The Adventures Of Captain Marvel (1941 Serial)
C+ Sound: C+ Extras: D Chapters: B
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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