That’s right, I am back on my Phantom Empire bullshit! After two weeks of Oscars posting from me, we return with The Phantom Empire, Part 9: “Prisoners of the Ray.” I genuinely don’t remember what happened last week, so we’ll all need the recap sequence to help!
“Murania, long lost and buried city, where miracles are performed thru the advanced use of radium.” This is not even a coherent sentence, and there was plenty of space to use “through.” Glad to be back.
“Gene Autry rescues Frankie and Betsy, and starts back to Radio Ranch in an airplane loaded with dynamite.” Now I remember what happened!
“Queen Tika, aware of Autry’s escape from Murania, sends out an interference ray to force the airplane to land. Frankie and Betsy tune in on Radio Ranch and arrange for Autry to broadcast by remote control.” The recap sequence has the importance of Gene broadcasting on the radio by 2:00, or he’ll lose his contract! I’m glad that my favorite part of the serial is back.
“Professor Beetson, discredited scientist from whom Autry borrowed the airplane.” This is the first recap sequence that has captioned pictures. The future is now.
What happened last time happens again. The evil scientist parachutes out of the crashing plane before it’s too late, and the plane careens off a cliff! But of course the kids get to jump out before the crash, and the plane crash shot itself is much less exciting than it was last time. The plane just sort of falls limply off. Last time it exploded, this time it makes the sound of when you drop a tin can.
Gene did go over the cliff in the tin plane, so there’s still some suspense for the cliffhanger! Before we can resolve it, we cut back to Queen Tika and Argo hanging out at the view screen. This time, the view screen isn’t in that gross circular view! This one is making some serious changes to the format. They see that Autry is still alive, but they don’t really care, because the queen says that the Thunder Riders are going to kill him. They seem to have forgotten the past eight episodes of this serial, in which the Thunder Riders very noticeably failed to kill him.
The unnamed parachuting scientist lands right next to Frankie and Betsy, who don’t see him. They all hide from some rampaging Muranians, who don’t see them. This serial would probably be better if characters got to interact. The other scientists show up and we get the same scientist exposition that we get every episode.
Pete and Oscar and the Junior Thunder Riders and the Radio Ranch team heard the sounds of the crashing plane at the end of the last radio broadcast, so they all go to look for Gene.
Something exciting has happened without any fanfare! We cut to Professor Beetson and the scientist finding Gene’s unconscious body in his Muranian outfit.
They kidnap him so that when he wakes up he can tell them about where the Muranian garage is.
The Muranians return to the horse parking lot, and they are cranked in! Let’s give it up for this robot. Oh hey the Muranians have kidnapped the kids. Why didn’t we see that? What a weird thing to not see. The kids look around with wonder as they enter the elevator, and they already have more personality than Gene does! When he entered Murania, Gene just looked at everything with a completely blank stare- it almost seemed like he was bored to be there.
The queen hears about the “undeveloped surface creatures” and we hear that horrible gong. She calls the kids “the sprout from which surface people spring,” which is a great thing that we should call children immediately. They insult her to her face, calling Murania boring and ugly. When Betsy compares her to the Queen of Hearts and calls her “tripe,” we get an Argo reaction shot of him laughing silently. That’s actually a really good decision that I would not have expected the Phantom Empire filmmakers to make.
The kids threaten that Gene will “telephone the president” to wage war on Murania if they get killed, and I would love a situation where Gene had so much power that he would lead to the creation of the War Powers Resolution. The queen yells at them, making the kids already much better enemies to her than Gene ever was. She tells them that their dad is dead and sentences them to life imprisonment. In response to hearing that their second father figure has died over the course of about three days, the kids are briefly upset but immediately decide it’s fake. They’re right, but I’m happy to see their callous indifference to death continue because it shows that they have character. Their dad died for real!
Frankie, who can’t be more than 13 years old, is able to take out two Muranians, disable the guard robot, and get away within seconds. The Muranians are delayed by some physical comedy.
The kids use the patented Gene Autry Hiding Method to get away. They brainstorm how to disable the robots, and while they don’t come up with a conclusion, this is certainly more thinking than Gene ever did.
There is a brief scene of the scientists bringing back Autry to the general area of the tunnel to Murania. As they look for the entrance, Autry wakes up but stays quiet.
Pete, Oscar, and the junior Thunder Riders find Frankie and Betsy’s horses. Then they trip and fall for no reason. I love Pete and Oscar so much. They start spying on the scientists, which raises my question: are people only now just realizing that the scientists are evil? As far as I know, Gene is still framed for murder, and no one thinks the scientists did it. Yet now, everyone is acting like they knew the scientists are evil. It doesn’t really matter- all I know is that I can’t trust that fancy book learnin. I’ll get my entertainment and education solely on the radio until the day I die.
Pete and Oscar discover the tunnel, which they approach by loudly shouting “WHO’S IN THERE!” Then they knock the two scientists unconscious with a great drop bear move. Good thing there were only two scientists. Having rescued Gene, they run away, and I would like to give a raise to whoever suggested that Pete run away with exaggerated arm pumping.
Gene, Pete, Oscar, and the junior Thunder Riders go to rescue Frankie and Betsy from Murania, and something thrilling happens: we get a wipe between scenes instead of just a hard cut! Unfortunately, this probably immediately wiped out the transition budget.
The queen realizes on the view screen that Gene is coming and that the Thunder Riders failed to kill him after all. Argo tells them that they should remove the crank-turning robot for safety and operate the horse garage from inside their control room. Goodbye, crank-turning robot. After nine episodes we still hardly knew ye.
The Muranians remove the “electric eye” from the wall, so I’m now realizing that they invented the concept of a security camera. Gene arrives a minute later and says “I’m sure this is the right place, but there was an electric eye in the wall.” The whole mountain is fake, Gene! It’s not too hard to see!
The new switch to open the door in the control room is guarded by an “infrared ray” that you have to disable by pressing a button on the robot. Given that this robot is right here, it doesn’t really seem to be that guarded. Nevertheless, everyone acts like the guard robot is a big deal. Frankie and Betsy, after immediately hearing about the guard robot, completely bypass the guard robot and pull the switch anyway, triggering the “infrared ray” to sound an alarm. The alarm sounds like a cartoon character screaming, and all the Muranians run around for a bit while the kids pass out for some reason. There’s some ADR about how the kids are never going to make it out alive, even though we know they are going to make it out alive. This was a pretty shit cliffhanger. See you next week!
Maybe it’s because I took two weeks off, but I liked this one a lot! The plot progresses forward somewhat, all the actors get a chance to do something, and there are some good small character beats, some of which I didn’t even mention. There’s no big action scene and the cliffhanger is weak, but the focus on the kids is fun- I really like them now in a way I didn’t before. I had a good time despite the problems, and there were a lot of robots, so I’m giving this a Grade: B