'The Phantom Rider: Restored Edition' [Blu-ray]
(Buck Jones, Marla Shelton, Diana Gibson, Harry Woods, Frank Larue, et al / Blu-ray / NR / 2020 / VCI Entertainment - MVD Visual)
Overview: Buck Jones, the great king of outdoor adventure drama in his most exciting and mysterious role? Playing a daring lone hand against a band of ruthless outlaws, who stop at nothing to steal control of every ranch in the valley and the fabulous gold mine of one of their victims!
Not even the girl he loved and fought for knew who he was? An amazing series of daring adventures and astounding escapades!
Spine-tingling mystery - breath taking suspense and a thousand thrills!
Blu-ray Verdict: VCI Entertainment now brings us another Classic Cliffhanger, fully restored from a new 2K scan of Universal Pictures' original 35mm film masters and for the for time ever on Blu-ray.
'The Phantom Rider was a 15-episode serial in which Buck Grant, the Phantom Rider, helps rancher, Mary Grayson, fight off a band of outlaws out to seize her property.
1. Dynamite 2. The Maddened Herd 3. The Brink of Disaster 4. The Phantom Rides 5. Trapped by Outlaws 6. Shot Down 7. Stark Terror 8. The Night Attack 9. The Indians Attack 10. Human Targets 11. The Shaft of Doom 12. Flaming Gold 13. Crashing Timbers 14. The Last Chance 15. The Outlaw's Vengeance
OK, so, to set the scene, so to speak, Buck Grant (Jones) is an undercover State Ranger, tasked, with assistance from Judge Holmes (Frank LaRue) with rounding up a gang of outlaws who have been trying to drive ranchers out of the region.
Buck himself poses as what they term a "nester" to hide his connection with the State, but soon thereafter disguises himself - dressed all in white to match his horse Silver - as "The Phantom Rider" (whilst stating that the new get-up will instill a dread of fear in them there outlaws.
As for Buck's "Phantom" disguise, well, in what I can only assume for its time, featuring a masked hero must have been like walking a tightrope on set for the audio engineers as surely that mask tended to muffle the actors' voice? I mean, not only Buck's but his cohorts and the bad guys too, of course.
But from what I can hear now, remastered and restored from the 2K original studio film masters, their voices here today are all crisp and understandable.
Moving on, and whilst embedded at Hidden Valley Ranch (isn't that the same place they make the dressing?!), he quickly ascertains - whilst the owner, Jeff Grayson (Lafe McKee) is off prospecting - that neither his daughter Mary (Marla Shelton) and her friend from the East, Helen Moore (Diana Gibson) appear to be outlaws.
Buck's assistant Spooky (George Cooper) are now embedded further into the ranch which allows more characters to get some screen time, like the wealthy and respected rancher Harvey Delaney (Harry Woods), whose interests seem to include the aforementioned Mary.
So, whilst the outlaws rustle cattle, their goal is to get control of the ranches in the region to profit from the coming of the railroad.
Sure, and especially for it's time, 'The Phantom Rider' doesn't exactly have an original plot, but it serves the purpose mighty well, and must have slipped perfectly into the television watching patterns of those tuned in, back in 1936.
Other exponents that propel the storyline, whilst also adding sub-plots and side ventures to fill our minds as we watch, are a gold mine, renegade Indians (from what seems to be, for all intents and purposes, a rather peaceful tribe), Buck getting arrested on a false murder charge, and the appearance of some musical entertainers (Cactus Mack and His Saddle Tramps) - who show up in the saloon and at the ranch several times, but who we only actually hear three songs from.
OK, sure, the action is slow in some places, focusing more on the sub-plots that either distract or waver, according to who they are based around, but with Buck Jones at his finest comedic and dead pan best, the show was always going to be a might fine hit.
Add to that some great performances by the rest of the cast, which includes, in my book, stand outs from Harry Woods and his gang of underlings, and lest we forget the many background actors that had appeared in most all movies and TV shows of this ilk up until that point, and I'm sure all those viewers familiar from other serials and westerns akin to this would not have had one compliant.
As noted, this restored version is sourced from material in Universal's archives, thus the image quality is outstanding, although there are some filtering moments on display; noticeable grain field, albeit one that ebbs and flows.
And, in general, the overall quality of the sound is also very good, with little noise, low distortion and good frequency response. All the dialogue is presented crisply and clearly - even from behind the masks, for the most part - although that would also account for patches of speech that now sound a wee bit hollow, without much resonance, shall we say.
But, in truth, with 90-year old stock like this, we are truly blessed to get what we get, and VCI Entertainment have done an excellent job here in restoring this from the 2K original studio film masters for a whole new generation (or two, or even three!) to enjoy. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.37:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer, and with Audio in English LPCM 2.0 Mono.
The 'The Phantom Rider: Restored Edition' [Blu-ray] will be available for the suggested retail price of $19.99.
Official Purchase Link