Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Bela Lugosi, Robert Kent, Dorothy Arnold, Edwin Stanley, Regis Toomey, Jack C. Smith, Edward Van Sloan, Dora Clement, Anthony Averill, Hugh Huntley, Monte Vandergrift, Frank Mayo, Jim Farley, Eddie Acuff, Reed Howes, Ed Wolff
Written by: George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, Mildred Barish, based on a story by Willis Cooper
Directed by: Ford Beebe, Saul A. Goodkind
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 240
Date: 10/17/1939
IMDB

The Phantom Creeps (1939)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Invisible Robot Spiders

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I really enjoyed this nutty 12-part serial, starring Bela Lugosi as a mad scientist. Some of these nearly-forgotten, low-tier kids' attractions -- screened in 20-minute increments over 12 weeks of Saturdays -- managed to get away with crazier ideas than any Hollywood movie would dare. In The Phantom Creeps, Dr. Zorka (Lugosi) hopes to take over the world with three inventions, all derived from a strange, recovered meteor. He has a belt that makes the wearer invisible and he commands a giant robot with a snarling, metallic face. But his strangest weapon of all requires him to plant a small metallic disc somewhere on his victim, after which he unleashes a mechanical spider. Once the spider reaches the device, it causes an explosion and the victim goes into a state of "suspended animation," from which he can only be awakened by Zorka. The film has its share of bland, interchangeable heroes as well as a plucky, Lois Lane-type reporter (Dorothy Arnold) -- though Lois had only been invented less than a year earlier. A bunch of spies, apparently without a country or an affiliation, try to steal the meteor and its secrets. Jack C. Smith makes an impression as Zorka's lunkhead, cowardly lackey, and Regis Toomey and Edward Van Sloan are other familiar faces. Lugosi, however, steals the show with an outlandish performance as only he could deliver.

DVD Details: VCI Entertainment has re-released this gem on a single DVD, though it has been previously available. Each chapter is divided into its own counter sequence, so you're only watching 20 minutes at a time rather than a daunting 240 minutes. The quality is variable, with scratches and jumps in the soundtrack, but the picture is bright and the dialogue is clear. Extras include a great, early Chuck Jones/Porky Pig cartoon -- Porky's Midnight Matinee (1941) -- and promos for other serials on DVD.

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