The new Phantom (actor Tom Tyler) arrives to replace his fatally poisoned father and is plunged into fighting two factions and helping another, Professor Davidson (actor Frank Shannon) and his niece, Diana (actress Jeanne Bates) and their party seeking a missing key stone to pointing a way to the lost jungle city of Zoloz. There is a criminal fraction after the Zoloz treasure and a Nazi group who have found the city but are using it to conceal weapons. These overlap from time to time, with a lot of duplicity, but both dislike the Phantom’s intervention and seek to kill the Ghost Who Walks. There is a lot of double-play and things rush along too quickly for them to figures who’s traitorous too late. To be fair, these people are also very good at covering their own tracks and none of it was dumbing down.
Spread over fifteen episodes, this 1943 Saturday morning action thriller has the Phantom rescued by others more often than not, including his dog, Devil (Ace, the wonder dog), far more than when he saves himself. There was some ambiguity as to who knows what about the Phantom’s background and in the last episode, he mentions his father to the Palmers, literally giving away his own secret to outsiders of never dying.
Although I haven’t seen any of the other period piece costumed series, ‘The Phantom’ actually holds up rather well. It hits on all the things associated with the comicstrip series. Even though the Phantom appears initially under the name of Geoffrey Prescott, incognito later he takes the name of Walker. Logistically, one could surmise that Prescott was the alias. After all, you wouldn’t want to have the association to Walker made too early to his costumed alter-ego. Speaking of which, when he leaves his costume behind, you would think in a tropical area wearing a trench coat, hat and dark glasses, that he might appear out of place more than in costume. We also have his amour, Diana Palmer, even if she has a different surname. Not yet anything but a friend, one would have to have wondered had there been a second series would that have developed. As Tyler went on to play Captain Marvel, that was no longer an option.
Although in black and white, the Phantom is rather impressive in costume and even has the stripes shorts. I often thought that they might have made him stand out but the series shows the entire costume is an effective camouflage. Tom Tyler gives a certain amount of gravitas to the role and certainly appears to do all of his own stunts, which he had a lot of practice in before moving up through the ranks.
The audio commentary over the first episode by mystery writer Max Allan Collins reveals most details about the newspaper strip character and his career that you might not know. One thing he didn’t cover and which has always puzzled me is just how much of a knife-edge the Phantom’s back story is. I mean, if he dies before he fathers a successor, the Ghost stops walking.
I was pleasantly surprised how good this story was and how it hold up. Granted there are some flaws like the gorilla costume and a jungle that has both tigers and lions or anyone who gets into a fight with him is going to have a splash of skull marks on their faces but considering the budget and stretching to fifteen episodes is still an accomplishment. This DVD is selling quite strongly so there are a lot of Phantom fans out there, especially in Australia, so don’t leave it too long before getting a copy.
(region 1 DVD: pub: VCI Entertainment #8268. 2 DVDs 299 minutes 15* 25 minute black and white episodes. Price: about £10.00 (UK) if you know where to look)
cast: Tom Tyler, Jeanne Bates, Kenneth MacDonald, Frank Shannon, Guy Kingsford, Joe Devlin, Ernie Adams, John S. Bagni and Ace, the wonder dog