Archive for Dorothy Christy

The Monday Matinee, Episode 10: The Rebellion

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 19, 2017 by dcairns

An interesting discovery — Joseph H. Lewis, noir maestro, was working at Mascot Pictures as supervising editor when THE PHANTOM EMPIRE was made, so he probably had a hand in it. Also, Mascot, a little company that thought big (their logo combined MGM with Universal by depicting a tiger sprawled across a globe of the Earth) later morphed into Republic, a well-remembered minor studio which allowed Ford, Borzage and Welles to make inexpensive experiments…

But we’re a long way from that here! Now read on ~

Those dad-blamed vicious research scientists!

Dispensing with the cliffhanger that saw its juvenile leads fatally irradiated, the serial simply declares them to be perfectly fine — just stunned — and Queen Tika has their prone forms lugged off to the dungeon.

Having quoted Alice in Wonderland last week, the serial now invokes The Arabian Nights as a cowboy’s cry of “Open, sesame!” apparently unlocks the garage door leading to the kingdom of Murania. Now comes The Adventure of the Comedy Relief Cowboys Among the Robots. Discovering some hollowed-out discards, Deke and Ike, or whatever their stupid names are, disguise themselves as droids, anticipating Woody Allen in SLEEPER, and start braining people with sledge-hammers, anticipating the current UK government.

This is the only time these guys have EVER been funny (I didn’t even mention them for the first few episodes) but it’s HILARIOUS seeing them blundering about in robot costumes, getting giddy in the Tube Elevator, etc. Shades of Spike Milligan’s Dalek sketch (a sketch which could conceivably kill a person, if the right amount of drink were taken first). I take my hat off to them, and I’m sure they would return the compliment were their hats not bolted to their tin heads. The slight flexibility of their costumes, which would have been so useful in their original role of intimidating Joan Crawford in her lingerie, adds wonderfully to their comic motion. It’s like Keystone comedy painted by Fernand Leger.

wonky bots from David Cairns on Vimeo.

In as fine a display of monologuing as I’ve ever seen, Queen Tika takes Gene Autry on a guided tour of all the important equipment central to Murania’s smooth operation. You know, all the stuff that really shouldn’t be sabotaged, ever. Then a robot randomly punches a guy in the head — also hilarious. And of course, the robot is a cowboy comedy sidekick (CCS for short), not a proper robot at all. “Don’t get excited, lady,” he says, which would be a dead giveaway even if her Highness felt inclined to dismiss the whole head-punching thing as a mere quirk.

Intending to prove that Frankie and Betsy are alive and well after being irradiated (asides from having glow-in-the-dark skeletons, I guess she means), the Queen accidentally tunes into her councillor, Argo, plotting her overthrow. Of course, with her Giant Circular Floor Television, she could have done this at any time since episode one, or indeed before Episode One, which would spared us this whole farrago. Gene spills the beans, in one of the most awkward deliveries of one of the most awkward speeches ever: “He’s the man that released me from the Death Chamber, so that the revolutionists could study mah breathin’ structure.”

Queen Tika promises to release Gene and the kids in exchange for her freedom (he’s awfully credulous, but then, he agreed to appear in THE PHANTOM EMPIRE). This is overheard by one of Argo’s men at the door. Meanwhile, at another door, Frankie & Betsy are overhearing Argo’s fomentations — there are more leaks in Murania than there are in the Oval Office and Justice Department combined.

Brief but enjoyable moment of fake robots running. Not something they do well, but credit is due for even attempting the feat.

Argo takes the palace, armed with one of those whisk-like ray-guns. “Stand where you are, I am the Queen!” declares the Queen.

“You were the Queen! I now control Murania,” retorts Argo, and I’m waiting for him to say “I am the Queen!” but he doesn’t go quite that far.

A proper cliffhanger — Gene is knocked unconscious on a conveyor belt, which drags his limp, chubby form towards a robot with a blow-torch, smelting bombshells. Anyone dumb enough to smelt bombshells is presumably not smart enough to know the difference between a bombshell and a country singer, so Gene is set to get his head smelted off, unless, by some miracle, he can awaken and stand up.

Will Gene awaken and stand up? Or will a team of editors, under the loose supervision of Joseph H. Lewis, interpolate additional footage of arriving rescuers so he doesn’t have to? Tune in next week!

The Monday Matinee, Episode 9: Prisoners of the Ray

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , on June 12, 2017 by dcairns

As Lisa Simpson once said, “I know all those words, but that sentence makes no sense.” She was speaking of an archive shot of a cinema marquee saying YAHOO SERIOUS FILM FESTIVAL. I am speaking, as always, of THE PHANTOM EMPIRE.

