The Phantom Creeps (1939)

Article #121 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-15-2001
Posting date: 11-28-2001

A mad scientist creates inventions that can be used to take over the world. Government agents try to prevent him from doing so, and foreign spies try to steal his secrets.

The plot is set up in the first two episodes of this serial, and the next nine episodes involve a box which contains the source of the scientist’s power being stolen back and forth between the various parties involved. Admittedly, it does find a bit of variety in coming up with ways to vary this particular routine, but you are still aware that the actual story has ground to a halt by this point; it’s only in the last episode when Dr. Zorkov unleashes his attack on the world (such as it is) that the plot starts moving again.

Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in this old serial. Bela Lugosi does well, especially at the top of the second episode when he discovers that his attempt to cover up his tracks has caused the death of his wife. Edward Van Sloan is also on hand as the head of the spy ring. The real star of this one may be the world’s ugliest robot (played by Ed Wolff); that permanently grimacing face is a scream. After a while, you notice how the robot is trotted out at some point in each episode, even if it has nothing better to do at that point than to carry a heavy box.

Here’s a list of other fun things to watch for.

1) Notice how many times Lugosi’s cowardly assistant is shot by the police or the spies, and this generally fatal event always results in nothing worse than stunning the man.

2) Count the number of times Lugosi sics the robot on his own assistant to keep him in line.

3) Notice how many times the assistant complains about being in danger.

4) Enjoy the most ridiculous sequence in the serial when Lugosi decides to move his hideout out of his home and into the same office building where the spies reside. Lugosi knows the spies are there, but he decides that it will give him an opportunity to keep an eye on them. His box of power is then stolen within minutes of moving into the new hideout. This is not, in my opinion, one of the scientist’s more brilliant ideas.

And just as a side comment, even after watching all twelve episodes, I still couldn’t tell the difference between the two government agents in the serial. I think it might have helped if they had had personalities.


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