The Memorial Day Matinee, Chapter 7: From Death to Life

Last seen, Gene Autry was being hit on the chin by a “radium bomb” which exploded and killed him. We’re about to learn how he, in fact, survived.

Now read on…

The makers of THE PHANTOM EMPIRE spared incurred no expense when it came to supporting players. The colossal thug operating the “aerial torpedo” apparatus delivers an Oscar-worthy reaction when the controls fall and smash on the floor, fluttering his massive hands like Zasu Pitts. He legs it and — BOOM!

The cliffhanger is resolved by simply making the contained nuclear blast a non-fatal one. Gene Autry is fine! A little dazed, perhaps. “He still shows a spark of life.” Well, is he likely to need much more than that? Queen Tika receives a Skype call on her “television phone” alerting her to the good news. Things are going well for the Queen today, as for once the phone gives her a decent camera angle, rather than simply broadcasting people’s backs. This angle is puzzlingly advantageous, actually, a high shot of the prone Autry, who might otherwise have been hard to see.

“Take him to the radium reviving chamber,” says the Queen, who, if you’ll recall, ordered Gene executed two episodes ago. And what’s with this reviving radium? Having just been blown to smithereens by a radium bomb, Gene surely has had enough radium to be going on with. He’ll probably shudder at the sight of a watch dial for weeks after this. But, just as a microscopic dose of a virus can serve as a vaccine, a massive dose of radiation, it seems, can counter-act the effects of another massive dose of radiation. Had the bomb-blasted population of Hiroshima cycled over to Nagasaki in time to get a second nuking, they’d presumably have been just peachy. Madame Curie would still be alive today if she’d stopped after an even number of fatal exposures.

Still, the Queen is curious: “Did you know that Gene Autry failed to die?” she asks, and starts to suspect her treasonous counsellor, Argo. “Have I not been a good queen?” she asks the nearest yes-man, who answers according to his job description.

The Junior Thunder Riders are seeking the entrance to Murania. They all wear buckets on their heads. Will they find it?

Since Autry is now “scarcely breathing,” he is entrusted to a big clunky robot so that his transference to the radium reviving chamber will be much, much slower. They want to save his life but they don’t want to appear over-eager.

Argo is worried that Autry will expose him, so he plots to sabotage the operation by getting an underling to cut the power using a special “electric knife.” (Scientific progress in Murania far exceeds our own.)

Gene is brought back to life but his brain is wrong — he can now speak only “the language of the dead” which sounds like slow-motion Yiddish. This is Gene’s finest acting moment thus far, lying flat on his back intoning gibberish in lugubrious tones. A trepanning is proposed to cure him but, really, wouldn’t it be a better serial if he stayed like this for the next five episodes?

Before they can drill a (new) hole in Autry’s head, he recovers the use of his English, but then before they can interrogate him, the power is cut and he is whisked away by Argo’s henchmen. The Queen, in high dudgeon, starts pronouncing his name in the French style, as Autré. You may choose to do likewise, if you wish.

Gene escapes from Argo’s men using his punches. The Queen is anxious to get the power back on so she can use her big floor television. I’m as anxious as she is, as I always look forward to her regal commentary on scenes of surface like. Since this episode doesn’t contain any of note, I’ve written some myself in her style ~


SHOT OF SQUARE DANCE: “Life in Murania is a paradise compared to this mayhem.”


SHOT OF FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT: “How can he be leader? He wears no ruff! Also, jowelly.”

Meanwhile, literally in a cavern, genuinely in a canyon, with any apparent sense of irony excavating for a mine, villainous Professor Beetson is discovered by juveniles Frankie and Betsy. His plans are now known to everybody except the authorities! But then the kids get trapped in the canyon when Beetson pulls up his rope ladder.

Two bits of good luck! 1) Paunchy troubador Autry is a master swordsman! 2) They still use swords in the science city of Murania!

But the chunky songbird’s skills with the blade outstrip his ability to not fall off gangways. Still, this should be an easy cliffhanger to escape from since directors Breezy Easton and Otto Brower haven’t shown us what he’s likely to land in. Probably Murania’s bumper crop of foam rubber lies below. Anyway, we’ve now established that even if its solid concrete and he breaks his skeleton, they can bring him straight back to gibbering life again. So the suspense isn’t what it could be.

To be continued…



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