THE PHANTOM EMPIRE Mascot 1935 / 12 Chapters Directed by: Otto Brower, B. Reeves Eason Music: Arthur Kay (Director); Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette (Songs)
Starring Gene Autry as himself Frankie Darro as Frankie Baxter Betsy King Ross as Betsy Baxter Dorothy Christie as Queen Tika Wheeler Oakman as Lord Argo Lester "Smiley" Burnette as Oscar
Cowboy Gene Autry has no idea what's in store for him as he sings "Uncle Noah's Ark" cheerfully on his daily Radio Ranch program broadcast--he and his young friends Frankie and Betsy are about to embark on some of the most amazing adventures in serialdom. You see, not only do some crooked scientists plan to run him off the property to gain the rich radium deposits on the ranch, there's a whole underground civilization that's ticked about getting awakened in the middle of the afternoon by his singing--and determined that no "surface people" discover the secret cave entrance to their "scientific city." Frankie and Betsy have seen the mysterious helmeted "Thunder Riders" with their own eyes, and heard the ominous rumble of their horses, and decided to create their own national Junior Thunder Riders' Club in their honor. The gesture isn't appreciated, though, as Gene, Frankie, and Betsy are mistreated again and again by Queen Tika and her men, who detest the selfish, violent ways of the surface people. Finally, all three must escape imprisonment, giant ray cannons and even execution to save each other from the Queen's vengeance.
There's plenty to see and hear in this wild story--western action, crazy sci-fi devices, music by Gene and others in most chapters, comedy relief from the bumbling Oscar and Pete, and some terrific no-faking trick riding by the very capable Betsy King Ross. This world's first sci-fi Western is sometimes quaint, sometimes nutty, sometimes suspenseful and always surprising.
Ken Maynard was originally to have played the leading role in this serial, however, the producers changed their minds and in doing so launched Gene Autry to film stardom.
Legend has it that the story for The Phantom Empire was dreamed up by the producer while sitting in a dentist's chair and experiencing the effects of nitrous oxide gas. We believe it--the story's original, all right, and it influenced many other films to come, from Flash Gordon to the Star Wars films, for which it provided two title inspirations.
The Squadron's film print of this serial has been digitally restored here to as much of its original glory as possible (many Mascot serial negatives, including this one, appear to have been destroyed in a fire). Six months of restoration work went into the production of this DVD:
-- The original film was imaged using the highest quality digital wet-gate transfer possible
-- The sound is back in synch
-- Black slugs originally added to scenes with damaged picture element have been eliminated
-- Missing or low sound has been replaced and/or normalized
-- Contrast and brightness has been adjusted
-- Reel change markers have been removed
-- Damage to certain key scenes has been minimized or removed, by hand, frame by frame.
-- Chapter openings are restored to their original length, and splice-free
-- Chapter ending graphics, originally missing, have been restored
-- Scoring of action and cliffhanger sequences, completely absent in the original, is now present, with cues from the original serial, 1930s library music and 78rpm
The result is the most effective presentation of this serial possible on the small screen. There is no finer quality or more entertaining version of this serial available anywhere, and never will be!
3 DVD Collector’s edition includes:
All 12 Chapters, painstakingly restored, with sepia-toned Western scenes, and newly scored with appropriate period studio music Animated menus Mysteries of Murania Restoration Notes Cast Bios Extended photo cast list Music video of "Uncle Noah's Ark" (includes bloopers) Released 2003 3-Disk Set List price $24.95