The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind), Chapter 5: Thundering Rails

Thundering Rails is mostly vehicular action. It starts with Robert Kent and Dorothy Arnold trying to land a damaged plane while dropping hand grenades on the foreign spies (being careful not to hurt good guys Regis Toomey and Edwin Stanley). Then there’s a bunch of car chases. The cliffhanger–which isn’t a cliffhanger at all–involves a train, hence the title.

Rails still splits the story between the three sets–the good guys (Army Intelligence), the bad guys (foreign agents), and Bela Lugosi (the mad scientist). Lugosi is trying to get his secret element back from the bad guys, while the good guys are trying to get Stanley back from them.

There’s not much Lugosi, except when he’s invisible, and Jack C. Smith is annoying in all those scenes. Smith’s performance, like many in Phantom Creeps, is trying. Like when Stanley is doing experiments for the bad guys with Lugosi’s element–which can put people into suspended animation; Stanley’s exceptionally trying.

While none of the bad guys are distinct (in any good way) and there’s no Edward Van Sloan after the opening, breaking up the Kent scenes really does help. It’s still not good, but it could be so much more grating.

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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