The Phantom, "The Ghost Who Walks", is one of the most enduring comic strip/book characters. The Phantom was created by Lee Falk (born Leon Harrison Gross) in 1936 at the request of King Features Syndicate, which wanted to build on the success of Falk's comic strip Mandrake the Magician. (Mandrake had come on the scene in 1934.) Drawing on the legends and stories that had impressed him as a child, he created the story of The Phantom, the 21st in a line of hero crime fighters who dated back to the 16th century. Each Phantom, masked and anonymous, was replaced by the next generation, giving rise to a superstition by the natives of the Phantom's adopted homeland, the fictional kingdom of Bengalia, that the original Phantom lived on.
Two cool things about The Phantom: he was the first costumed hero to wear a skin-tight outfit, and he was the first masked hero whose pupils were not seen. There were many other cool things about this guy, but these two continue to influence costumed comic heroes to this day.
The 1943 serial starred Tom Tyler, a western movie star who also played Captain Marvel in a 1941 serial. Jeanne Bates played Diana Palmer, the Phantom's love interest. Bates had appeared in a Boston Blackie film and had been a victim of Bela Lugosi in a vampire flick earlier that same year; she was probably best known as series regular Nurse Wills on TV's Ben Casey. Ace the Wonder Dog displayed his (I'm assuming his, but movie dogs are often gender-benders) acting chops playing Devil, The Phantom's mountain wolf. As usual, the Hollywood hills starred as Africa.
Directed by B. Reeves Eason, who began in silents and went on to direct the burning of Atlanta scene in Gone with the Wind, and scripted by Morgan Cox, Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, and Sherman M. Lowe, The Phantom also based two of the fifteen episodes on one of Falk's comic strip stories.
A two-disc DVD of this serial was released in 2001 with a commentary for Chapter One by Max Allan Collins.
A few final thoughts. Avon Books published fifteen Phantom novels in the Seventies, two of which were written by Basil Copper and six by Ron Goulart. Falk evidently wanted Alfred Bester to contribute the series (Bester contributed to the strip during WWII) but Bester refused, suggesting Goulart for the job. Since 2002, Moonstone Books has produced graphic novels, comic books, and prose anthologies about The Phantom. Last August, Dynamite Entertainment began issuing The Last Phantom, featuring the 22nd Phantom. The Ghost Who Walks is still walking!
For more Overlooked Films, etc., go to Todd Mason's Sweet Freedom blog where our benevolent ruler will supply links to other great stuff.