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Original lobby card, monochrome, 11x14 inches, advertising the 12th and final chapter of the 1935 sci-fi/Western serial from Mascot Pictures, "The Phantom Empire," starring future Placerita Canyon movie ranch owner Gene Autry (shown here with Dorothy Christy as Queen Tika). The chapter title is "The End of Murania."
It was Gene Autry's first starring film role and one of the last serials to bear the Mascot name (not the last, but close). Nat Levine's Mascot Pictures Corp. (1927-1935) was the king of the 12-part chapter play (sometimes 10, sometimes 15, but usually 12); they didn't cost much to make, and they were guaranteed sales at a time when theaters paid for films by the foot under the states' rights sytem. Audiences expected to see the next chapter week after week. "The Phantom Empire" ran 250 minutes in total; most chapters were about 20 minutes.
Mascot Pictures routinely used the Santa Clarita Valley for locations (although maybe not for "The Phantom Empire"); interiors, such as the one shown here, were filmed at the Mack Sennett Studios in L.A.'s Silver Lake district, or at the General Services studio in Hollywood.
Later this same year (1935), Levine gave Autry star billing in a 6-reel Western feature film, Republic Pictures' "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" — partially filmed in Placerita Canyon — and the Gene Autry Western was born. In between "The Phantom Empire" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," Levine folded his Mascot company into Herbert Yates' reformulated Republic and became head of production for Republic.
"The Phantom Empire" Plot Synopsis from Gene Autry Entertainment:
Radio Ranch is a dude ranch resort owned by Tom Baxter and popular radio entertainer Gene Autry. Twenty thousand feet beneath the Ranch lies the super-scientific, highly advanced kingdom of Murania which is rich in radium deposits and ruled by the beautiful Queen Tika [Dorothy Christy]. Gene's radio contract is such that he must broadcast daily from the ranch or he will lose it. Complications arise when a discredited scientist tries to steal the ranch from Gene for its radium and the Queen tries to protect her kingdom from the outside world by getting rid of Gene Autry and the Junior Thunder Riders.
Chapter 12: "The End of Murania" (19 minutes):
Oscar [Smiley Burnette] and Pete [William Moore] arrive in time to pull Gene from the path of the ray. They also rescue Queen Tika. They rush to regain the control room while Argo [Wheeler Oakman] is temporarily trapped. The ray is turned up, goes wild, and starts to destroy Murania. Argo and his men are killed. The Queen orders Gene and everyone up to the surface, refusing to go herself because it would be "living death." She dies in the destruction, while Gene and friends make it to the surface. Gene returns to the ranch and is able to get Beetson to confess to Baxter's murder. The ranch is safe as Gene sings his last song, "Uncle Noah's Ark," for the final broadcast of the season.
"The Phantom Empire" also features child actor Frankie Darro; Betsy Baxter as Betsy King Ross, World's Champion Trick Rider; and Charles K. French, Warner Richmond, J. Frank Glendon, Peter Potter, Edward Peil Sr. and Jack Carlyle. Stunt performers are Ken Cooper (Autry's double), Jim Corey, Ray "Crash" Corrigan, Jack Jones, Tracy Layne, George Magrill, Ted Mapes, Eddie Parker, Richard Talmadge, Wally West and Jay Wilsey.
Further reading: Nat Levine, Mascot & Republic Film Producer.
LW3734: 9600 dpi jpeg from original lobby card purchased 2020 by Leon Worden.