The Whit Monday Matinee, Chapter 8: Jaws of Jeopardy

They’ve been telling us for two months that the underground city of Murania is “rich in radio activity,” which I was prepared to accept, but now they positively stretch credulity by calling it “glamorous.” A stinking hole, I call it! And a stinking hole that, by the serial-makers’ own admission, is on the edge of civil war. Shall we go there for our holidays? I think not.

Like a politician drunk on his own lies, THE PHANTOM EMPIRE just can’t help itself — having concluded episode eight with our beefy radio star falling from a gangway, it COULD simply have shown him landing safely on a heap of soiled mattresses, a bunch of cardboard boxes, or a mound of wheat chaff, but the desire to rewrite history is too strong. Episode Eight begins with out hero willingly swinging from the gangway onto the staircase that leads to it, and making his getaway, a clear contradiction of previously reported incidents. Who do I write to, to complain?

Now read on…

Escaping to Murania’s stables, pudgy musician Gene Autry wallops a guard, depriving him of his oxygen mask. Which reminds me, he did that several episodes ago to the fire cock operator, who was left to crawl off in the dust to die like a cat. And yet, we never saw his fate. My sense of neatness is offended. Anyhow, Gene persuades the asphyxiating attendant to program the duty robot to winch up the garage door leading to the outside world. Stealing the only white horse in Murania, Gene rides for freedom.

Outriding and outsmarting the pursuing Thunder Guard, Gene finds Betsy & Frankie trapped in the canyon with the cavern where Professor Beetson has been excavating for a mine. He rescues them by rope ladder just as Beetson flies in with his cronies to blast for radium. As the bad guys descend into the inaccessible ravine, Gene neglects the opportunity to trap them there, as he’s just remembered he has a radio show to do. So he steals the Prof’s plane — like all popular singers, Gene Autry is a qualified pilot (see Tom Jones in MARS ATTACKS! and John Denver and, oh, the rest of them). But he doesn’t even have to demonstrate his flying skills, preferring to abduct the pilot at gunpoint (adding kidnapping to his long, long list of crimes).

The sound has gone a bit warbly, but I gather the perpetually disgruntled Queen Tika is putting out an APB on Autry, since only he can unmask the traitor in her midst (can a single person have a midst? Perhaps its the royal midst.) I sense some impending difficulty getting a good death-defying cliffhanger going when Autry’s principal enemy desperately wants him captured alive. As I’m distracting myself with worries on behalf of the makers of this eighty-two-year-old serial, the Queen orders an underling to use an “interference ray” to force Autry’s plane to land. (She knows he’s on a plane because she turned on her television and immediately saw him.)

Gene manages to avoid violating his contract by contributing spirited vocals to his radio show while still in the air — the sound of the plane engines would, you might think, rather detract from his performance, but all that matters is that he wheedle a few words and the requirements of his deal with the station are satisfied, and so am I.

Then the interference ray strikes, shutting off the engine. The pilot is reluctant to crash-land an aeroplane loaded with dynamite, so he parachutes out, leaving our heroes in a bit of a pickle. Now we’ll find out if Gene really can fly one of these birds.

Er, no. The plane trundles off a cliff and is smashed, the crash continuing to be heard even after we get a shot of the vehicle lying wrecked and inert, in fact still audible as the caption appears saying ~

Tune in next week for twenty minutes of close-ups of Gene’s charred remains!

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