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Category:    Home > Reviews > TV Situation Comedy > Children > Superheroes > Adventure > Action > Social Issues > Saturday Morning T > Big John, Little John – The Complete Series (1976/VCI DVD Set)/Shazam! – The Complete Live Action Series (1974 – 1976/Filmation/DC Comics/Warner Archive DVD Set)

Big John, Little John – The Complete Series (1976/VCI DVD Set)/Shazam! – The Complete Live Action Series (1974 – 1976/Filmation/DC Comics/Warner Archive DVD Set)

 

Picture: C/C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C-     Episodes: C+/B

 

 

PLEASE NOTE: Shazam! is only available from Warner Bros. in their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below, while John is available everywhere.

 

 

 

The idea of men turning into boys and vice versa has always made for interesting storytelling and that includes a variety of film and TV shows.  Two of the most famous examples in all of Saturday Morning Television happen to be arriving on DVD at the same time.

 

 

The first example is a comedy, Big John, Little John (1976) which has longtime character actor Herb Edelman as a school teacher whose trip to the Ponce de Leon park changes his life forever when he has a simple drink of water and it turns out to be a fountain of youth.  However, the fountain doesn’t just keep him young, it makes him into a child (Robbie Rist, Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch) and the crazy antics begin.

 

A live-action sitcom aimed at children, NBC picked the show up, but despite a good response, only 13 half-hour episodes of the series were produced and that was just not enough for The Complete Series to create a big hit.  It was common in Saturday Morning world for so few shows to be made and still have a hit, but co-producers Sherwood Schwartz (The Brady Bunch, I Dream Of Jeannie) and the trio of D’Angelo/Bullock/Allen who had turned the historic Linda Lavin series Alice (reviewed elsewhere on this site) into a landmark prime time TV hit.

 

Joyce Bulifant is John’s wife and the casting is fun, but after they do every obvious joke and a little more, they seem to quit before the show really kicked in.  A curio that people tend to remember fondly, Big John, Little John was long overdue for a DVD release and VCI has finally given it one.  All in all, it is worth a good look and the family-friendly show still delivers.

 

Extras include stills and text on the show and episodes.  For more on The Complete Series sets of D’Angelo/Bullock/Allen’s shows Monster Squad and Red-Handed Gang on DVD, try this link:

 

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/11810/The+Art+and+Making+Of+Hotel+Tra

 

 

Even more significant, Filmation had put themselves on the map in 1966 with their first TV production, the animated Superman (reviewed elsewhere on this site) that led to the company producing a series of hit DC Comics animated shows (including an early Batman show and Aquaman, also reviewed on this site) until 1972 when rival Hanna-Barbera got the rights to those major characters and launched Superfriends!  The result was a megahit that lasted 13 seasons over at ABC, but DC and Filmation were not finished working together.

 

Like other animation companies, Filmation wanted to make live action shows and animated hits at CBS like Sabrina & The Groovie Goolies (also reviewed on this site) kept the company on the cutting edge of Saturday Morning hits.  Originally issued by Fawcett Comics, Captain Marvel aka Shazam! Was now a DC property and very available.  Filmation decided to license the character and the result was a massive hit in Shazam! – The Complete Live Action Series.  Running from 1974 to 1976, it became one of the biggest live action series in Saturday Morning TV history, reviving the dormant character with a new comic book series ties to the show (even if it was more comical and a continuation of the original comic book series) and several Mego Action Figures meant the permanent return of a hero that once replaced Popeye as Superman’s chief rival.

 

However, Billy Batson (Michael Gray) would not work for a broadcaster, but travel the country in a seemingly simple RV with a mature guide and friend simply named Mentor (longtime voice actor and character actor Les Tremayne) going on missions to help people and solve problems.  Skipping the rest of the characters from the classic comic book, the show was more concerned in taking on social issues like no series before it and was bold on everything from racism to bullying to sexism to Native Americans to anti-Semitism to hard drug use and other subjects no children’s television show had ever taken on before.

 

The result was one of the proudest moments in children’s television history, Saturday Morning TV and the Superhero genre, proving that not all Superhero tales have to be relentlessly (and I might add pointlessly dark, though there is a place for that) so and that all that happens not to be the origins or total nature of the genre to begin with.

 

Billy would be contacted by Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury (animated here) via a globe that alerted him, then he would say a phrase and concentrate to speak with them.  They would explain to him philosophy that might not make sense at first, but would be crystal clear in the adventure of the week.  This was both fun and for young minds, challenging.  Of course, he could become Captain Marvel by speaking “Shazam!” and further solve the troubles in each show.

 

Jackson Bostwick played the first Captain Marvel here (the second ever after Tom Tyler in the legendary 1941 serial) and did so very well, reestablishing the character permanently and also helping make the show a huge hit, but he had an injury and the makers actually picked a new actor to play the character in his place.  John Davies was a little shrill and out-of-his-element playing Captain Marvel at first, but eventually adapted and was good, but he never totally eclipsed Bostwick.  Some fans were not happy, but something else so significant happened during that transition that rating were not affected at all.

 

Filmation decided to create their own female superhero and when The Secrets Of Isis arrived with JoAnna Cameron as the school teacher who can become the title heroine, it was a smash hit and by the time of the first of several team-ups with Captain Marvel, Davies had the role.  When both shows were combined as The Shazam!/Isis Hour, they were unstoppable except when Filmation and CBS pulled the plug too soon.  Their first meeting is in this set and Mego also created a best-selling Isis action figure to go with the Shazam! action figure.

