Thursday, July 30, 2009

Our very own Phantom Empire

Singing cowboy Gene Autry (far right) is seized by the fiendish Muranians of The Phantom Empire

With all the malevolence and craziness being plotted or inflicted by government these days, life for taxpaying citizens is beginning to resemble, however faintly, the hijinks of an obscure 1935 serial titled The Phantom Empire:

It's part singing cowboy western and part underground city science-fiction/fantasy. This strange combination of genres gives us Gene Autry, in his first starring role, as a singing cowboy who runs Radio Ranch, a ranch that gives kids a place to go to get away from the city and learn about the West.

Presenting our hero: A generous, productive man who doesn't force his will on his neighbors. Broken would say he's keeping the Covenant of Noah. In a more or less sane society, Autry would be allowed to go about his business. But it is not to be:

Thrown into this mix we find a mysterious band of riders who storm across the range, leaving a thunderous roar in their wake. The kids have seen the riders and now call them the Thunder Riders, which they also take as the name of their club, the Junior Thunder Riders. What the kids don't realize, however, is that the riders are from a subterranean world, the "Scientific City" of Murania, a city over 20,000 feet below ground, which has existed for over 100,000 years when the residents were forced to leave the surface due to ice age glaciers. The underground city is rich in radium, which brings a team of vicious research scientists to Radio Ranch, eager to seize the land for strip mining purposes.

Presenting our villains: A mighty force of organized thugs that periodically erupts from the shadows, and a coterie of scheming thieves who pervert the law (see below) to seize property.

The hero's life becomes a constant battle to survive this combined assault while pursuing his calling:

While Gene is trying to keep his ranch running smoothly, the Thunder Riders keep zapping him and taking him underground, and when he's above ground, the research scientists try framing him for murder. Meanwhile, every day, Gene must somehow figure out how to get back to the ranch for the 2 o'clock radio show. If he ever misses the show, he'll break his contract and the radio show will be canceled, ruining the ranch.

This situation forces Gene to bounce back and forth between worlds. He'll get deep into Murania only to realize that he must get back to the surface or he'll miss the radio show.

Eventually Autry is haled into the presence of Murania's queen, a sanctimonious blowhard ruling over a joyless, regimented society:

"Fools . . . the surface people are always in a hurry . . . their world today is a mad house. We in Murania are indeed fortunate." . . . ."We can never allow Murania to become desecrated by the presence of the surface people. Our lives are serene, our minds are superior, our accomplishments greater."

Our hero, unimpressed, has a ready answer to this exaltation of enforced, bureaucratic drudgery:

When the Queen (pumped with pride) asks him "How do you like our world?" He says "Well, I think the dampness and dead air of your land is more suited to rats and moles . . . My business is singing. I sing about horses and sunshine and the plains. . . . Well, how can anybody sing about those things here? Kinda makes you feel good to sing, you know."

If only our tormentors would dress as flamboyantly as the science fiction villain pictured above!

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