Dorothy Arnold

The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind)

For the first few chapters, Bela Lugosi can carry The Phantom Creeps. He’s hamming it up as a mad scientist surrounded by actors who can’t even ham. Creeps has some truly terrible performances, particularly from its other leads, Robert Kent and Dorothy Arnold. He’s the military intelligence officer out to discover what’s happened to Lugosi’s missing research–Lugosi fakes his death because he wants to sell his secrets to foreign agents. Arnold’s the reporter who’s after the story. Kent’s got a negative amount of charm. Arnold’s charm level is extraordinarily low, but it’s not negative. But when the two of them have a scene and banter… the chemistry is toxic.

And then Lugosi’s got this palooka ex-con sidekick, Jack C. Smith. Smith is awful too. Edwin Stanley and Regis Toomey–as other good guys–they’re terrible. Edward Van Sloan–who could be reuniting with Lugosi post-Dracula here–is the leader of the spy ring. He’s terrible. Anthony Averill, as the lead henchman who does all the action scenes, goes from bad to okay. Mostly because by the end of the serial, Lugosi’s nowhere to be seen–literally–and Averill’s just not as patently unlikable as everyone else.

Lugosi’s missing from the second half because he’s mostly being The Phantom, which is what he calls himself when he’s using his invisibility belt. Lugosi has four inventions. He has the invisibility belt, he has an iron robot (remote controlled), he has these discs and mechanical spiders–when the spider crawls to the disc, it explodes and puts anyone nearby in suspended animation–and then he has another suspended animation device, a ray-gun. If there is anything else, he doesn’t use it often. I may have blocked too much of Creeps from my memory already–for example, I can’t remember if it’s a flub when the bad guys know Lugosi’s alias because no one sees him in the half chapter he uses that alias or if someone does see him. It’s not worth remembering.

The serial starts with Lugosi faking his death. But the spies want what he was going to sell them so they go to his house to try to get it. But the federal agents also want what Lugosi was going to sell because his old friend, Stanley, ratted him out for, you know, wanting to commit treason. Stanley’s a square from the start.

Anyway, the first half of the serial–so, you know, six twenty-minute chapters–is the good guys and bad guys goofing off around the house while Lugosi and Smith try to escape. They have to keep coming back to the house because their secret base is underneath it. In the second half of the serial, Lugosi’s secret element–from a meteor, I think–gets traded back and forth between good guys, bad guys, and Lugosi for five chapters. Sure, there are different locations, but rarely any original big action footage. Lots of stock footage instead. Lots of not matching at all stock footage.

And some things about Creeps are just relentlessly bad. Kent’s investigatory reasoning is nil. The way the good guys and bad guys meet is when one of them sees the other driving on the highway, so they then follow them. It happens over and over and over and over again. Even when it’s a different shooting location, it’s just how the screenwriters make these things happen.

There are no gems in the script. There’s no funny bit part. There are no diamonds in the rough, acting-wise. There is some charm to the special effects, but only in the first half really. By the second half it’s all invisiblity stuff (sometimes reusing the same footage) and it’s not particularly creative. It seems creative the first time Lugosi vanishes, not the rest. Mostly because he doesn’t interact with anyone. Occasionally an inanimate object, but it’s not like he’s pantsing the good guys while invisible.

The music is a bunch material of thirties Universal horror scores. It’s kind of cool to hear the music. Not really alongside anything going on onscreen, of course.

The direction’s not good. It’s not atrocious, unless somehow Beebe and Goodkind could’ve gotten better performances out of the cast. It doesn’t seem possible. Technically, nothing stands out.

The cliffhangers in The Phantom Creeps are particularly bad. Usually people just survive disasters. There’s something like one death in the thing; no one’s in much danger, if any. Though at least Arnold never gets used as damsel. She does get used as Toomey’s doormat, which is a particularly tiring affair. She’s going to steal boss Kent away with her feminine wiles or something. Or maybe there’s no reason for it. There’s no reason for anything in Creeps. It just goes on and on and on.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

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).


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.

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).


The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind), Chapter 11: The Blast

The Blast features some of Phantom Creeps’s most prevalent tropes. Good guys following bad guys because they happened to drive and pass one another. Jack C. Smith’s henchman (to Bela Lugosi’s mad scientist) getting shot and dazed. Smith’s been shot at least three times (and dazed) in the serial. Sometimes even with multiple shots.