 

The show was produced for three years and here are the episodes, including key guest stars in what reads like a who’s who of top child stars of the day:

 

1)     The Joyriders (Ty Henderson (soon of Filmation’s Space Academy))

2)     The Brothers (Lance Kerwin, Steve Tanner)

3)     Thou Shall Not Kill (Pamelyn Ferdin (also soon of Filmation’s Space Academy), William Sargent)

4)     The Lure Of The Lost (Christina Hart, Christopher Stafford Nelson)

5)     The Road Back [continuation of last episode] (Ron Soble)

6)     The Athlete (Butch Patrick, Stephanie Steele, Marcia Mae Jones)

7)     The Treasure (Ruben Moreno, Jon Linton)

8)     The Boy Who Said ‘No’ (Andrew Rubin (The Jeffersons), Todd Gross, Selette Cole)

9)     The Doom Buggy (Lisa Eilbacher, Wink Roberts)

10)  The Brain (Biff Warren, Christopher Man, Tita Bell, Kenny Bell)

11)  Little Boy Lost (John Carter, Eddie Firestone, Mark Edward Hall)

12)  The Delinquent (Jackie (Earle) Haley, Hilly Hicks, Larry Michaels)

13)  The Braggart (Stephen Gustafson, Sean Kelly, Gary Dubin, Scott Garrett)

14)  The Past Is Not Forever (Greg Mabrey, Jack McCulloch, Jimmy Hayes)

15)  The Gang’s All Here [conclusion of the previous episode]

16)  On Winning (John Lupton, Stephen Hudis, Eric Shea)

17)  Debbie (Cindy Henderson, Harry Moses, Wallace Earl, Casey King)

18)  Fool’s Gold (Radames Pera (Kung-Fu), Dabbs Greer, Michael LeClaire)

19)  Double Trouble (Jimmy McNichol, Ross Elliott, Ben Andrews, Bill Quinn)

20)  Goodbye, Packy (Conlan Carter, Shannon Terhune)

21)  Speak No Evil (Danny Bonaduce, Melvin S. Allen, Hal Lynch, Eric Chase)

22)  The Odd Couple (the first JoAnna Cameron/Isis crossover episode on either series; Cindy Eilbacher, Steve Benedict)

23)  The Contest (Mark Montgomery, Dennis Olivieri, Walker Edmiston)

24)  Bitter Herbs (Jimmy Van Patten, Linden Chiles, Milt Kogan, David Gruner, Darel Glaser)

25)  Ripcord (James Daughton, Patrick Laborteaux, Susan Pratt, William Bryant)

26)  Finders Keepers (JoAnna Cameron as Isis, Dran Hamilton, Carol Ann Williams, Susan Madigan, Darwin Joston, Bill Dearth)

27)  The Sound Of A Different Drummer (Eric Laneuville (Omega Man))

28)  Out Of Focus (JoAnna Cameron as Isis, Andrew Stevens, Nancy Morgan)

 

 

One of the most ambitious Saturday Morning TV shows ever made, the writing endures, the themes have not dated at all and if anything, are more relevant than ever.  The show captured the counterculture era, plus the trend of outdoor sports and recreation and the spirit of the times even more effectively than I remembered.  The best and most consistent thing of all is the real chemistry between Gray and Tremayne, who were a terrific match that became more of the hearty and soul of the show than anyone realized or gave them credit for at the time.  They are on a mission and are really good people at heart, lucky to have certain powers and powerful influences at their disposal; great power used responsibly which resonated particularly well as the Vietnam fiasco was about to wind down.

 

When the show was over, it played for a while in reruns, then disappeared, though Filmation made an animated version of the original comic book characters later which was not as successful.  Recently to avoid confusion, Marvel Comics went to court against DC to have the Marvel name removed form the character and succeeded so henceforth, the hero will simply be known as Shazam! and this show helped make that possible.  No one has played the character as a live action hero since, making Davey the last Captain Marvel we’ll ever see (Marvel Comics has their own character with that name debuting as far back as when this show was on) and several Shazam! projects have fallen through recently.

 

But the show is a classic and like the 1941 serial before it, just adds to the legend and enduring appeal of this ever-underrated hero.

 

The only extra, if you can call it that, is the option of being able to watch the morals epilogue to most of the shows.  They were integral to each episode, but one of the early new owners of Filmation chopped them off (to fit another commercial in, but we believe for political reasons) and only though old videotape did the ones on this set (as well as the Isis DVD set) survive at all.  We also have a picture of the alternate cover for this DVD set fans will enjoy, though a promo picture of the original trio from the Bostwick episodes is the original cover.

 

 

For more on Shazam! and Isis, try these links:

 

Adventures Of Captain Marvel 1941 Serial DVD

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/841/Adventures+Of+Captain+Marvel+(1941/

 

Secrets Of Isis – The Complete Series DVD Set (out of print)

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/5723/The+Secrets+Of+Isis+%E2%80%93+T

 

 

The 1.33 X 1 image on both shows originated on 16mm film, but the copies of John here range from good to faded prints and some copies look like they were finished on analog NTSC video.  The result is varying quality, but it would be nice to see a Blu-ray set if film prints could be found of all the shows.  Shazam! is one of the Filmation shows fortunate to return to an original copyright owner as later owners of the company destroyed film prints of all their shows after making low-def video copies in one of the dumbest things we have ever seen anyone do, sadly including Isis.  Fortunately, Warner and DC have the original film prints and the color quality, definition and overall playback quality is amazing.  The show has never looked better.

 

Fans old and new will be very surprised in how consistently good every single episode looks and is some of the best picture reproduction we have seen in a Warner Archives release to date.

 

The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on both releases are on par with each other, sound good for their age and are rarely a problem, though a few moments of warping are present on John.  Shazam! often sounds cleaner than expected.

 

 

To order Shazam!, go to this link:

 

http://www.wbshop.com/product/code/1000331393.do?promo=headerSHAZAMwac

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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