” Then a shot of the deadly lightning chamber: “The death chamber. There’s where you’ll be in five minutes.” Kind of an odd thing to show him on television, since like everything else in Murania it’s right next door.

So, Gene is shoved in there and they prepare to shock him with 200,ooo volts — which might be suspenseful if they hadn’t already shown us the secret exit. To try and ramp up the terror, they actually show Gene get zapped and DIE. So he is dead, then.

Tune in next week to see his scorched remains!


6 Responses to “The Monday Matinee, Episode 5: Beneath the Earth”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    The robots were built for “Dancing Lady”, presumably intended to be whimsical. Crawford looks more annoyed than scared.

  2. bensondonald Says:

    A more generous shot:

  3. revelator60 Says:

    “Joan Crawford Annoyed By Robots” would have been an awesome movie.

  4. I’d forgotten that’s where they came from! I was impressed by how many they had, and surprised by how little they could think of to do with them. But there’s more robotics in forthcoming installments.

    In the sequel to the image above, the robot should be wearing the scanties and Joan has the tin hat.

  5. David: This sounds like a wonderful basis for another FACT UP installment at Chiz!

  6. I think we should post that still and get each the Chiz writers to do their own slash fiction version of what’s happening in it.

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