Guns work different in Phantom Creeps.

But as the penultimate chapter, it’s got nothing going for it. The cliffhanger resolution at the open is another where there isn’t a cliffhanger. Disaster occurs, people just get through it unharmed. Nothing hurts in Phantom Creeps. I don’t think anyone’s died since they killed off Lugosi’s wife in the second chapter.

The story’s the same as it has been for what seems like half the serial. Spies have the meteorite, good guys want the meteorite, Lugosi wants the meteorite. Oh, and there’s more scenes at Lugosi’s house, which he packed up to leave in the first chapter. But he keeps coming back.

Just like Smith keeps getting shot.

Some particularly bad acting from Regis Toomey and Edward Van Sloan this chapter, enough to overshadow even Robert Kent and Dorothy Arnold.

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).


The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind), Chapter 10: Phantom Footprints

The title, Phantom Footprints, could almost refer to when a spy–seeing invisible Bela Lugosi’s shadow–thinks there might be something there. But then another spy just tells the first spy to shut up about it. It happens twice, first with Anthony Averill saying it’s stupid, then (after Averill starts talking about it) with Edward Van Sloan saying it’s stupid (and inconsequential).

Of course, given the spies are once again back at Lugosi’s house, where he hopes to trap them and get back his meteorite, everything in Phantom Creeps is inconsequential. People keep doing the same things, over and over, as the serial churns through chapters.

Footprints opens after the previous chapter’s cliffhanger. The good guys survive, but are stranded at sea. Amid floating debris, they tread water instead of hanging off anything buoyant. They tread water for a long time too, because hero Robert Kent–seeing them in the water from his plane–goes and lands, then drives out to the harbor, finds a boat, takes it out to rescue them.

Presumably he could’ve called it in at some point, but then Kent wouldn’t be the hero. He also doesn’t call in the spy schooner in the harbor–something Van Sloan worries about–because, frankly, Phantom Creeps has a lousy script.

The chapter churns along, giving Jack C. Smith (Lugosi’s sidekick) and Edwin Stanley (the good scientist) busywork until it can get to the action-packed finale. Lugosi in a fistfight with a railroad switch operator and Kent with one of the spies. Not good fights. But at least the Kent one doesn’t have any obviously not Lugosi stuntman in too many of the shots.

Phantom Creeps is almost over. It’s yet to do anything interesting. It’s even made the giant killer robot (but not really killer as it turns out) boring.

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).


The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind), Chapter 9: Speeding Doom

Speeding Doom once again has the good guys, bad guys, and Bela Lugosi trying to get Lugosi’s box. In the box is a powerful meteorite, which allows for all of Lugosi’s inventions. But the good guys and bad guys don’t know about it yet. They still aren’t sure Lugosi’s alive.

Until the bad guys chase Lugosi’s car, which leads to a sequence where he’s a complete fool and lets the box get away, but also has footage reused from the first or second chapter. At least there’s some humor when he makes a captured henchman change his flat tire. Creeps doesn’t acknowledge the humor of it, which would definitely be too much to ask.

Most of the action has the bad guys trying to get the box out of the country. Via schooner. Dastardly foreign agents and their schooners.

Dorothy Arnold comes in–she sees the bad guys drive past, as there’s only one or two major roads in Phantom Creeps–and ends up in the final action sequence. Her presence is only notable because it’s some of the worst direction in Phantom Creeps so far.

In the (as always) lackluster cliffhanger resolution at the beginning, there is at least the humor (and humility) of Regis Toomey’s very unattractive balding getting a showcase thanks to wet hair.

I can’t remember what this serial was about before it was everyone trying to get this box. With three chapters left, it’s clearly not going to be about much else.

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).


The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind), Chapter 8: Trapped in the Flames

Trapped in the Flames is yet another exciting installment of The Phantom Creeps. Yet again, the Feds (led by Robert Kent) pursue the foreign agents (Anthony Averill’s the chief henchman, Edward Van Sloan’s the boss) trying to find Bela Lugosi’s missing box. No one but Lugosi (presumed dead by both parties) knows what’s in the box. He’s also after the box. He has an invisibility belt and a scheming sidekick, Jack C. Smith.

