Undersea Kingdom

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(3/10) In a nutshell: Inspired by Flash Gordon and The Phantom Empire, the young Republic Studios launched their own sci-fi serial in 1936, and the result was an action-packed, but rather brainless concoction relying heavily on horse chases and pointless crowd battles. Occasional good design and an energetic Crash Corrigan, nice action scenes, or even some merited actors can’t save this awfully scripted and blandly acted Atlantis-themed hotchpotch.

Undersea Kingdom. 1936, USA. Serial. Directed by B. Reeves Eason & Joseph Kane. Written by John Rathmell, Maurice Geraghty, Oliver Drake, Tracy Knight. Starring: Ray ”Crash” Corrigan, Lois Wilde, Lee van Atta, C. Montague Shaw, Monte Blue, William Farnum, Smiley Burnette, Frankie Farnum, Lon Chaney Jr, Sinbad the parrot. Produced by Nat Levine for Republic. IMDb score: 4.7

Crash Corrigan fighting off two Black Robes in the Republic sci-fi serial Undersea Kingdom.

Crash Corrigan fighting off two Black Robes in the Republic sci-fi serial Undersea Kingdom.

I’ve stated numerous times that I normally don’t review serials. But I can’t seem to keep away, can I? Well, just to put my review of Flash Gordon (1936) in perspective, I’ve decided to write a few lines on Undersea Kingdom, released barely two months after Flash. The cheap ripoff showcases almost everything that Flash Gordon got right, by getting it all wrong. Nonetheless, for some peculiar reason, the serial seems to hold a very special place in the hearts of the friends of the Republic serials. Admittedly, it is not without its technical merits, and one does learn to enjoy the horrible acting the way one enjoys Plan 9 from Outer Space. Continue reading

The Phantom Empire

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(4/10) In a nutshell: Not even the worst serial acting in the history of bad serial acting is able to completely sink this brilliantly delirious sci-fi western musical comedy starring western and country legend Gene Autry. The film combines wild west adventure, lost Atlantis-type fantasy, Flash Gordon tropes and country singing in one of he most bizarre train wrecks of film history.

The Phantom Empire. USA, 1935. Serial film. Directed by Otto Brower, B. Reeves Easton. Written by: Wallace MacDonald, Gerald Geraghty, Maurice Geraghty, Hy Freedman. Starring: Gene Autry, Franky Darro, Betsy King Ross, Dorothy Christy, Wheeler Oakman, J. Frank Gleeson. Produced by Nat Levine for Mascot. IMDb score: 6.2

Gene Autry and the Junior Thunder Riders.

Gene Autry and the Junior Thunder Riders.

Although the United States can’t lay claim to the origins of sci-fi films (that would either be France or Denmark), there is a proud subgenre that is wholly and exclusively American – and that is the science fiction musical comedy. Now, one would think that after turkeys like Just Imagine (1930, review) and It’s Great to be Alive (1933), someone would have pulled the plug. But no. Instead the idea seems to be that once down in the dirt, the only way up is by going even deeper down. Thus we get the pulp magazine science fiction musical comedy western gangster serial. And that is exactly what The Phantom Empire is. And it is awesome. Continue reading