The Phantom [2 Discs] [DVD] [1943]

Although it's only been a viable format since 1998, the DVD has already been a boon to fans of serials. The three Flash Gordon serials, Universal's Buck Rogers, and Republic's Radar Men From the Moon are already out, and now VCI has issued The Phantom. Not much has been seen of the 15-chapter serial from 1943, possibly due to its having been made by Columbia Pictures, which gave up the rights to its chapterplays decades ago -- additionally, Columbia's serials were always a pale shadow of the serial work put out by Republic Pictures and Universal Pictures. The serial was in the hands of a few collectors but unseen by the public for generations. The movie, like the comic strip, concerns the adventures of a costumed jungle hero (Tom Tyler) who keeps peace in the jungle, where he has seemingly reigned for generations. Here he's battling any number of greedy adventurers in search of a lost treasure. The film is a great deal of fun and very enjoyable, though not as well-paced as the best Republic serials, such as Nyoka and the Tigermen. Tom Tyler carries the movie in the title role, as the latest in a line of men taking the identity of The Phantom, ruling over the jungle and battling evil. The major bonus feature is the commentary track by comic strip writer Max Allan Collins, which can be activated over the 30-minute opening chapter. He explains the origins of the character and the strip, and how the setting was altered in the strip from India to Africa, while the serial has a strange Polynesian/Aztec background. His lack of rehearsal costs him some time and opportunities in the discussion, but he is consistently interesting. On a purely technical level, VCI has done a great job with the film --the images look extraordinarily sharp throughout, and the sound has also been well preserved, except (as is pointed out on the outside of the package) for parts of chapter 11, in which some music, sound effects, and voices have been redubbed. The latter isn't obtrusive and, indeed, is almost seamless. The other bonus features are handy, and the menu and the serial itself are easy to negotiate, although the presence of the narration over chapter one means that if one wants to continue, the movie must be reaccessed (even if the narration isn't on) once that chapter ends. The appreciation of this double-DVD set, however, has to rest on one's enjoyment of the serial itself; Tyler -- who was a fine actor in his prime (and even after, when he was crippled by ill health) -- is a charismatic hero, but the level of thrills and adventure is sort of sub-Tarzan.
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Overview

Synopsis

The Phantom [Serial]
Lee Falk and Ray Moore's famous syndicated comic strip hero came to the screen in this 15 chapter serial produced by Rudolph C. Flotow for Columbia Pictures. Displaying unusually good judgment, the studio cast the still strapping former silent screen cowboy Tom Tyler as Geoffrey Prescott who, like generations of Prescotts before him, battles piracy and crime in Darkest Africa. Dressed in his trademark tights and black mask, The Phantom sallies forth to locate the lost city of Zolos, aided by his lovely fiancée, Diana Palmer (Jeanne Bates) and Ace, the Wonder Dog. The opposition is headed by the nefarious Dr. Bremmer (Kenneth MacDonald), but the good doctor is, in the long run, no match for the masked avenger who, in the final chapter, restores "Peace in the Jungle." One of Columbia's few worthwhile serials, The Phantom was yet another success for the popular and personable Tyler, who had earlier scored in the title role of Republic Pictures' The Adventures of Captain Marvel. Columbia filmed a belated and rather unnecessary sequel, The Adventures of Captain Africa (1949), starring John Hart, a bland actor who later played The Lone Ranger for one season on television when Clayton Moore went on strike. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Tom Tyler
    Tom Tyler - The Phantom/Godfrey Prescott
  • Image coming soon
    Frank Shannon - Professor Davidson
  • Jeanne Bates
    Jeanne Bates - Diana Palmer
  • Image coming soon
    Joe Devlin - Singapore Smith
  • Kenneth MacDonald
    Kenneth MacDonald - Dr. Max Bremmer
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