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Adventures of Captain Marvel
(1941 Serial)

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The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941):  This is a darn good serial.  The only thing that might hamper it nowadays is the fact that it's old, not in color, and the special effects are not up to today's standards.  But you have to forgive that, because this show is awesome! 

    Tom Tyler...the man!  This dude is incredible!  As soon as he comes on as Captain Marvel, he's tearing through the bad guys like a chainsaw through warm butter.  Awesome!  He's a kicka$$ kind of guy.  Needless to say, this actor is of superhero stock.  There have been a lot of superhero actors, but few have ever been as super as Tom Tyler's Captain Marvel.

    The rest of the cast is great, too.  All of the people in this serial were good actors.  Not a phoney performance among any of them.  The dialogue wasn't always flattering to their talents, but in an old movie serial this is about as good as it got.  At least they delivered their lines well.

    The only actor I really didn't care for was Frank Coghlan, Jr.  He played Billy Batson, the secret identity of Captain Marvel.  There's just something about him I don't like.  He comes off squirrely, and his whiney voice...ugh!  Whenever he's on, I'm shouting to the TV screen "Say Shazam!  Say Shazam!".  As you may or may not know, Shazam is the magic word that turns Billy Batson to Captain Marvel.

    In the comics, Billy Batson is supposed to be 12 or about 12.  I don't know how old he's supposed to be in this serial.  He's older than 12, because he is on a dangerous expedition and carrying a gun.  He LOOKS older than 12.  In real life, Frank Coghlan Jr. was 25.  I'm guessing in this serial Billy Batson is supposed to be around 17.

    The one actor I'm very pleased with is John Davidson as Tal Chotali, the guy who helps the white men on the expedition.  That guy is just a real cool character.

    Here are notes on each of the chapters as I see them.  Stay tuned for much more in the near future!

Chapter 1:  Curse of the Scorpion

    Cool!  This is one of the few superhero shows from the Golden Age of Hollywood that actually gives us the hero's fantastic origin story.  It is also a rare superhero show for the 1940s in the way that he doesn't fight aliens or gangsters, but Arabs.

    I think most everyone in the cast you'll like or at least tolerate.  The two coolest characters, and I'm sure anyone would agree, is Tal Chotali (John Davidson) and Captain Marvel (Tom Tyler).

    The fully-costumed Scorpion is a great villain for this serial.  Believe it or not, most superhero shows from the 1940s-1950s did NOT have interesting supervillains that wore costumes, had superpowers, or secret identities.  This was actually a rarity for the day.

    Tom Tyler's Captain Marvel makes an explosive debut!  Just so far as I can remember, writing this, he's hitting bad guys, throwing bad guys, back-flip-kicking bad guys, breaking guns over his knee, tossing heavy objects aside, shooting bad guys using their own guns, flying from here to there, dive bombing the enemies...it's fantastic!  I must admit that this has even more physical action than the beloved "Adventures of Superman" TV series from the 1950s.  He's used only twice in this chapter, and he's not on for very long, but he makes his presence known.  Out of this 20+ minute segment, Tom Tyler is certainly the most memorable part.

Chapter 2:  The Guillotine

This serial could not be more exciting!  Captain Marvel is aptly named.  He breaks through barred windows, gets shot at with bullets that don't even phase him.  At the end he gets stunned by lasers.

Chapter 3:  Time Bomb

The guillotine at the end of the last chapter DOES fall on him, but it crumbles against his tough skin.  How cool is that?  He beats the crap out of more bad guys.  All in a chapter's work!  A neat sequence is the flying on top of the truck thing.  For 1941, the flying effects were more than top-notch.  Even better than what you'd see in the 1993 TV series of "Lois & Clark:  The New Adventures of Superman".  They filmed him flying VERY well.  I like the whole idea of how Betty is forced to drive up into the bad guys' truck.  Once inside, she is gassed to sleep.  The bad guys abandon the truck as it prepares to roll off a mountain road.  Captain Marvel flies onto the truck, takes the wheel, saves Betty, and all is well.

Chapter 4:  Death Takes the Wheel

Billy Batson is in an airplane rigged to explode!  He finds out in less than a minute's time from friend Whitey, transforms into Captain Marvel, and flies out of the plane.

Chapter 5:  The Scorpion Strikes

Chapter 6:  Lens of Death

Chapter 7:  Human Targets

Chapter 8:  Boomerang

Chapter 9:  Dead Man's Trap

Chapter 10:  Doom Ship

Chapter 11:  Valley of Death

Chapter 12:  Captain Marvel's Secret

Trivia


Captain Marvel Flies:  The flying effect was achieved by sliding an over-sized dummy along a fine wire.

Costume Hi-Jinks:  Filming in black and white was a big thing for a lot of costumers to work around in those days.  Captain Marvel was one such character where the colors of his costume were altered so as to show up better on film.  In the comics, his costume was red, yellow, and white.  To make his costume look like those colors on film, a costume of blue, gray, and white was developed.  Other superhero characters of note to which this was done include Superman and the Lone Ranger.

Could've Been Superman:  Republic Pictures originally wanted Superman for this film project.  National Periodical Publications (now DC) turned them down.  Republic went to Fawcett Comics for their top character and was accepted.  Another interesting factoid, Captain Marvel was very similar to Superman in appearance in those days.  DC won the eventual lawsuit, and for many years has owned the Captain Marvel character, even today!