The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind), Chapter 2: Death Stalks the Highways

Despite a stupefying cliffhanger resolution–disasters happen, people just don’t get hurt–Death Stalks the Highways turns out not too bad. Comparatively.

Take Bela Lugosi for instance. He tries real hard with some of his acting. It’s not good, but he’s trying. The trying gets him ahead of Robert Kent, who’s not good but also not trying. Dorothy Arnold is initially a little less annoying than last chapter, but eventually she gets back to her previous grating achievement.

Lugosi gets to use his invisibility powers, which means invisible man special effects. They’re not great, but they’re not terrible. The visible “phantom” isn’t a particularly good idea. It’s a bad effect and a questionable idea. Why not just make him invisible?

But Highways is full of questionable ideas, like when Kent shoots someone six or seven times (I didn’t count) at near point blank range and only stuns the culprit. Kent tells Arnold he was shooting to stun. Because bullets work different in Phantom Creeps.

Much of the chapter is Lugosi and sidekick Jack C. Smith trying to get back to the laboratory for stuff they left behind. Directors Beebe and Goodkind do pretty good with the creepy house stuff–reporter Arnold is there, trying to scoop Army copper Kent, while Lugosi and Smith are cleaning out the lab. They’re got help from the robot. The robot’s a hoot.

And there are some decent shots towards the end. Phantom Creeps is surprisingly decent a few times in Highways. I’m not exactly hopeful–Kent’s really, really bad–but the serial’s not dread-worthy. Well, maybe not dread-worthy.

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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