If you can't get twelve cliffhanging episodes out
of that, you ain't tryin'.
Autry is serviceable - barely, at this early point
in his career - as the hero, and for your money you get not one,
two Odious Comic Reliefs (Relieves?), Smiley Burnette and some
other goomer. Really, the best hope you have for hero worship
are the son and daughter of the Ranch's co-owner, Frankie and
Betsy, played by Frankie Darro (who looks like a cross between
Jimmy Cagney and Kyle Maclachlan) and "World Champion Trick Rider"
Betsy Scott King, who is cute as a button and gets to show off
why she's a champion. Frankie's a science whiz with a secret lab
in the barn, and the two siblings have formed "The Junior Thunder
Riders", a bunch of kids who wear capes and buckets on their heads
while galloping about yelling, "To the rescue!"
The cliffhangers play somewhat fair with the audience,
the recap of the previous week's peril providing extra footage
that, for instance, puts the Thunder Riders in the right place
to save our heroes from doom. Extra points to the serial for actually
killing Autry once and bringing him back to life with Murania's
super-science. I also think this is the first instance of a neat,
cheap special effect: when the Muranians uncork their radium disentegrator
ray, its effects are shown by taking an ordinary photograph and
running hot water over it until the emulsion runs and the image
appears to melt. That one's going to crop up in serials
over and over again, I can assure you.
Years of neglect have done their dastardly work
on Phantom Empire. Contrasts vary wildly, even within shots,
and there's some heavy damage that just can't be undone, especially
to the soundtrack, which varies between a harsh humming and "motorboating".
Still, Alpha's disc is one of the more watchable versions I've
seen. If you're an absolute bug for quality, there's an outfit
Squadron who is financing a digital restoration by selling
copies of a DVD version; Alpha's version is here right now,
however, at an attractive enough price point. This deserves to
be seen at least once by science fiction, fantasy, serial or cowboy
fans. Hell, I haven't even gone into the highly advanced super-scientific
clunky robots who wear hats, and the proto-MTV quick cutting on
Autry's first song.
Radar Men From The Moon
yes, I have been watching an awful lot of serials lately,
thank you for asking.
The geneology is a little tortured here: this is the second Republic
serial to feature the somewhat famous flying suit on the cover,
which made its premiere in the 1949 serial King of the Rocketmen.
Then the hero was simply known as Rocketman. In this 1952 outing,
the owner of the flying suit is Commando Cody, a name which will
stick through the other incarnations, including a TV series, Commando
Cody, Sky Marshall of the Universe (a heck of a job title
to put on your resume!). Therefore, each episode of Radar Men
begins with the legend, "Introducing A New Character
- Commando Cody" , which leads to some disorientation in
the first chapter, when a backstory is alluded to that does not
Ah, well. Commando Cody (yes, Commando is apparently his first
name) is a rocket scientist with top-level government clearance
and enviable discretionary powers. He is the type of two-fisted
scientist who keeps a loaded revolver in his desk drawer at all
times. That's exceptionally dangerous, especially since nobody
in these pictures can hit the broad side of a barn - there's a
lot of bullets just zipping around in this picture (except
when Cody aims at a gun in a thug's hand, at which point he becomes
freakin' Vash the Stampede).
A Carradine-thin government man comes to Cody's lab to talk to
him and his two assistants about the rash of stock-footage building
explosions and train wrecks that open the picture. One assistant,
Ted (who if you ask me is the real brains of the outfit) immediately
deduces that it is the work of bad guys from the Moon using an
atomic ray gun.
So Cody and crew journey to the Moon in his new rocketship and
discover a pressurized city. The Ruler of the Moon, Retik, is
planning an invasion of Earth just as soon as his saboteurs finish
softening up the Earth's (by which he means America's) defenses
with his ray gun, which is powered by "Lunarium". Why
invade Earth? Apparently, the Moon's atmosphere "has grown
too cold and thin" to grow food. (This explanation was really
welcome, because I had been tormenting myself wondering why Cody
was flying through the wispy clouds of the Moon) All well and
good, except that Retik's crack group of saboteurs consists of
one Moon guy and two inept thugs, one of whom is played by Clayton
Moore - and yes, it is odd hearing the Lone Ranger's voice coming
from a thug. (Incidentally, am I the only one who notices the
Lone Ranger wears tights?)
thugs are also oddly moral - it's strange, from the standpoint
of the 21st century, when brutality is doled out to us daily,
to contemplate that these days, movie bad guys would simply walk
in and blow people away with no compunction. Not these crooks
- they just threaten people and obligingly walk close enough to
have the guns knocked out of their hands in preparation for the
mandatory fistfight. After Cody manages to capture their truck
and atomic ray gun early in the serial, a lot of screen time is
devoted to the crooks trying to steal enough money to buy
another truck. No wonder Cody leaves his rocketship out in a field,
with the door open and no guards about! Why bother? Exactly how
much of a threat is Retik, who is planning to paralyze
an entire country with only three people, none of whom is exactly
up for appearances on Jeopardy? As far as fifth column
agents go, better results would be achieved by employing a couple
of chimpanzees and a trained chihuahua, who would at least just
work for cigarettes.
