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Category:    Home > Reviews > Serial > Super Hero > Adventure > Adventures Of Captain Marvel (1941/Republic Serial/Artisan/Lionsgate DVD)

The Adventures Of Captain Marvel (1941 Serial)


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



Among the action, spy, space men, military and cowboy serials made as chapter plays for Saturday Morning movie theater audiences of children prior to the rise of TV, only a few were of comic book superheroes.  Character like Batman, The Green Hornet, The Shadow, Superman, The Phantom, and even Dick Tracy and Zorro made it to the screen at least a few times.  However, the superhero-genre movie serial champ appeared with the utterance of SHAZAM! in 1941, and Republic Pictures’ The Adventures of Captain Marvel is considered not only the best superhero serial of all time, but perhaps the peak of all serials.


This is a hero that did not come from DC or Marvel Comics, but from Fawcett, a company later absorbed by DC long before Warner Bros. bought them out to do Superman in the 1970s.  As well, Marvel created their own Captain Marvel, and even a Ms. Marvel, but this original Captain Marvel was from the great world Fawcett built that is now an all-time comic book legend.  This serial offers Tom Tyler as the title hero and Republic put some serious money into this one.  Model work is still very often exemplary, stunts are top-rate above the excellent kind Republic usually delivered, and the scripts (by Ronald Davidson, Norman S. Hall, Arch B. Heath, Joseph Poland, and Sol Shor) are especially tight.  Frank Coghlan, Jr. is Billy Batson, but instead of being a news reporter, he is the junior member of an expedition to find list treasure.


Unfortunately, his team is unknowingly competing with the evil Scorpion and his minions, who are also manipulating natives to get the treasure first and murder anyone in their way.  In an all-time rarity for any filmmaking, this Captain Marvel springs into action quickly and kills with impunity.  No politically correctness or kids gloves here.  This Captain Marvel takes care of business and fulfills the desires to see good beat evil in a way that the genre typically holds back.  How many times have you seen the villain die by accident just as the hero decides not to kill him?  This is the real thing, as it would really happen.


As compared to other serials, the early Republics had an energy later serials did not form any studio, but this was a return to that pacing.  There is no recycling or cheating with footage from past chapters, as has happened in even some of the greatest serials (some of the Universal Flash Gordon chapter plays even did that).  There are 12 chapters in all, including an unusually long opener, but it all works in ways even the Indiana Jones films never beat.  I also like the costume they made for Captain Marvel, typical of the solid, smart costumes the studio usually came up with.


Directors William Whitney & John English were top notch serial helmers, but this is some of their best work.  This is over 60 years old now, with comic book feature films being only a recent phenomenon with any consistency.  This series set the standards above all others, including the huge hit TV superhero shows like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, animated  superhero shows and even The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.  The character even came back in the Saturday morning TV series Shazam! and was accompanied by a sister show, Isis.  Other superhero serials still had their influence in these series, but The Adventures of Captain Marvel above all others is the gold standard.


The full frame image is not bad, but likely uses the same video masters that the previous (and highly sought after) 12” LaserDisc boxed set did.  The DVD cover uses the same exact cover art as well.  William Nobles cinematography is crisp and has great black and white, making this a pleasure to watch.  There is more grain that expected and it is an analog transfer master, albeit a good one.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is designed to kick in Pro Logic on home theater systems to play through the center channel, but the two-speaker playback tends to be a better option.  Cy Feuer’s music is particularly effective, but there is hiss and some audio flaws that need to be fixed down the line.  The only extra is an original theatrical trailer to promote the serial, which is great.


This is one of the only Republic serial that the current Republic Home Video has issued.  Other companies like the Roan Group, Whirlwind, and especially VCI (the industry leader in such releases) have been issuing the serials of indie companies, Columbia, Universal, and Republic wherever they can get the right prints and the rights.  It is one of the most fun segments of DVD releases more people should check out, especially because you get more bang for your buck when the program lasts 200 – 300 minutes.  The Adventures of Captain Marvel has been selling strongly and that’s good.  It means the word is getting out.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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