A Look Back at “The Return of the Phantom”
Betty Cole checks out the popular episode, now available on DVD.
Sorry folks, as soon as I got my copy of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Season 2 part 2, I went straight to the episode a lot of us have been waiting to see … RETURN OF THE PHANTOM.
Richard Basehart’s performance is superb as always only this time he really gets something he can “get his teeth into.” I’ve seen most of his work prior to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and much of his work afterwards, and this episode provides him with several elements he plays particularly well: deep emotion, insanity, strength under pressure.
And he does play “The Dark Side” extremely well. There is no fakiness, or hamming it up in this episode, just straight human drama although the subject matter is definitely non human. You can FEEL Nelson’s anguish at being forced to shoot his best friend to save everyone else. And if you know anything at all about Admiral Harriman Nelson, you know he’s thinking every minute about how to reverse the situation and save his friend in the end.
David Hedison did an incredible job of playing his usual role of Captain Crane, and then switching over to that of Alfred Ryder’s Gerhardt Krueger. He didn’t try to make the two identical, but he totally captured the essence of the Krueger character. I know he has said before that the German accent Alfred Ryder used was a bit off but he did copy it instead of going with a correct one. Excellent decision!
I have to tell you that if you aren’t looking at the screen the first time he speaks after the “possession” takes place you can’t tell the difference between the two. Except for the combing of his hair in a slightly different style, there seems to be no outward change to Crane, but he becomes really creepy … spooky. Only after he meets up with the girl Maria in the bar and takes her to the burial ground does the difference between Crane and Krueger really become apparent. Then David gets the chance to play “The Dark Side,” and does so with great glee. Still he is very careful to avoid overdoing it which would have been so easy to do under the circumstances.
Vitina Marcus (aka Vitina) had worked with Irwin Allen previously on the movie The Lost World in which she played a skin clad native girl. She was called on to reprise the same role in the first season Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode “Turn Back the Clock” as this episode in large part was a rewrite of the feature film.
This time her character was not allowed to have a happily-ever-after ending, however. Now she reappears in “Return of the Phantom” as the exotic and extraordinarily lovely island girl, Lani. Or I should say as her spirit. She has more to do in this episode than in “Turn Back the Clock,” particularly dialogue wise.
Besides her obvious beauty, she is actually quite a good actress. And she gets to play an actor’s dream. Two diverse characters which look the same. Of course when she plays the character Maria at the bar on the Pacific island she is dressed and made up as the native girl character From The Lost World, but this time she is a dancer. And she has dialogue as well. She and David act off one another quite well. Case in point the scene where Maria meets the character of Crane in the bar, there are definitely sparks!
Alfred Ryder, of course, is at his spooky and menacing best … the type of role I first saw him play in an episode of the old 20th Century Fox series Five Fingers … also with David Hedison. In that one he was not a ghost but just as evil. In the end of “Return of the Phantom,” you actually begin to feel sympathy for Krueger as you discover that he truly does love Lani and wants to be with her more than anything. This is definitely attributed to the quality of Alfred Ryder’s portrayal.
Bob Dowdell also gets some good acting in here. He has to go from the shock of seeing his best friend shot by a man he has always completely trusted, to putting all that out of his mind and trusting that man once again with his life and that of the crew as well as the life of the friend who had almost been killed.
It is really tough to top Richard Basehart when he is doing his insane best, but all the performances here measure up to the same good quality, even those of Allan Hunt, Del Monroe, who are mostly just background characters here.
The color is gorgeous, and the episode itself is dramatically intensified by the lack of commercials, more so than I had imagined it would be. I don’t know why there is such a difference in the dramatic impact of the episode on the DVD as opposed to that of a video tape with the ads edited, but it is true. Since I saw the episode the first time it aired on ABC, and I have had a video of it for years, I feel I can make that comparison.
As always though, there is the ending. It is good to see the island sink into the ocean, and that part of the episode is outstanding, but we really would have liked to know that Crane survived in the end. After all, the final scene shows him unconscious in a bunk aboard the Flying Sub. The End. Next season they picked up as if nothing had ever happened with no explanation. Irwin Allen was a great salesman, but in this particular instance he was not so good with the continuity.
Of course I couldn’t resist checking out David’s interviews. Good, but too short. An entire DVD of interviews would have been fantastic, but then again I’m prejudiced.
I did get a chance to view “The Menfish” also, and for whatever reason, it seems very juvenile to me now. It may have been the accents involved because they were very distracting, but Victor Lundin (to appear later as “The Lobster Man”) actually did a very good job. Again the color and clarity of the print were outstanding.
So enough of reviewing. I am going to get off here and go watch “The Death Ship.”