Earlier, while discussing Flash
Gordon Conquers the Universe, I held up the Rocketman/Cody
serials as the epitome of cheating in the cliffhangers, and viewing
Radar Men in its entirety has not changed that opinion
one jot, or even a tittle. The worst example of this is the peril
that links episodes 2 and 3, where Cody and Ted, having stolen
a bigass ray gun from the Moon city, are hiding in a cave from
a pursuing and unquestionably stylish Moon tank (the tank drivers
are the ones thriftily wearing leftover spacesuits from Destination
Moon). The Moon goons turn their heat ray on the cave entrance,
resulting in another example of the melting-emulsion effect, supposedly
sending a gush of molten lava down on Cody and Ted, who are stuck
in a cul-de-sac. In Episode 3, however, as the lava rushes in,
on of them says, "Say - maybe we can get out through this
side passage." You could have said that a week ago, idiot!
Anyway, that's pretty much the level of ingenuity exhibited in
getting out of each week's jackpot, leading to a sort of leaden
predictability. Why should we worry when Cody is knocked off a
cliff when he's wearing a jetpack, for pete's sake??!!
This was produced in the waning days of Republic, and it shows.
Not only are the flying scenes and models of Moon City recycled,
but the story itself is made up of barely refurbished parts. Episode
Ten is basically a series of flashbacks, and getting stuck in
a doomed aircraft is deemed so good it's used twice. As
is the tactic of sticking a gas tank into a building's air system
and gassing the inhabitants - which makes its second appearance
in Episode Ten, which is so heavy on the recycled materials it
should be trotted out every Earth Day. Makes you nostalgic for
the weird perils and jackass escape plans of The Phantom Empire,
Speaking of Phantom Empire, Radar Men's transfer was a
thing of wonder after watching the former's damaged film elements
and occasional moires in the background. Though it's a little
grainy, the image on Radar Men is wonderfully clear and
sharp, with very little damage evident. That's really not enough
to justify recommending it to any but serial or Rocketman buffs
however. The entire thing just does not produce much in the way
of excitement, the kiss of death for a cliffhanger.
The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy
for old time's sake - a Beverly Wilshire disc. Not just any Beverly
Wilshire disc, but the Beverly Wilshire disc I cannot claim. No,
I cannot enter Robot vs Aztec Mummy (sic) in DVD
Profiler because it shares a UPC code with Vampire's Coffin.
In any case, this is yet another K. Gordon Murray-imported Mexican
horror gem that has a much more bizarre history than one might
suppose. It's the last in a trilogy of movies shot in 1957, the
other two being The Aztec Mummy and Curse of the Aztec
Mummy. Shot almost concurrently, the movies all have the same
characters and have an actual through-line in the stories. Though
when you're watching Robot, you shouldn't worry if you
haven't seen the first two movies - the first half-hour
of the movie is taken up by flashbacks - and the whole movie is
only an hour long!
Dr. Almada (whom we are told is a doctor, though of what I could
not tell you) apparently read The Search for Bridey Murphy
and is convinced he can regress people through their previous
lives by hypnosis. When this theory is poo-pooed by the usual
gathering of doctors saying "Poo-poo" in unison, Almada
hypnotizes his fiancee, Flora, and discovers that she was, at
one time, the Aztec princess Xochitl, who had a forbidden love
affair with a warrior named Popoca. As anyone who's seen The
Mummy knows, this is bad news; Xochitl is sacrificed (and
we are shown the entire Bob Fosse-choreographed ritual, complete
with a soprano who will have neighborhood dogs queuing in your
front yard), and Popoca is mummified alive, his corpse set to
watching over Xochitl's body. Especially the golden breastplate
Following Flora's hyp-mo-tized directions, Almada and pals find
Xochitl's resting place, and the doctor takes the breastplate
to vindicate his theory. Later -still having not informed the
authorities or maybe an archeologist or two - Almada returns for
the bracelet, which along with the breastplate points the way
to a cache of Aztec gold. It's at this point that one of Almada's
friends notices that the mummy of Popoca is missing... and
they hear a shuffling sound in the darkness.
is a superb horror movie moment, building incredible tension as
Popoca slowly shambles into the light. After that, it's a fairly
typical monster movie, as Popoca realizes Flora is the reincarnated
Xochitl and dutifully prepares to sacrifice her all over again.
