Archive for Betsy King Ross

The Whit Monday Matinee, Chapter 8: Jaws of Jeopardy

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on June 5, 2017 by dcairns

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!

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

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 29, 2017 by dcairns

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…



The Victoria Day Matinee, Episode 6: Disaster from the Skies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 22, 2017 by dcairns

With best wishes for our Canadian chums. Last we saw, Gene Autry seemed in imminent peril of being placed in a room and let out through another door, but to our surprise, he was actually electrocuted and fell dead to the floor. Now read on…

This episode sets a new standard for dishonesty, worthy of the Trump administration, as this time Gene DOESN’T get electrocuted and is released before the voltage flies. Rewriting history. Did Big Brother get his start editing movie serials, or were the makers of THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (our Shadowplay serial) taking tips from Uncle Joe Stalin?

“Argo,” says Queen Tika, “You may now start Autry’s charred body on its trip to the cavern of the doomed!” An odd thing to say, one would have thought, but after all, she’s the queen, not us, so she can say it if she wants to. I’m just observing that it’s odd. I’m not proposing we invoke the twenty-fifth amendment, or anything. But we might want to keep it at the back of our minds. Maybe all that radium is clouding her judgement.

Autry, from his little atrium off the lightning chamber, watches through a hatch as Argo’s secret revolution foments itself, if “foment” is the word I want. One guy claims to have invented a disintegrating device which can destroy the universe. I’m sure there’s a crying need for that. Then they catch Autry and propose to vivisect him, to find out how a surface man’s lungs work. I’m curious about that too, since the Muranians need special respiratory gear to canter about on the surface, but Autry is happily puffing away at the subterranean oxygen with no ill effects. A vivisection seems just the thing to clear the matter up, and I’m broadly in favour of the move.

Autry, however, disagrees, and after throwing the wimpy scientists around for a bit, seizes a ray gun, essentially resembling a large whisk, and holds them at bay. Somebody tries to jump him, and the disintegrating guy gets blinded by a powerful beam from his own whisk. “I’m blinded! I’m blind!” cries the disintegrator inventor, and then, “I’m blind! I’m blind! I’m blind! I’m blinded!” he continues, before adding, “I’m blind! I’m blind! I’m blinded! I’m blind!” We can tell he’s a man partial to strong statements, and eager to get his point across in the most effective way. Also, he’s blind.

The blinded disintegrator man’s friends crowd round and assess the situation. “This is unfortunate,” one of them concludes. But then they decide the condition is only temporary. (The blindness, that is. The fondness for forceful repetition is probably innate.)

Now it’s time for one of Queen Tika’s tape-slide presentations, a highlight of any episode of THE PHANTOM EMPIRE. An underling activates her circular floor monitor (basically a high-tech version of the pool of visions used by Boris Karloff in THE MUMMY for flashback exposition purposes). This time, however, there’s to be no disquisition on the relative merits of living in the open air versus in a stinking hole in the ground (the latter being far superior, according to Queen T.) We see an image of a five-bar gate. “Take me closer, I want to hear what they have to say!” demands the Queen. Just in time to catch a medium shot and listen in on the evil Professor Beetson plotting to discover Murania’s hidden entrance. “So they think they will discover Murania and become rich, do they?” sneers the Queen. But her eavesdropping is itself eavesdropped, by Gene Autry, standing unobserved in full view in a window right in front of her.

Now Gene takes hostage the television operator, who we will learn is called Gasper or something, and tries to communicate with his buddies at Radio Ranch (Hey, maybe he could perform the next edition of his show live from 20,000 feet below the earth’s surface?). But Gene can’t reach his pals due to something called a Word Scrambler. Gasper tries to explain this, but his own words come out pretty scrambled: “It’s an un-instrument which mixes up the words of our wireless telephone so that nobody outside um-Murania can unnerstand what is said.” Just as this Gasper’s becoming my favourite actor ever, Gene punches him unconscious.

Now Gene reroutes the Word Scrambler, or something (his radio experience coming in handy in dealing with a totally alien technology) and enjoys a quick chat with Frankie and Betsy, telling them the location of the entrance to Murania. But now Queen Tika comes back (her palace seems to contain only three rooms, so she spends a lot of time in the television room). Gene hides behind a console, but the Queen overhears Frank promising to ride to the rescue, so she orders a bomb prepared to blow up the Junior Thunder Riders. Sounds like another cliffhanger is on the way.

Meanwhile poor Gasper, still unconscious, is accused of patching through the call to the surface world, a treasonable offence. I really don’t want to lose this thespian genius to the lightning chamber so soon…

Time for a quick demonstration of the robots’ workings. Two guards set them on alert by pressing buttons on their chests, and activate a photocell which will cause them to chop, with their might scimitars, anyone who crosses the beam. Everything in Murania seems to operate on the principle of the garage door.

Then there’s some confused running about — there seem to be shots missing — and a fight in an elevator (not as good as the one in THE WINTER SOLDIER) and then Autry breaks into the aerial torpedo silo, which he easily locates despite never having been there, and causes the missile to boomerang back (great reaction from the missile operator — the flapping hands of big jessie panic), right in his face, definitely, beyond any question, killing him instantly.

Which seems awkward, as the serial is only half over.

To be continued…