Most Columbia cliffhangers were made by independent producers, but in 1938-39 and 1943-44 Columbia made its own serials, using the studio's many sets, facilities, and contract players. Columbia's home-grown serials are very efficient, and THE PHANTOM is no exception.
It's a jungle serial, so this writer expected a lot of pedestrian dialogue scenes embellished with old wild-animal footage. It's true that the first chapter falls into this pattern while the story is being set up, but from there it's a lot of fun, almost all of it staged for this production, with Tom Tyler an ideal Phantom. For some reason the supporting cast was not credited, but fans of Columbia will easily recognize Kenneth MacDonald (terrific as the suave villain), Dick Curtis (great to see him play a benign role, for once), Ernie Adams (in a bigger-than-usual role as the Phantom's pal), and some familiar faces in the goon squad (George Chesebro, Wade Crosby, Kermit Maynard, I. Stanford Jolley, Al Hill). Good stuntwork and brisk direction (by B. Reeves Eason) keep this one moving, with Tom Tyler in there punching through 15 chapters. Ace, the Phantom's handsome dog, later became "Rusty" the German shepherd in Columbia's family series.
THE PHANTOM has two pleasant surprises for the Columbia serial fan. The recap narration is exceptionally brief (even though the recap footage is lengthy). And each closing "teaser" of next week's episode does NOT spoil the suspense by showing the imperiled hero out of danger. Every cliffhanger in THE PHANTOM keeps the viewer guessing, for a welcome change.
The print is excellent, with fine picture and sound. Only Chapter 11 has soundtrack trouble for a few minutes, and the video producers have remedied it as best they could. The DVD release also includes commentary by Max Allan Collins of "Dick Tracy" fame. Definitely of interest to serial collectors, and fans of Columbia's "B" movies and short subjects will especially enjoy this.