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Film & TV

The Phantom Empire (1935) – First Sci Fi Western

The Phantom Empire is a 1935 American Sci Fi 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 fantasy 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.

The Phantom Menace - Sci Fi WesternThe 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.

he Phantom Empire was filmed in late 1934. The film had an operating budget of $75,000 (equal to $1,450,933 today). The budget was originally reported to have been “no more than” $100,000.

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