The Phantom Empire, Part 8: “Jaws of Jeopardy”

Welcome to another week of The Phantom Empire! Today’s installment is called “Jaws of Jeopardy,” a cool title for what will surely be a profoundly uncool installment. There seems to be a weird phenomenon going on where I’m hot and cold on alternating episodes of this serial; since this is an even-numbered installment, I will probably like this one! 

However, I have unfortunate and terrible news: I have slightly missed the 2:00 upload time of this article, probably because I can never find any time to write these before the hour before they’re supposed to go up. I have been fired from The Phantom Empire immediately, except I haven’t, because I’m still writing four more of these. On to the recap! 

“Murania, a glamorous empire 25,000 feet beneath the earth, hovers on the edge of civil war.” Hey, if they say it’s glamorous, who am I to question them? I’m also questioning whether it’s on the edge of civil war, since every episode the revolutionaries decide to wait another episode before they revolt, but again, who am I to question them? 

“Gene Autry, escaping from Argo, fights heavy odds and is hurled to apparent destruction. Queen Tika, striving to learn the name of her arch enemy, has Autry brought back from the dead.” I’m not sure if Gene was “hurled” as much as he “slipped off a ledge.” 

“Lord Argo, who plots rebellion, throws Murania into Darkness and makes away with Autry before he can speak.” I love that Darkness is capitalized. Otto Brower and Breezy Eason are goth now. Also, we didn’t see Argo making away with Autry yet, so this is another instance of the recap sequence spoiling its own cliffhanger. 

“Frankie and Betsy, searching for their friend, Gene Autry, become trapped in a deep pit.” Underground kingdoms! Revolution! Resurrection! A deep pit! I know what I’m going to put last! 

We get to watch Autry go down the elevator, sigh exhaustedly, and then fall off the balcony again. Except this time, he catches the edge of the balcony! It only took a second to resolve this cliffhanger instead of six minutes, and I appreciate it! 

Because the balcony isn’t very high, Gene can drop from the edge of the balcony to the floor and has another elevator fight where he and the Muranian bridal carry each other a lot. 

Gene reverses the elevator mid-fall, which also perfectly reverses the sound effect it’s making. It’s great. 

Somehow, there are no Muranians guarding the horse parking lot, so Gene is able to hide there. We hear the crank-turning robot cranking the gate closed, which is disappointing for those of us mostly tuning in for the crank-turning robot. 

The Muranians send in a fleet of soldiers to fight Gene in the horse parking lot. Wait, hang on, they just send one guy. Gene beats him up. The Muranians appear to be an endless army, but they’re pretty reluctant to use their forces. After watching Gene beat up one guy about ten different times over the course of the serial, the queen finally commands the entire royal guard to capture Gene, right as he is almost escaping. 

Gene knocks a Muranian’s helmet off in the horse parking lot and asphyxiates him. I thought this was a family serial. 

This is seriously pretty dark. The camera just watches this guy choke for quite a long time.

Gene, the hero that he is, finally allows the dying Muranian to put his helmet on only after he opens the garage door. He doesn’t even put the helmet on his head- he just drops it right next to him! 

After basically torturing this man to death, our hero escapes. This suddenly became Zack Snyder’s The Phantom Empire. 

Thankfully, the innocent Muranian somehow gets his helmet back on, and all the other Muranians chase after Gene on horseback. We’ve seen it before, but not for a few episodes, so it’s fun. Somehow, none of the Muranians spot Autry climbing up a tree, but Gene is able to take one out before he gets too close. 

watching this gif really shows how the lighting in this serial is not very good

Gene then loads the Muranian’s unconscious body onto a horse and sends the horse running away- all the Muranians chase after their unconscious comrade, thinking he’s Gene. At least “cavalier disregard for Muranian life” is a personality trait, and Gene hasn’t had many so far. 

We cut to the kids trying to build a signal fire and expositioning about how they realized the scientists are evil, while the scientists prepare dynamite and exposition about how they’re going to blow up the tunnel into Murania.  

The Muranians figure out that they have been chasing a loose horse with an unconscious Muranian on top and all turn around. By some coincidence, Gene finds the kids, and he proceeds to stand and yell right over the Muranian tunnel entrance without any disguise or anything. Hey, remember when the kids’ dad died? We haven’t heard about that plotline for weeks!

Gene lowers the scientists’ rope ladder, which they just left there I guess, and the kids climb out just before the scientists arrive in their dynamite plane. I’m excited to see Professor Beetson back- now that Gene has a character trait, maybe he will too! 

Gene and the kids demonstrate their excellent hiding by squatting behind a small bush.

Champion hiding. It’s hard to tell, but if you look to the top right of the picture, the scientists are clearly right over there. Turn your head an inch to the side, scientists!

