WFMU Ichiban, Rock and Soul with Debbie D

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Mid-Week Movie Break: The Adventures Of The Masked Phantom




“Maybe he’s got something on his chin he can’t erase/ and that’s why he wears that silly mask upon his face.…” Yes, the anthem our cloaked cowpoke The Masked Phantom is saddled with (joke intended) is more mockery than tribute, but fun all the same. This week’s Mid-Week Movie Break features a caped cowboy avenger lodged firmly somewhere between The Lone Ranger and The Shadow, and the only starring vehicle for one-time stunt pilot Monte ‘Alamo’ Rawlins, an aw-shucks John Wayne wannabe playing the part of a drifter named “Alamo” and the titular hero.



 The plot involves some nefarious goings-on at an ore mine owned and operated by young Stan Barton and his grandma Mary. Stan’s an upstanding, virtuous character, but his silent partner Robert Murdock, a shady business man from “back East”, has secretly taken control of the outfit, laundering stolen gold from his friends back home and mixing it with the ore mined from the Barton excavation site. The feds are on the track of the crooks, and with Murdock being a “silent” partner, all roads lead to Stan for the frame-up. Barton intends to hit the road and leave Stan holding the bag, but then fate lends a hand by having Alamo and his sidekick Boots The Wonder Dog (also billed as Boots The Human Dog) wander into the valley to intervene. Alamo steps in during a shootout between Stan and Murdock’s hired hands after the reveal of Murdock’s misdeeds. Stan and Alamo lose each other in the proceeding fracas, but Alamo makes his way to the Barton ranch where a surly Granny tells him of the legend of The Masked Phantom, a do-gooder who would throw a knife with a death’s head carved into the handle, bringing justice to a lawless valley years back. Alamo decides to take up the mantle of The Phantom to try and take down Murdock’s gang, believing that criminals are “a superstitious lot” (seems I’ve heard that somewhere before). With the help of crooning cowhand Tooney and gyrating goofball Dumpy, Alamo goes on a knife-throwing rampage to right all wrongs before trotting off into the sunset again. This was clearly staged as the hopeful first entry in a series of films for Alamo and his roving pals Dumpy and Tooney, but alas it wasn’t to be.

George Douglas as Sheriff Dubbitt (right) in Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman
Monte 'Alamo' Rawlins (left) and Tooney (Art Davis, billed as Larry Mason)
with Boots the Wonder Dog, who's just retrieved the Phantom's knife.


The Adventures Of The Masked Phantom is a 1939 low budget oater from the days of quickie b-westerns, produced by B.F. Zeidman Productions Ltd, who made a slew of quick exploitation pictures between 1922 and 1939. There are plot holes you could build a U-Store-It in, but the momentum here is pulp adventure fun, so leave reason under the sofa and enjoy the ride. I say that The Masked Phantom is lodged somewhere between The Lone Ranger and The Shadow because like The Lone Ranger, our hero wears a mask and dispenses some six-gun justice on dastardly evildoers, but his main offensive seems to be playing on the fear of the legend of The Phantom itself. The legend goes if you see the knife of The Phantom, you have twelve hours to live, so a good deal of Alamo’s time using the guise of our cloaked character seems to be dedicated to throwing knives at crowded boardwalks and cackling loudly to spook Murdock and his goons. 

Betty Burgess - photo from Univ. of Washington archives.
As stated above, Monte Rawlins was a stunt pilot from Washington who eventually made his way to Hollywood to try his hand at acting. He did some aerial stunt work and played a couple uncredited bit parts as cowhands until cast here in his lone starring role. Shorty after The Adventures Of The Masked Phantom he joined the Marine Corps during WWII, then became a sound engineer for poverty row production house Monogram Pictures and Disney Studios. Our crooning cowhand Tooney was played by b-western stalwart Art Davis who played largely uncredited roles in films like Border G-Man and Code Of The Cactus. Sadly, despite a majority of his roles being musical, I’ve yet to find evidence that he actually recorded any music. If anyone can provide anything that suggests otherwise, I’d be greatly interested in hearing it. Our comic relief Dumpy is played by bit part actor and skilled dancer Sonny Lamont; you can see him hot footin’ it in MGM’s A Letter for Evie with Marsha Hunt and John Carroll, as well as in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. Baddie Murdock is played by actor George Douglas, the member of the cast list who has the most credits to his name, including parts in Ichiban friendly favorites like Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (as Sheriff Dubbitt) and The Colossus Of New York. Stan is played by Matty Kemp, actor and producer who later became the caretaker of the estate of actress Mary Pickford. Stan’s hardly utilized love interest Carol is played by actress Betty Burgess, whose white bra is seen burning through her sweater the entire picture. You’d think someone would’ve pointed that out to her, but with a sweater so tight that it looks like you’d need a potato peeler to remove it, maybe there just wasn’t time for a wardrobe change. The picture was directed by Charles Abbott, who directed only one other picture, another b-western called The Fighting Texan, two years prior. My favorite character, Granny, played by Dot Karroll in her only film role, sings a song called “A Rip Snortin’ Two Gun Gal” while firing off a pair of pistols in the living room. That wasn’t pressed to 78 either, unfortunately, but that same year Patsy Montana and the Prairie Ramblers recorded a version for Okeh, and you now have the privilege of hearing it here.

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