The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind), Chapter 1: The Menacing Power

The Menacing Power does all right setting up the hook of The Phantom Creeps–Bela Lugosi is a mad scientist with various technological inventions he’s going to use for nefarious purposes–and even manages to gracefully segue between the expository setup and the chapter’s cliffhanger.

So far Lugosi’s made an invisibility wearable, an eight-foot plus tall robot, and discovered a new element. That new element lets him blow things up and put people in comas. Lugosi puts the positive part of the element somewhere, then puts the negative part on a spider. The spider crawls over, somehow attracted to the positive, and boom. It’s ludicrous and the pull-string spider is probably Power’s worst effect. Some of the composite shots are iffy, but the jerky movement of the spider wins. The composite shots appear to be reused footage. Spider is for Creeps.

Lugosi’s kind of terrible but only until the other cast members get more to do. Leading man Robert Kent is fairly atrocious, ditto leading lady Dorothy Arnold. He’s an Army captain out to get Lugosi’s technology for the U.S.A. (Lugosi wants to sell to a foreign power because money) and Arnold is a reporter. Undoubtedly some sparks will fly later on.

This chapter also introduces Edwin Stanley as Lugosi’s former science partner, Dora Clement as Lugosi’s suffering wife, and Jack C. Smith as his monosyllabic sidekick and lab assistant. Directors Beebe and Goodkind don’t seem like they spend much time on actors’ performances; both Stanley and Clement disappoint, but Smith’s solid. He finds Lugosi obnoxious. It makes him immediately sympathetic.

Phantom Creeps isn’t off to a great start, but it’s also not off to an intolerable one. The title refers to Lugosi. When invisible, he calls himself the Phantom.

CREDITS

Directed by Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind; screenplay by George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Mildred Barish, based on a story by Wyllis Cooper; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and William A. Sickner; edited by Irving Birnbaum, Joseph Gluck, and Alvin Todd; music by Charles Previn; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Bela Lugosi (Dr. Alex Zorka), Robert Kent (Capt. Bob West), Dorothy Arnold (Jean Drew), Jack C. Smith (Monk), Regis Toomey (Jim Daly), Edwin Stanley (Dr. Fred Mallory), Anthony Averill (Rankin), Dora Clement (Ann Zorka), Hugh Huntley (Perkins), and Edward Van Sloan (Jarvis).


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