Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Orgins of Paul Rugg's Sam Plenty

Sam Plenty roots. Paul Rugg saw this serial in 2004 and was inspired.

h/t: Tom Ruegger.

In Tuesday's NY Times

Critic’s Choice
New DVDs
By DAVE KEHR
THE PHANTOM EMPIRE

For indigenous American surrealism, it’s hard to beat the Saturday
matinee serials of the 1930s, and I’m not sure that “The Phantom
Empire,” a 1935 release from the Poverty Row studio Mascot, can be beat
at all. Very likely the world’s first singing-cowboy science-fiction
adventure, this 12-episode chapterplay, directed by Otto Brower and
Breezy Easton, features Gene Autry in his first starring role — as
“Gene Autry,” the proprietor of Radio Ranch. This curious institution
seems to be at once a working cattle concern and a full-scale
broadcasting business from which Gene and his pals (including his
longtime sidekick Smiley Burnett) send out a daily program of
country-western songs.

Life is sweet at Radio Ranch until a band of “renegade scientists”
arrives, looking for the massive radium deposits of the secret
underground nation Murania, the gateway to which happens to be located
in a canyon behind Gene’s ranch. Before too long, Gene and his two l’il
pardners (the child actors Frankie Darro and Betsy King Ross) find
themselves caught between the rampaging savants and the legions of
Wagnerian Thunder Riders (accompanied by appropriate sound effects) and
lumbering mechanical men (whimsical robots built for a production
number in MGM’s “Dancing Lady” but cut from the final film) sent forth
by Murania’s “She”-like Queen Tika (Dorothy Christy) to prevent her
land of peace and plenty from being invaded by rapacious “surface men.”
It’s a lot for Gene to handle, particularly since he has to get back to
Radio Ranch by 2 p.m. every day for his broadcast, which he carries on
as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

It is said that Wallace MacDonald, one of the serial’s five credited
writers, came up with the concept while under the influence of nitrous
oxide at his dentist’s office. That seems quite possible, given the
screenplay’s furious imaginings, which include an interesting kind of
television that requires no cameras (but has an inconvenient,
floor-level circular screen) and “radium bombs” posed to destroy the
entire planet.

What gives “Phantom Empire” its enduring charm is the refusal of the
filmmakers to play any of its outrageousness for laughs. As extravagant
as the action becomes, the picture never loses its sense of complete
conviction.

Long a victim of third-rate, public-domain releases on home video,
“Phantom Empire” has been nicely restored by VCI Entertainment for a
new two-disc edition that also finds room for a complete Autry feature
from 1937, Joe Kane’s “Boots and Saddles.” The VCI catalog, which
includes an extensive collection of serials and B westerns, is online
at vcient.com. ($19.99, not rated.)

3 comments:

Jeff Carroll said...

what time are you guys running on saturday and how far? as this will be an alumni get together

John P. McCann said...

12 miles. We meet at 7:00 AM.

Come on by.

John P. McCann said...

My bad, Jeff.

Make that 7:30 AM.