To my surprise, the episodes are available for free download on iTunes. (As they were made in 1940, I think that they’re out of copyright and hence free.)
I also wanted to see what other film serials were available. My childhood favourite, King of the Rocketmen wasn’t there, meaning I’ve still not discovered the identity of the evil Dr Vulcan. (The title is derived from the Rocketman’s surname being King – he doesn’t fly around wearing a crown. They did the same thing with King of the Mounties. But without the rocketpack.)
The plot apparently came to the writer while he was having a tooth removed under anaesthetic – and it shows.
The hero is singing cowboy Gene Autry, played by Gene Autry. He hosts a radio show from his ranch, where he and his friends sing country and western songs to the nation.
However, an evil scientist (complete with evil goatee) wants the ranch land for its huge radium deposits. (Presumably he owns a luminous watch factory.) He plans to do this by killing Gene on the assumption that the ranch will then be abandoned. (The possibility of there being a big police investigation into the murder of a well-known radio celebrity doesn’t seem to occur to him.)
But there’s also a hidden underground civilization, many miles below the earth, ruled over by an evil queen and equiped with rayguns and robots that look awfully like Marvin the Paranoid Android. (They still ride horses though.)
The evil queen decides that the surface people are getting too close to the entrance to the hidden civilization, which is on the ranch land. She also decides the best way to the problem is to kill off poor Gene.
The scene then set for lots of horse chases, fist fights and people falling off cliffs. When I last left Gene, he was plummeting off a cliff with his two sidekicks and was late for the start of his radio show. How will he get out of this one? Well, there’s only one way to find out – excuse me as I go and watch the next exciting instalment of The Phantom Empire…