And, of course, Dorothy Arnold is around to be told to shut up and stay out of the way. It’s hard to have much sympathy for Arnold, although she’s treated terribly by Kent and his main sidekick, Regis Toomey, because her performance is so bad. Even when it’s a handful of lines, like in Flames, she’s so bad. Ditto Edwin Stanley as the good guy scientist. He’s real bad too, no matter how small his part.

There’s some car chases–not really chases, more like following with speed–and a fistfight and then a warehouse fire (hence the title). And Lugosi’s invisible form, outwitting both Fed and foreign agent. Meanwhile, Lugosi can’t figure out Jack C. Smith’s scheming against him, even though Smith’s performance–scientifically speaking–couldn’t have less nuance.

Most of the chapter is just indistinct male actors in fedoras talking to other indistinct male actors in fedoras about driving somewhere.

Though Averill’s far better than when he started. It might just be he’s not as awful as Kent, Arnold, Stanley, or Smith. Or Toomey. Though Toomey at least comes across like a violent misogynist, which means enthusiasm, something no one else musters.

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).


The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind), Chapter 7: The Menacing Mist

The Menacing Mist is endless. It starts with Bela Lugosi trying to kill Robert Kent with his remote control robot, but then he has to deal with some insurrection from lackey Jack C. Smith. Kent’s just doing action, so at least he’s not doing bad acting. Smith, on the other hand, is doing some bad acting. Some real bad acting. Even when the effects should provide some cover, he’s real, real bad.

Of course, Lugosi’s character is real, real dumb; he deserves the insurrection.

The slight improvement of the last chapter is all gone here. The opening scrawl recap reveals last chapter’s plot twist isn’t really a plot twist, then the cliffhanger resolve turns out–as always–there’s no actual danger for anyone in Creeps.

Kent and Arnold deliver lines like they’re in a failed screen test.

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).


The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind), Chapter 6: The Iron Monster

Phantom Creeps hits the halfway point with some intrigue involving one of the cast possibly being a double agent (fingers crossed as it’d give the plot something engaging) and Bela Lugosi getting a new weapon, a kind of ray gun.

The ray gun doesn’t get much usage after the demonstration because Lugosi sics his robot (the Iron Monster of chapter title) on good guy Robert Kent. It’s the cliffhanger, but there’s at least the momentary hope the robot will do away with Kent.

Until the second half of the chapter–when the double agent subplot gets hinted–Iron is rough-going. The cliffhanger resolution from last chapter is real long, playing lots of the previous chapter in the setup. Then it’s just people driving around and seeing other people driving around to follow and move the story (story might be a stretch) forward.

Also, sadly, it’s not like finally having the robot attack means the scene is well-executed. Beebe and Goodkind’s direction doesn’t magically improve. Though the script finally acknowledges, halfway into the serial, it’s idiotic to have presumed dead Lugosi’s secret hideout in the house where the Feds are stationed.

Maybe things will improve going forward into the second half.

Probably not.

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).


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).


The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind), Chapter 4: Invisible Terror

I suppose Invisible Terror, which doesn’t feature much invisible terror, is an improvement over the previous chapter. Terror does have Edward Van Sloan in a full flight suit waving a gun around threateningly. Not many opportunities to see such a thing.

The story continues to be Feds versus gangsters with Bela Lugosi (still thought dead) on the sidelines. Even when he uses his invisibility device to infiltrate the Feds’ headquarters–Edwin Stanley’s home lab. Stanley has an extremely dangerous substance and Robert Kent decides it’d be better to have it in a residential area than the government building in case it blows.

Priorities.

Kent–and lead sidekick Regis Toomey–can’t really get their heads around the case. For example, they think Jack C. Smith is one of the foreign agents, not Igoring for Lugosi. Kent once again shoots Smith multiple times–to get him to drop something–but it turns out okay because Lugosi can heal wounds with a ray.

It’s only the fourth chapter and the screenwriters have already given up on trying with the plot contrivances (maybe they did in the first and I’m blocking it). Dorothy Arnold just inserts herself into every situation, whether it makes sense or not.

The cliffhanger sequence is competently done, which is something. It’s not compelling because who cares, it doesn’t involve Lugosi and he’s all Creeps has got, but it is competently executed. Not sure much of it is original footage, so kudos to the editors for putting it together.

Shame they couldn’t make it dramatic too.

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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