Last we saw, crooning endomorph Gene Autry was engaged in a daring act of child endangerment, which apparently did not end well ~

Now read on ~

Gene unwisely uses the approach to a deep gorge as his runway — young Frankie and Betsy leap from the moving vehicle and escape unscathed, but Gene pilots his aircraft straight down the crevasse.

Cut to Queen Tkia clasping her bosom in alarm as she watches on her awkwardly placed circular floor-television. Could it be the stern-faced termagant monarch is sweet on the pudgy country singer? The television operator shoots her a cynical glance, but I don’t see what he has to be superior about: he has both spikes and bat wings on his helmet. When every fashion expert knows it’s one or the other, not both.

Seconds later, however, the Queen is gesturing with satisfaction at the smouldering plane, and declaring “That is the end of Gene Autry.” She’s a deep one.

The evil Professor Beetson and his hench-scientists find Gene, still alive, amid the wreckage, and realise from his Muranian garb that he can tell them where the entrance to Murania is hid. This is a fairly sophisticated use of dramatic irony: the scientists’ logic is that Gene’s tunic proves he has been in the underground city. But, as regular viewers and Shadowplayers, we all know Gene donned this disguise BEFORE he was abducted underground. And yet he really DOES know where the secret entrance is concealed. Wheels within wheels!

Frankie and Betsy are transported by tube-elevator at three miles a minute down, down, remorselessly down to the thirty-third level of Murania. I can’t wait to see them presented to the Queen. I anticipate some kind of perfect story of bad acting, non-acting and un-acting, between three figures who have nothing to say to each other and nothing to achieve by meeting. Dramatic fireworks are sure to ignite.

Every step of the journey to the Queen’s palace is lovingly documented, as always: the subterranean stables; the elevator, with its confusing dial; the shelf where the Thunder Guard stack their breathing helmets; the walkway past the model backdrop with the caped pedestrians and random robot. Though the palace seems to be without anterooms, the front door leading directly to the throne room so far as we can tell.

Betsy King Ross is an illiterate. She compares the Queen to the “ugly Duchess” from Alice in Wonderland then quotes the Queen of Hearts’ “Off with their heads.” Inexcusable. When Tika condemns the “insolent offspring of savage surface men to a lifetime of confinement in the lower dungeon” I cheered.

(Betsy may be America’s greatest trick rider, but the serial allows her to perform only ONE bit of fancy riding, in episode one. The rest of the time, it’s dialogue she has to handle, and is not the greatest at that, though I enjoy her earnest stilted whine.)

But the kids are soon free — Frankie does what I was waiting for, observing the button-press procedure for disarming guard robots and using it to make a dash for freedom. Now we’re running around what seems like a large bank or a small town hall, the only bit of Murania represented by location footage. (The sound of footsteps on actual stone gives it away.)

The unconscious Gene is being kept by Prof Beetson in the cavern, in the canyon, where he has been excavating for a radium mine. Gene’s inane comic sidekicks, whose tiresome scenes I don’t usually bother to mention, show up and effect a rescue, though Beetson himself is absent and so escapes having his skull fractured with a log. Rather than alerting the proper authorities, Gene joins the Junior Thunder Riders (a bunch of horseback kids with buckets on their heads) and rides off to bust into Murania on a vigilante basis.

Fearing discovery, the Muranians remove the big “electric eye” from the rock face in which their garage door is embedded. The big chunky lens staring out of the scenery always did seem a bit of a giveaway. Gene arrives with his posse and is perplexed by the eye’s absence. Somebody asks him, “What’s an electric eye?” and he gives a detailed and wholly redundant explanation, leaning forward in his saddle and yelling carefully in the boy’s face: “When your reflection appears in it, the eye, by means of a photo-electric cell, operates whatever you want it to.” The effect is reminiscent of Gordon Cole in Twin Peaks.

More technobabble underground: the Muranians set a deadly radium beam to guard the door switch — our young heroes miss that part of the exposition, and rush in to open the doors to the surface. A light starts flashing on and off and they stagger about, evidently victims of the deadly beam.

Radium was a big talking point at the time: Marie Curie had just died. The factory girls poisoned by radium won their court case in the twenties but the story was still alive enough to form the background to NOTHING SACRED in 1937.

Tune in next week to admire the teenagers’ glowing corpses! To be continued…


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!