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Category:    Home > Reviews > Serial > Adventure > Science Fiction > Captain Video - Master Of The Stratosphere (VCI/Serial)

Captain Video - Master Of the Stratosphere (VCI/Serial)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Chapters: B-



The way Captain Video is known is because they heard about it on the original Honeymooners when Ed Norton (Art Carney) drives his buddy Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) nuts about the show when they get a TV.  Both TV shows were made by the long-defunct DuMont Network, but Captain Video was a Columbia Pictures chapterplay movie serial back in 1951 (the first film production based on a TV series) and VCI has issued it on DVD.


Though Columbia gets criticized for not always having the best serials, especially because of the likes of the two Batman fiascos or The Shadow with Victor Jory, Captain Video – Master of The Stratosphere is one of the best the studio ever produced.  Not including other Marvel (Captain America) or DC Comics-based serials (Superman, Blackhawk) that have yet to be issued on DVD, this was a real coup for the studio.  The storyline is as interesting as Universal’s three fine Flash Gordon serials, Video is as blaster happy as their Buck Rogers, the fighting sequences and cliffhangers are better than usual and wacky new gadgets, devices, twists and silly dialogue are all over the place.


John Holden is pretty good as Video, with future director Larry Stewart as his Ranger sidekick.  They make a convincing pair, which helps when many of the visual effects do not.  As was Columbia’s idea of visual effects, live-action ships suddenly become hand-drawn animation (good animation at that, if not very realistic) and the serial has an added gimmick of color.  Though not two or three strip CineColor, that company did the tinting of otherworld scenes, in villainous red for the bad guy’s planet hideout and green for the planet they intend to exploit.


George Eldredge is amusing as the evil Doctor Tobor, but Gene Roth’s Vultura steals just about every scene he shows up in and he gets the best camp dialogue.  The constant use of the then-little-known concept of video monitors is also a hoot, though all are 1.33 X 1, with new digital High Definition TV at 1.78 X 1, that will be yet another dated item to laugh at in about a generation.  It will also make it all the more charming.


The 1.33 X 1 image here is better than usual, with some apparent hard work in bringing this serial to DVD in as high a quality as possible.  The detail is sometimes a problem, but the video black is not bad, while the color tints (which do reduce depth and detail) look great.  The Flash Gordon serials (and later genre works) sometimes used infrared film to represent another world, so its use here is as entertaining.  Cinematographer Fayte Browne, A.S.C., does a really nice job of shooting this series in a way that makes the phoniest things seem interesting and the Wallace Grissell/Spencer Gordon Bennet directing keeps the pace up.  The George H. Plympton story made into script by Royal K. Cole, Sherman L. Loew and Joseph P. Poland is better than what you usually get from serials.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is a bit clearer than usual, as if the source material was in better shape than expected, than was more carefully handled.  The RCA optical tracks show their age, obviously, but it is better than audio on most of the dozens of serials we have encountered on this site to date.  Extras on DVD 1 only include a motion stills section of poster art and lobby cards for many of the great serials, text bios on biography on the three leads (Holden, Stewart and Roth) and the directors, plus trailers for the film Target Earth (from VCI elsewhere eon this site), a general one for serials from VCI and for four other serials (some of which are not out yet on DVD) including The Adventures Of Captain Marvel (reviewed elsewhere on this site) trailer, The Green Archer, The Phantom Empire and first Superman from 1948.  The DVD case offers a nice pullout with text on the history of Captain Video and listing of the 15 chapters of the serial.


If you have never seen a good serial, Captain Video – Master of The Stratosphere like The Adventures Of Captain Marvel is a good place to start.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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