Unfortunately, the movie loses any horror movie good vibes it
had gained by using a crucifix to keep Popoca at bay while
Flora is rescued. The dynamite that brings down the temple makes
much more sense. I mean, even if Popoca had been around for the
Spanish invasion, his regarding the cross as an object to fear
is rather suspect, even in a largely Catholic country*.
In the next flashback - um, movie - things take a turn for the
delirious as one of the doctors who wasn't poo-pooing Almada very
loudly turns out to be a masked super-villain called The Bat,
who steals the breastplate and bracelet, and then kidnaps the
entire Almada clan to force the doctor to translate the inscriptions,
so The Bat can steal all the gold. The wily Almada, however, delays
the translation long enough for Popoca to show up and reclaim
the jewelry, coincidentally enough hurting all the right people
in the process before shuffling off into the night.
When I say delirious, I mean it - there also a typical masked
wrestler-type superhero opposing The Bat in Curse of the Aztec
Mummy. He's called The Angel, and since he is unmasked and
does not appear in Robot (he's really Almada's supposed
cowardly assistant Pique), all reference to the hero is excised
from this third movie. Don't wanna confuse you folks, or nothin'.
Besides, we only have a half-hour left to explore this
So all that was five years ago, Almada explains to his rapt audience,
but he's convinced The Bat survived his last encounter with Popoca,
and skullduggery is afoot. By an astounding coincidence, that
night Flora responds to a post-hypnotic suggestion and sleepwalks
out of their house and into a nearby car, where she is awaited
by none other than - The Bat! And his scarred and vengeful associate
Bruno, whom the Mummy tossed into a handy collection of bottles
containing acid in the last picture.
Bat, playing on Flora/Xochitl's psychic connection with Popoca,
uses her to track the Mummy down to his new hiding place (since
his original digs were blown up at the end of the first movie).
This proves to be an abandoned mausoleum in an old cemetery. Popoca
still clutches the breastplate and bracelet, but The Bat knows
better than to attempt to take them.... no, he has a better plan,
mwoo hah ha. He returns Flora to her house and proceeds to get
busy, while Almada wonders why his wife has such dirty feet in
Being the Indiana Jones of.... whatever-the-hell-he's-a-doctor-of
.... Almada figures out where The Bat is hiding out, and he and
Pique obligingly visit this locale so they can be captured. The
Bat reveals his greatest invention yet, a robot with a cadaver
inside it. Yes, for some reason, The Bat has to build his robot
around a human body, and then add another brain into the contraption,
to boot. That could have been pretty creepy - stupid, but creepy
- and for all I know, in the original version, it was.
In the K. Gordon Murray translation, though, it just seems...
well, dumb. And probably smelly.
The Bat's brilliant plan is to use the robot to snatch the jewelry
from Popoca, then to destroy the mummy when it rises from its
slumber. Needless to say, Almada will arrive in the nick of time
and shoot The Bat's radio control out of his hands, so the enraged
Popoca can take the robot apart like the collection of sheet metal
parts it is, and Flora can hand the mummy his goods and implore
it to go take a nice nap. The end.
An awful lot happens in an hour in this movie, which is probably
why I liked it (many don't - for instance, Braineater
The Humanity!). Hey, it's three movies in one! Talk about
added value! This is also one of the nicest Beverly Wilshire discs,
with a very clean, sharp image. In some of their other K. Gordon
Murray movies, I had noticed a second of video snow at about the
halfway mark (as if someone hit pause to flip a laserdisc, hmmmm).....
that doesn't occur here. Then, it's barely an hour long. Beverly
Wilshire discs continue to crop up in the oddest places, usually
for dirt cheap, and this is definitely one worth owning.
I can be allowed a final digression: look at the scan of the cover
of Robot, then scroll up and check out the covers of Phantom
Empire, or even Radar Men. This is yet another reason
Alpha Video has garnered my respect, and a generally better feeling
about their longevity: their packaging is often gorgeous, giving
the impression they really care about their product, and
therefore, the consumer. Whereas Beverly Wilshire's designs hit
new lows in fugly. Looking at the BW boxes make
me pine for the cluttered ugliness of the Wade Williams Collection,
or even that hastily-Photoshopped abomination which is the recently-released
Columbia Curse/Night of the Demon.
You know, I always like to end these things on
sort of an up-note, but I confess myself at a loss, having brought
up so much that is ugly and dreadful. So I'm just going to harken
back to my newspaper days, and resort to a picture of a dog wearing
a cowboy hat. Enjoy.