|The Phantom Empire|
Theatrical release poster
|Produced by||Nat Levine|
|Music by||Hugo Riesenfeld|
|Distributed by||Mascot Pictures|
|245 minutes (12 chapters)[Note 1]|
The Phantom Empire is a 1935 American Western serial film directed by Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason and starring Gene Autry, Frankie Darro, and Betsy King Ross. This 12-chapter Mascot Pictures serial combined the western, musical, and science fiction genres. The first episode is 30 minutes, the rest about 20 minutes. The serial film is about a singing cowboy who stumbles upon an ancient subterranean civilization living beneath his own ranch that becomes corrupted by unscrupulous greedy speculators from the surface. In 1940, a 70-minute feature film edited from the serial was released under the titles Radio Ranch or Men with Steel Faces. This was Gene Autry's first starring role, playing himself as a singing cowboy.
Gene Autry (Gene Autry) is a singing cowboy who runs Radio Ranch, a dude ranch from which he makes a daily live radio broadcast at 2:00 pm. Gene has two kid sidekicks, Frankie Baxter (Frankie Darro) and Betsy Baxter (Betsy King Ross), who lead a club, the Junior Thunder Riders, in which the kids play at being armored knights of an unknown civilization, the mysterious Thunder Riders who make a sound like thunder when they ride. The kids, dressing up in capes and water-bucket helmets, play at riding "To the rescue!" (their motto).
A chance to become real heroes occurs when Betsy, Frankie, and Gene are kidnapped by the real Thunder Riders from the super-scientific underground empire of Murania, complete with towering buildings, robots, ray-guns, advanced television, elevator tubes that extend miles from the surface, and the icy, blonde, evil Queen Tika. On the surface, criminals led by Professor Beetson plan to invade Murania and seize its radium wealth, while in Murania, a group of revolutionaries plots to overthrow Queen Tika.
The inhabitants of Murania are the lost tribe of Mu, who went underground in the last glacial period 100,000 years ago, and now live in a fantastically advanced city 25,000 feet below the surface. They cannot now breathe the air at ground level and must wear oxygen masks. (Surface dwellers have no trouble breathing Muranian air.) The Thunder Guard emerges to the surface world from a cave with a huge rock door that swings up like a garage door. Both Muranians and Professor Beetson want to get rid of Autry, so he loses his radio contract and Radio Ranch is vacated.
The 1979 television series Cliffhangers, which attempted to recreate the old movie serial feel by showing three serial chapters in each episode, included a serial titled "The Secret Empire", a pastiche of The Phantom Empire. Events in the underground empire were shown in color, but events on the surface were "in glorious black and white." Stock footage from the serial, as well as other serials, was used in the animated series Muppet Babies.
Fred Olen Ray, in 1988, filmed a movie called The Phantom Empire about treasure hunters braving a cavern system populated by troglodytes and other subterranean hazards to finally encounter an underground lost civilization. The movie makes reference to the serial and was itself in the end credits planned to have sequels that never were produced.
Alejandro Pérez Cervantes' short story collection, Murania, is highly inspired on the aesthetic of Murania and the lost continent of Mu as depicted in the film. It received the 2006 Julio Torri national award for short fiction in Mexico.
The webseries The Sam Plenty Cavalcade of Action Show Plus Singing! was inspired by the serial.
The UK Channel 4 show 'Exploitica' lampooned the serial, adding comedic sound effects, thought bubbles and captions to each episode.