Archive for The Phantom Empire

Peptide

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 10, 2017 by dcairns

We watched RIPTIDE, or as I keep calling it, PEPTIDE, from the talented Edmund Goulding. Robert Montgomery AGAIN! Also Norma Shearer and Herbert Marshall (pictured).

“My God she’s awful,” complained Fiona, but I think Norma is good in this one, though the film isn’t. It’s certainly a very DETAILED performance. And with less striking of anguished or flirtatious or sultry poses. She’s in rather a flurry, in fact.

A third of this is screwball comedy avant la lettre — the married couple at its centre meet while attired for a sci-fi convention futuristic ball. Cosplay! Montgomery plays a loveable feckless drunk, whose pixellated interloping chucks a spanner into the marriage that even Mrs. Patrick Campbell can’t extract. The marital strife gets to be very tedious, though — not the best use of Herbert Marshall’s clipped repression, though God knows it’s a use the movies often put him to.

It’s typical of the film’s frustrating approach that, after teasing us with Herbert’s insect man costume and Norma’s scantily clad “sky [something] girl (they repeat the costume’s name numerous times, but it’s never clear what the hell they’re saying — sky POD girl? sky RIDE girl?), the characters then decide not to go to the ball at all.

The DeMille of MADAME SATAN would never have tolerated that.

You’ll notice that ALL my frame-grabs are from the opening sequence because basically I wanted the whole film to go on like that. They could have roped in Joan Crawford’s robot buddies from THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, if they’d thought of it (yeah, I know: chronology, the sworn enemy of fun).

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The Monday Matinee, episode 12: The End of Murania

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Radio, Science with tags , , , , , , on July 3, 2017 by dcairns

It was over too soon! All really terrible things must come to an end. So, for the last time, the oddly stressful theme music plays, and we get a confusing recap of fragments of the previous instalments. For the first time, the Cowboy Comedy Sidekicks (CCSs) rate a mention, since they were directly responsible for last week’s cliffhanger ~

Also, a misplaced apostrophe. Now read on.

The two nitwits manage to get Murania’s central control room malfunctioning, then throw themselves down a trapdoor which leads to where Gene Autry is getting his head disintegrated (see last week — it’s complicated). This bit of narrative retro-fitting ought to allow for a rescue, though given these nitwits’ past form, Gene might easily wind up even more disintegrated than he would have been naturally. He’s already A BIT disintegrated — he’s making a pained face and tugging at his kerchief as if overheated — that’s the first sign that you may be being disintegrated. If you have those symptoms, see a doctor.

The sidekicks drag Gene from the death ray, taking care to expose themselves to it thoroughly in the process, which surprisingly causes them no distress whatsoever, almost as if it were merely a spotlight.

Queen Tika enters, brought by two guards who had intended to disintegrate her. The CCSs immediately attack the guards in the best Iraqi style, taking off their boots and striking the unbelievers about the head.

“We must get Her Majesty back to the Control Room,” opines Gene, the second he recovers. It’s the kind of thing one feels he WOULD say in such a situation — testament to the skills of the serial’s writing staff, Wallace McDonald, Gerald Gerachty, H Freedman, John Rathmell and Ernest Schaeffer. He doesn’t look a bit disintegrated, although I guess he might be completely hollowed out on the inside. It’s hard to tell. I’m going to study Gene’s performance closely in search of suggestions that this may be the case.

The villainous Argo enters, with his pestilential science gang, and Gene promptly targets them with their own disintegrator ray, which was still ON last we saw. The burly baritone somehow backs his foes into a corner with the unwieldy weapon, and everybody legs it. Now we get to find out if Queen Tika is as good at running as she is at watching television. Let me tell you, the two talents are not always found in one person.

But we never do find out, as the serial uncharacteristically cuts from the chase, leaving the bad guys locked in the disintegrator room (their cunning escape plan: face the locked metal door and shove each other). The CCSs deal with the “heavily armed” guards at the control room (two pasty guys with spears) by shoving robots at them, leading to a strange, cramped, irritating fight. Everybody looks really hot and bothered. Although, oddly, the guards don’t notice the robots until they’re quite literally about three inches away. This makes for intense, close-quarters action.

Muranian myrmidons do seem oddly myopic. Once in the throne room, the CCSs push their dumb robots clatteringly right past a patrolling guard who doesn’t notice anything until he reaches the far wall and turns around. Then Gene fells him with a gigantic punch, flubs his line (“Hurry, we’ll… get to the control room.”) and the Control Room is gained! Queen Tika immediately wants to watch television. She discovers that Argo’s rebels are melting the door with the Disintegrator Atom Smashing Machine. The impudent dogs!

