Radio Ranch (1935)

“If we could capture Gene Autry, Radio Ranch would soon become deserted, and the entrance to our underground kingdom would remain forever undiscovered.”

Synopsis:
When singing cowboy Gene Autry is kidnapped by inhabitants of a uranium-rich kingdom in the middle of the earth, it’s up to two of his devoted young radio fans — Frankie (Frankie Darro) and Betsy (Betsy King Ross) — to rescue him.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, “lovers of ‘B’ westerns and sci-fi serials will get a kick out of this feature, which was condensed from the popular 12-part Mascot serial, The Phantom Empire” (now available in its original episodic form on DVD). Radio Ranch offers a truly heady mix of genres and elements (horses! songs! robots! revolutionaries! uranium thieves! an underground death chamber!), and seems squarely designed to appeal to adventure-seeking youngsters of the day. Playing himself, Gene Autry stars as “a radio singing star who discovers that crooks are trying to get uranium on his land”, and, “while running for his life… happens upon the cave entrance to a futuristic city… 20,000 feet below his Radio Ranch”, where he’s promptly captured and must be rescued by his brave young friends. As you’d expect, the acting is at the level of grammar school children putting on an after-school performance — and the costumes and sets aren’t much more sophisticated (click here to read about how the silly robot costumes were actually re-purposed after life in a Joan Crawford flick!). Meanwhile, the dialogue is about as basic as can be: “Autry has escaped! You must find him at once and bring him to our rebel headquarters!” It’s not exactly scintillating stuff — but it remains fascinating simply from a historical perspective.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A representative look at 1930s serial films

Must See?
Yes, as a classic example of the serial “kiddie flick”. Check out Moria’s review for a nice overview of the genre. As a public domain title, Radio Ranch is available for free viewing on www.archive.org.

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