Phantom of the Air (1933)

Article 2005 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-10-2006
Posting Date: 2-7-2007
Directed by Ray Taylor
Featuring Tom Tyler, Gloria Shea, LeRoy Mason

A flyer who works for the border patrol agrees to test an inventor’s anti-gravity device, and then attempts to protect his invention from smugglers.

As far as I know, there’s no feature version of this serial, but if there is, I hope the editors were smart enough to emphasize footage from the first episode and the last three episodes of the serial rather than the eight in the middle. It’s only about episode nine that this serial really comes to life; up to that point, it’s either unmemorable or disappointing. One of the problems I have with it is that the serial puts forth a cool science fiction device (a contragrav – that is, an anti-gravity device), but then does nothing else with it but install it in a plane and then control it from a distance. Other than the fact that the plane can be controlled remotely, it moves and acts just like any other plane, which I find pretty disappointing. Another problem is the serial overuses some of its aerial stunts, such as people climbing out on the wings of the plane; these can be pretty exciting scenes taken individually, but not several times in succession. Worst of all, the villain remains something of a nonentity during the first nine episodes, and it’s really hard to care about a serial when the villain is this dull; it’s only when he decides to visit the scientist’s isolated airport in the last few chapters that he and the serial come to life and actually starts delivering the thrills. Walter Brennan is in here somewhere, but I didn’t spot him. Hero Tom Tyler is mostly known for his B-westerns from the period.



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