Coming early in Universal's Golden Age of Horror, this 1941 entry proved rather popular with the public at the time. Straying slightly from the formula, it didn't include a monster to speak of, although the character of 'The Phantom' would prove to be a rather memorable creation.
Debt-ridden ship's captain, Bill Martin (Dick Foran) and his sidekick, Stuff (Fuzzy Knight) encounter peg-legged sailor, Tobias Clump (Leo Carrillo), who is being pursued by a mysterious cloaked figure known as The Phantom. The Phantom has been in pursuit of a map, hidden by Clump, which purportedly pinpoints the location of a pirate treasure hoard, somewhere on a miserable, abandoned island owned by Martin.
Martin is skeptical of the whole thing, but resolves to make some money by chartering a weekend trip for paying guests, selling tickets to anyone in search of adventure, and advertising the excursion as a treasure hunt on a haunted island.
When the assembled group land, however, it's clear that they are not the only ones on the island. The Phantom has beaten them there, and is determined to find the treasure before they do, at any cost.
Clocking in at a mere 61 minutes, you'd think that the film would feel as though it was over too soon. However, the protracted opening scenes seem to drag on forever, with Dick Foran hardly being the charismatic lead that the audience is supposed to root for. There's strong support from Carrillo, whose Latino sea dog is a gurning hoot, and a great, albeit brief turn from Walter Catlett ( Pinocchio's "Honest John" himself) as Sergeant McGoon.
The names of the characters should give you a fair indication of the tone of the film. Unfortunately its shots at comedy mostly land flat, and it squanders its few thrills on a decent sequence in Peggy Moran's bedroom, the shadow of The Phantom skewing around the room as he creeps towards her bed, and in the gothic stylings of the sets. I did find myself willing it all to finish, though its running time is fairly brief and despite the film throwing a few plot curveballs in towards the climax.
The Phantom is, admittedly, a decent villain. His wiry, nimble frame, cape flying behind him, is a memorable image. Foy Van Dolsen, who played him, is reminiscent of a Carradine brother switched at birth. When we finally see his face, it does come with a shudder. It's a shame that this film was his only appearance.
It's light fare then, slightly lacking in class, bereft of a star presence to elevate it. It could have benefitted no end by the appearance of a Chaney or a Lugosi. Ultimately, it's an okay way to spend 61 minutes if you've already devoured your way through the remaining entries in Universal's Golden Age, but not a particularly strong place to start.