Argo, impatient at the slow rate of door disintegration, turns the volume up, impatient of Rab’s panicky warnings that his Smashing Machine might get “out of control again.” Again? He’s right to be cautious, it seems — the big ray gun immediately starts wobbling randomly around the room, forcing the rebel scientists to run about like headless chickens. “Turn it off! Turn it off!” yells Rab. “Turn it off! Turn it — off!” Nobody thinks to unplug it. Everybody dies. Although they don’t disintegrate, that I can see.

“It will eat its way through the empire!” declares Queen Tika. She suggests Gene gets out, and he suggests she come too. “To the mad world above?” she sneers, regally, harping on her favourite theme. “It would be a living death!” Still nobody thinks of maybe unplugging the Smashing Machine. Queen Tika seems tickled to death about the prospect of being disintegrated along with her people. “It is better than an invasion from the surface world.” Seemingly she’s fixated on the idea that on the surface she would be forced to drive race cars or bum cigarettes. (The fact that she would be unable to breathe seems like a more sound reason for staying below ground.) Still, one notices that the Queen’s role in her plan consists entirely of watching television again.

Entertaining shots of melting Murania! Only Gene and his two idiots think of using the elevator — everyone else is fleeing straight into the holocaust, apart from the robots who merely plod doggedly towards it.

Gene and his pals join up with Frankie and Betsy, and they find exactly the right number of horses in the Muranian stables. But then they remember all the other horses, and rescue them. The Muranian PEOPLE can go whistle. All this is shown to us on Queen Tika’s television, making it TWICE AS EXCITING.

Queen Tika staggers regally over to the big knife switch that opens the garage door to the surface, then ascends to her throne one last time as her world literally crumbles around her, a moment that could have been powerfully moving were it not totally obscured by smoke. Finally, the melting models (a cheap optical effect) are replaced by a melting Queen, and the disintegrator at last disintegrates itself.

And with one bound our heroes are free, having contributed substantially to the destruction of an entire civilisation. “But it was worth it,” says Frankie, “I learned a lot of new scientific things.” Betsy is upbeat: “I’m going back to Murania someday, and see what’s left,” she beams. The disgusting ghoul. “I’m afraid there isn’t very much left of the city,” says Gene, dampening her youthful spirits, “But we’ll probably find enough radium to make us all rich.”

When Mike Hodges made his FLASH GORDON, he saw it as a slight satire of American interventionist foreign policy, which never quite convinced me as a valid allegory. But had he instead made THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, he’d have had a pretty solid footing, it seems to me.

Until now, the serial had seemed in danger of neglecting its subplot about the tricky Professor Beetson and his cronies, and Gene’s false murder rap, and his radio show, but now these come to the fore with a truly heroic sense of anticlimax. Gene blows up a city then sorts out his legal difficulties! I suppose we’ll end with him reordering his record collection.

Meanwhile… in a cavern… in a canyon… excavating for a mine… Professor Beetson deals with a labour dispute from his miners. The excitement just keeps building! But it actually does, since rather than going through some kind of ombudsman, he opts to shoot them down like dogs. You could do that then, before they introduced all this red tape. trump is going to bring this kind of thing back, and everyone will be happier.

Gene finds one of the dying men and attends to the poor fellow, shaking him violently by the collar. “Who shot yuh? Yuh might as well tell me!” he says, compassionately. Mistaking these words for the supreme unction, the bullet-ridden miner promptly expires.

Meanwhile — will Gene make it back in time to do his radio broadcast? Given that he’s now a radium millionaire, we probably shouldn’t be concerned, but we are EXTREMELY concerned — this obviously matters more than the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muranians.

The broadcast is a typically exciting one — Gene attempts to reveal Beetson’s perfidies live on air, and gets his hat shot off. Exciting chase! Song! Punch-up! That’s like the four food groups of western entertainment. Beetson incriminates himself on an imitation Muranian television screen cobbled together by Frankie Darro ina  spare forty seconds, and this is witnessed by the sheriff.

Gene “plays us out” (what does that MEAN?) with his moronic “owls go hoo” song which I now realise concerns Noah’s ark. A clear thematic bond is f0rmed with the survivors of a lost civilisation whom this serial has so ably extirpated. Then Gene does some yodeling, which doesn’t seem to connect to the main premise as neatly, and the thing is over.

 

The Monday Matinee, Episode 11: A Queen in Chains

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2017 by dcairns

Last we saw, Gene Autry was unconscious and at the mercy of a clunky robot wielding an oxyacetaline torch, a robot too dumb to tell the difference betweetn the portly troubador’s head and the shell casings it’s supposed to be smelting. To have Gene simply wake up and get out the way would be anticlimactic, so the authors of THE PHANTOM MENACE Episode 11 have Gene’s buddies Frankie Darro and Betsy King Ross rush in and drag his limp and lumpen form out of harm’s way.

