Classic Movie Serial Review: The Phantom (1943)

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Studio: Columbia Pictures
Running Time: 299 mins

Verdict: C / 5

When there’s trouble brewing in the jungle and agents of an evil foreign power plan to use the lost city of Zoloz as their new secret airbase, it’s up to the mysterious “ghost who walks” – The Phantom – to stop them. However, the dastardly villains are aware of the costumed hero’s capabilities and kill him, in a cunning plan to destabilise the peace which has existed in the area for years thanks to The Phantom’s good work.

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What they don’t know – but many fans of the classic comic book hero do – is that the mantle of The Phantom is passed down from father to son through the ages, which is what makes The Phantom seem immortal to his enemies. Not only that but the new Phantom, Geoffrey Prescott, is not only physically and mentally up to the challenge but he’s also bringing his dog, Devil. As The Phantom, he’s in a desperate race against time to stop the evil Doctor Bremmer and his men, protect an expedition and bring harmony to the jungle once more.

Of course, it doesn’t all go smoothly. On his first day on the job he heads the wrong way while trying to find a village and winds up in a quicksand-like swamp, about to be attacked by alligators. But then, since this is an old serial there are cliffhanger situations awaiting our hero around every corner, not to mention countless fight scenes and some stunts the likes of which you’d expect to see in an Indiana Jones film.

Tom Tyler has all the attributes necessary to play the lead role of the costumed hero, bringing the same imposing physical manner and good-hearted nature that made him so famous is the Captain Marvel serial. The rest of the cast are perfectly fine, the real stand-out being Rex the Wonder Dog as Devil. That may sound odd but Ace was one of Hollywood’s top trained dogs at the time and it shows. Granted, in the comics Devil is a wolf but it’s hardly an issue given Ace’s contributions. He joins in several of the fight scenes, leaping into action alongside The Phantom, and is usually on hand to bail him out of several tight scrapes.

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Oh, and for sticklers out there, The Phantom may be Kit Walker in the comics but at this point he hadn’t been named, so Geoffrey Prescott is the name given in this. However, he does go undercover at one point and uses the alias of Walker so don’t feel too disappointed.

The drawback of this serial though is that sometimes it just seems a bit too drawn out. The Phantom spends several episodes just going back and forth from one village to the next, and even wastes some episodes just trying to convince Tartar the ruler of Akida that he’s not a villain by escaping and then returning. As for the his encounter with the Fire Princess, it’s less than spectacular and the mystical dance she performs makes her look like a reject from The Jungle’s Got Talent.

Still, on average this provides more than enough action, thrills and cliffhangers to make it a decent diversion and it stands as one of the better superhero movie serials from the Golden Age.

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