There’s no reason for The Phantom Car to have its title. There are cars in the chapter, yes, but none of them have any supernatural traits. In fact, the one “mysterious” car-related incident–the chapter’s cliffhanger–explains the gimmick to the viewer while never showing the characters’ peril. Phantom indeed.
Car is actually a lot less tedious than the previous Clutching Hand chapters. There’s still a lot of tediousness going on, as well as overly confident writing movies. This whole subplot involving Robert Walker and Jon Hall hanging around the victim’s house, where nothing happens except Walker purposefully loitering–it’s a lot to bother with. Especially when Walker and Hall don’t have lines, just temporary presence.
Perhaps their car is the phantom car.
The chapter opens with an inept but grandiose fight sequence. Super-sleuth lead Jack Mulhall isn’t just a great detective, he knows his fisticuffs and can fight his way through a dozen or so sailors. They didn’t buy his disguise. On the way out–to meet sidekick Rex Lease–Mulhall comes across Roy Cardona, who is still in a questionable wig, and brings him in for questioning. Cardona pretended to be in a wheelchair and Mulhall’s caught him.
Only for the villain to kidnap Cardona. Mulhall’s dealing with a thug and Lease disobeys orders. Lease wants to get in some fisticuffs of his own but gets immediately knocked out of the fight.
So lot of fighting in Car, but almost all in the first half. And the second fight is a rooftop fight. It’s not well choreographed or well directed, but there’s ambiance to the rooftop. The incidental noises give it some character, which Clutching Hand is always sorely lacking. Director Herman is impersonal and unimaginative.
All the fighting is time killer until it’s time for Marion Shilling to tell step-mom Mae Busch (who’s meeting with a mysterious man of her own) about how secretary Ruth Mix has found the gold formula. Maybe. It seems like an excuse to give the female actors scenes, but it’s still a lot more interesting than watching Mulhall and Lease stand around pretending to science. So Busch wants to call Mulhall, only Mix has gotten a mysterious note and run off.
So they have to go after her, which gets Car to the cliffhanger. After a really bad car chase. The villain has got this monitor showing the car chase in progress on a city map. It’s not a successful device for multiple reasons, but… it’s kind of an ambitious special effect for Clutching Hand. They’re almost trying.
It might also just be I’m getting used to the banality of it all.
Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.
Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).