It’s time for my real favorite part of the serial to happen! That’s right- the part where Gene and/or the kids talk about how they have to get back to Radio Ranch by 2:00 or they’ll be ruined! If Gene doesn’t go on the air they’ll lose the contract and the ranch too etc etc. Haven’t we already established a scene where Gene went on the air a few minutes after 2 and nothing was destroyed? 

Since broadcasting at 2:00 is naturally more important than anything else going on, they decide to steal the scientists’ plane, and they hold one of the scientists hostage with a very powerful stick. 


The scientist takes them to Radio Ranch while Gene points his gun at him the whole way. This is what a hero looks like! 

We then hear the same circular conversation we’ve heard before, where one of the kids worries about Gene being arrested for murder if he broadcasts on Radio Ranch. The other kid says “he’ll broadcast away from everybody so no one will notice,” even though the difficulty of broadcasting away from everybody was the entire plot of episode 4. It doesn’t matter which kid says what. They’re going to have the same conversation again two episodes from now anyway. 

We repeat another queen exposition scene, which are the worst parts of the whole serial. When Gene isn’t around, the queen just has to sit at the top of her throne and say things that the audience already knows. At least they’re not playing a terrible gong sound this time, although I do miss that the gong added character. 

These queen exposition scenes aren’t good, but I do like that at least the robots get to be there. Good hats!

I wrote that earlier paragraph before the scene finished (there was a lot of filler I don’t need to describe), and then as she left I heard the gong again. We’re back! 

The queen locates Autry on her view-screen. She says “locate Autry on the view-screen,” and the view-screen window immediately shows the inside of the plane. The view screen is pure Phantom Empire: Every episode, it does something stranger and less scientific with absolutely no explanation. It’s great! More view-screen action please! I hope the view-screen ends up going into space by the end of the episode. 

Argo tries to convince the queen to blow up Gene Autry, but the queen wants him saved so she can figure out who the traitors are. We already know this, but laid out like this, it’s remarkable how much the serial is extended by the queen. Just blow them up! 

The queen then sends out an “interference ray” to destroy the plane’s ignition system and force them to land at once. 

Back on the plane, Gene pokes the scientist with his gun and yells “Faster!” even though it is obvious that they are going as fast as they can. 

The scientist’s face suggests that this could be a sitcom, but Gene Autry’s complete lack of charm means that the filmmakers are wisely pointing the camera away from his potential sitcom face.

It’s 2:00! The Radio Ranch Quartet begins playing a song, we hear from the Radio Ranch manager that if Gene doesn’t make it soon they’re all sunk, 

What if Gene was sick? Couldn’t the Radio Ranch Quartet just fill in like they are now? Is Gene not allowed any vacation days? I’m now imagining everyone getting coronavirus at Radio Ranch because the producers make everyone record in person every day. 

There’s radio equipment on the plane apparently, so Gene Autry broadcasts from the middle of the plane! I truly was not expecting this twist coming. Incredibly, Gene does not spend any of his broadcast time talking about how he was held hostage by a race of underground humans and framed for murder by a bunch of scientists who are now looking to blow up Radio Ranch and steal all the radium underneath. Instead, he sings a song called “I’m Getting a Moon’s Eye View of the World” about how he’s up high “buzzing around like a fly” and how the moon “watches the sweethearts as they spoon.” While Gene sings, Frankie threatens the scientist with his gun. This one’s good for the kids. 

I respect that we are getting a proper musical number for the first time in several episodes; they don’t cut away like they do for most of the songs.

The Muranian lets the song end on an authentic cadence before beaming an interference ray and stopping the plane’s engine. It’s nice of him.

I actually really like this shot composition, something I rarely note in this serial.

The scientist takes the only parachute and ejects from the crashing plane while the kids start throwing boxes of dynamite overboard. Unfortunately, even the mighty powers of Gene Autry cannot control a plane with no engine, and the plane dives off a cliff and explodes on the ground. See you next week! 

Good Phantom Empire cliffhangers are impossible to retcon (that plane is smashed up pretty hard!) but will be retconned anyway. Great Phantom Empire cliffhangers have hilariously abrupt cuts to the “next time” card. Incredible Phantom Empire cliffhangers have a reverse projection scene where the background bobs up and down so much it reminds me of Affairs of Cappy Ricks.

Final Observations
The Even Episode Rule is true- I liked this one! It keeps the bloat to a minimum, I always like when there’s a song, and everything was overall satisfying and easy to write about. This is a solid example of a Phantom Empire story doing what I expect it to do at this point without doing too much of what I expect it to do. Hopefully we do get to see Pete and Oscar next week, though. Grade: B

Post-Final Observations
Uploading this to WordPress and having to type out the words “Jaws of Jeopardy” again, I have no idea where the titular Jaws of Jeopardy were. I guess Gene was in the Jaws of Jeopardy during this one, but he was in the Jaws of Jeopardy more during other ones, because he was about to be lobotomized last week. Next week’s title is called “Prisoner of the Ray,” so if there isn’t an Aquaman crossover, I’m going to be disappointed.