The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind), Chapter 12: To Destroy the World

Sadly, there’s not much world destroying in To Destroy the World. Not even when Bela Lugosi, finally reunited with his meteorite and able to escape, decides instead he’s going to steal a biplane and bomb things. Starting with the federal building. Only he drops a bomb on a zeppelin, which does indeed crash and burn, but there’s no sign of a building being destroyed. Then he bombs a warehouse. A small one.

The stock footage really doesn’t match the grandeur of the accompanying newspaper headlines–it’s a busy day for the paper; they get out at least two editions during Lugosi’s wild plane ride. Luckily henchman Jack C. Smith can fly a plane. This wild ride accounts for around five minutes of the chapter’s run time, which is more than enough. Especially given how silly the stock footage of the chase planes gets.

And Destroy the World has already been real silly. The opening has the foreign spies putting on their Halloween masks… and promptly getting caught by good guy Robert Kent and intrepid reporter Dorothy Arnold. Sadly, the chapter also subjects the audience to Kent and Arnold being “charismatic,” which is painful given their terrible performances.

There’s some nonsense where Kent calls in the Army to raid Lugosi’s house–they’re just sure he’s in there somewhere–and the Army does indeed show up. Seeing a bunch of soldiers, complete with WWI Brodie helmets, attacking a giant robot ought to be more amusing. It’s not.

It’s a little more fun watching Smith talk down to the (non-sentient) robot. Smith’s godawful in the scene, but it’s somehow an appropriate moment for the character.

To Destroy the World is pretty bad; all of The Phantom Creeps is pretty bad. There was zero chance it’d end well.


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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