Now read on ~

The Comedy Cowboy Sidekicks have been doing good work as fake robots, but now start to disrobe(ot). The partway stage results in a surprising resemblance to Bill & Ben, the Flowerpot Men.

The faithless Chancellor Argo issues new Disintegrator Guns to his gang of mutineers — immediately, using deft lasso-work and force of personality, a revived Gene seizes a rebel appliance from the rebel alliance and sets off to free Queen Tika. God knows, the show has left us no reason to find the frigid, murderous monarch sympathetic, so this is bracingly overt realpolitik — she promised to free Gene, whereas Argo’s science guys wanted to vivisect his “breathin’ structure.”Gene shrewdly surmises which is the better deal.

Interesting scene of the rebels sorting through corpses — their allies go to the Radium Reviving Chamber for revival (because radium raises the dead, natch) and their enemies to the Lime Pit. I shouldn’t be completely surprised if we see that lime pit as a cliffhanger before long, since the odd economy of the serial dictates that anything mentioned ought to be seen. If you’ve gone to the effort of imagining it, might as well build it.

With a noise like a wardrobe full of bowling balls falling downstairs, Gene and his sidekicks hide themselves under tarps to impersonate corpses.

Enthroned, the usurper Argo instigates a reign of terror in no way different from his predecessor’s. The Queen, meanwhile, is not only in chains as per the title, she’s been made to stand in the corner like a naughty schoolgirl while her more loyal underlings get their death sentences. If disgruntlement had not long since reached the state of being a permanent condition with, she’d probably be pretty peeved. As it is, Dorothy Christy makes the same expression she does when talking on Skype, looking at car race footage, or being married to Stan Laurel. She may not be versatile but she’s consistent. Runs the gamut of emotions from A to just before B.

The CCS’s (Comedy Cowboy Sidekicks) are taken to the Reviving Chamber and we see what happens when you try to revive somebody who’s already alive. Laid out under a perspex cover (to protect the operators, I guess), Bill or Ben or whatever his name is starts twitching and yelping as hots sparks jet out of his underside.

Meanwhile, Gene is eavesdropping as usual, while Argo forces Tika to watch her underlings being zapped in the chamber of death. The Queen, who has shown a fondness for television throughout this serial, is now tragically compelled to witness mass executions on it. Isn’t there anything on the other side? The slain underlings are to be carted off to the Cavern of the Doomed, but it’s not certain if this is the same as the Lime Pit or if we’ll get to see either. Maybe they’re like FLASH GORDON’s “bore worms” — a big tease. But now Argo promises Tika a slow death caused by “Rab’s Disintegrating Atom Smashing Machine” — and THAT is much too big a come-on to go unrepresented. We rub our hands with glee at the thought of Rab and his smashing machine. We scent a cliffhanger!

Rab (good Scottish name, and he does look a but like a young Ian Bannen, demonstrates his smashing machine. Gloating sadism is the keynote of this performance. What follows is some stupendous repartee:

“Now as the ray is turned on you, you would be suffering PAIN. But all feeling would stop the moment the notch is turned to this. Because you would be PARALYSED. And now the very atoms of your body would be disintegrated.”

“I would give me pleasure if the same were to happen to you.”

“But… it won’t.”

It’s like Noel Coward has eschewed the English drawing room in favour of the subterranean kingdom.

“I never heard a… queen scream,” smarms Rab, but somehow we don’t quite believe him.

This actor, Warner Richmond, was a stunt-riding Wisconsonite (sounds like a deadly space metal, I know) who played for DeMille, Ford and Walsh in his time. It’s typical of this serial that everyone in it can ride a horse even if they never have to. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Her Highness Queen Tika set off at a canter sometime, if she’s not disintegrated.

Gene arrives in the nick of time to get himself cliffhangered: a guard knocks him in the path of the smashing machine’s ray and he makes a face like he’s being disintegrated. Assuming this process is interrupted before it becomes fatal, can this serial get through its final installment with even a partially disintegrated leading man? True, there’s enough Gene Autry to spare, one might think, but nobody can convince me that a disintegrating atom smashing machine will have merely a slimming effect is used at a low setting. It’s aiming right at Gene’s face. Are we to be forced to watch the adventures of a hero with a semi-disintegrated head? Is such a spectacle suitable for children?

Tune in next week for the answers to these, and other questions!

TO BE CONCLUDED!