Adventures of Captain Marvel

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Adventures of Captain Marvel
AdvCptMarvel.jpg
Original theatrical poster for Adventures of Captain Marvel Episode 10: "Doom Ship"
Directed by William Witney
John English
Produced by Hiram S. Brown, Jr.
Screenplay by Ronald Davidson
Norman S. Hall
Arch B. Heath
Joseph Poland
Sol Shor
Based on Characters 
by Bill Parker
C. C. Beck
Starring Tom Tyler
Frank Coghlan, Jr.
William Benedict
Louise Currie
Robert Strange
Harry Worth
Bryant Washburn
John Davidson
Music by Cy Feuer
Cinematography William Nobles
Distributed by Republic Pictures
Release dates
  • March 28, 1941 (1941-03-28)
[1]
Running time 12 chapters / 216 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $135,553 (negative cost: $119,343)[1]

Adventures of Captain Marvel is a 1941 twelve-chapter Republic Pictures film serial directed by John English and William Witney, adapted from the popular Captain Marvel comic book character then appearing in Fawcett Comics publications such as Whiz Comics and Captain Marvel Adventures. It starred Tom Tyler in the title role of Captain Marvel and Frank Coghlan, Jr. as his alter ego, Billy Batson.

This serial was the twenty-first of the sixty-six serials produced by Republic and their first comic book adaptation, not counting comic strips. The serial featured an adaptation of the Fawcett Comics superhero, placed within an original story. He fights a masked criminal mastermind called The Scorpion who is determined to gain control of a powerful ray weapon, which takes the form of a large metallic scorpion with removable lenses that must be aligned in order to activate the ray.

Plot[edit]

During an archaeological expedition to Siam, the power of the Golden Scorpion allows young radio broadcaster Billy Batson to meet the ancient wizard Shazam, who grants him the power to become Captain Marvel and protect those who may be in danger from the Scorpion's curse.

The lenses from the Golden Scorpion are divided among five scientists of the Malcolm Archaeological Expedition. A black-hooded villain known as the Scorpion attempts to acquire all of the lenses and the Scorpion device. Several expedition members are killed in the Scorpion's quest despite Captain Marvel's continual efforts to thwart him. Deducing that the Scorpion always seems to know what goes on at all the meetings with the scientists, Billy later confides his suspicions to his friends, Betty Wallace and Whitey Murphy, that the Scorpion might be one of the archaeological team.

The Scorpion later discovers the connection between Billy and Captain Marvel. After capturing him, the Scorpion interrogates Billy for the secret. Billy transforms into Captain Marvel and reveals the Scorpion to be one of the last surviving scientists, who is then killed by an angry Siamese native. Captain Marvel tosses the scorpion statue into a volcano's molten lava to prevent it from ever being used for evil. Once it is destroyed, Captain Marvel is instantly transformed back into Billy Batson as there is no longer any need for a protector for the scorpion.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Adventures of Captain Marvel was budgeted at $135,553 although the final negative cost was $145,588 (a $10,035, or 7.4%, overspend).[1] It was filmed between December 23, 1940 and January 30, 1941 under the working title Captain Marvel.[1] The serial's production number was 1098.[1]

The serial was an outgrowth of Republic's failed attempt at a chapterplay to feature National Periodical Publications (today DC Comics)'s Superman, the script for which had become the studio's Mysterious Doctor Satan. The film company approached Fawcett Comics for their most popular character, and that publishing house did not refuse. Director William Witney was, however, skeptical about trying to film Captain Marvel after the problems with Superman.[2] As a result, Adventures of Captain Marvel became the first superhero film adaptation of a comic book.[3][4]

National attempted legal action to prevent the filming, citing the previous attempt at a Superman serial, but was unsuccessful. Writing in his autobiography of the period, William Witney revealed that in his deposition he had claimed that both Superman and Captain Marvel were derivatives of Popeye.[2] About a decade later, following a legal battle with National and a declining market, Fawcett ceased publication of all its comic series. In the 1970s, the Captain Marvel family of characters was licensed and revived (and ultimately purchased) by DC Comics.

The opening military scenes are taken from a 1938 Republic Pictures film Storm Over Bengal.

Casting[edit]

Republic cast Frank Coghlan as Billy Batson due to his physical resemblance to the character.[5] However, there was some criticism that Tom Tyler did not sufficiently resemble the "beefy, baby-faced Captain Marvel."[5] At the time, Tyler was a weightlifting champion and the costume matched Captain Marvel's original appearance, even down to slenderness. The appearance of the comic version had changed by this time, however.[6]

Tyler, who was described as clumsy, knocked over props with his "lanky arms". Punches in fight scenes would sometimes connect.[6]

Due to his performance in King of the Royal Mounted, Robert Strange as John Malcolm was the choice as the villain in this serial; however, in the end he was not actually the villain.[7]

Special effects[edit]

Example of flying effects.

The flying effects were performed with a dummy. The dummy was slightly larger than life, at 7 feet tall, and made of paper mâché so that it weighed only 15 lbs. The uniform was made of thin silk and a cotton jersey. Four pulleys connected to each shoulder and calf, which were strung on two wires so the dummy moved along them by its own weight. The wires were attached to two objects across the view of the camera, and the dummy slid from one to the other, giving the appearance of flight. This system was originally intended for a Superman serial, a prototype of which was built but discarded.[6] The flying pose used for the dummy, arms outstretched and back arched, was based on drawing by Mac Raboy.[6] If Captain Marvel needed to be seen flying upwards, the cape was weighted down and the dummy slid backwards. The film of this was then reversed.[6]

Dave Sharpe was the human part of the effect. Dressed as Captain Marvel, he would leap from a high point with his body straight, as if able to fly, then roll to land at the last second. The combination of effects and stunts produced the overall illusion of a flying person. Sharpe also performed other stunts as Captain Marvel, such as back flipping and knocking down attacking natives in the first chapter.[6] Some shots of Captain Marvel flying were filmed with Tyler against rear projected clouds. However, some of these scenes show the wires used to hold him up.[6]

According to Stedman, the flight scenes were "the most successful illusion of such aerobatics ever put upon the screen, in serial or feature."[8]

The technique had been developed in the earlier serial Darkest Africa (1936) and was later used again in the "Rocket Man" serials (King of the Rocket Men, Radar Men from the Moon, Zombies of the Stratosphere and Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe) released during 1949-1953.

The much cheaper Columbia Pictures Superman serials which appeared in the late 1940s used animated cartoon sequences to represent various actions, most frequently Superman's flights (Columbia produced the cheapest serials of the period and producer Sam Katzman was notorious for cutting costs).

Costume[edit]

One of the tunics later appeared as the costume of a member of the Kryptonian science counsel in the first episode of The Adventures of Superman television show, filmed in 1951.[9] The lightning bolt on the tunic is partially concealed by means of an oversized collar around the actor's neck.

After the usage in Episode 1 of Superman, two Captain Marvel tunics were sported by actors in early episodes of the original U.S. version of the pioneering TV series Space Patrol. Very soon into the series, however, the Marvel tunics were replaced by shirts custom made for the series.

At The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, Washington, one of the remaining Captain Marvel tunics has been on public display.[10]

Release[edit]

Theatrical[edit]

Adventures of Captain Marvel '​s official release date was March 28, 1941, although this is actually the date the sixth chapter was made available to film exchanges.[1] The serial was re-released on April 15, 1953 under the title Return of Captain Marvel, between the first runs of Jungle Drums of Africa and Canadian Mounties vs. Atomic Invaders.[1] Due to the 'nostalgia' craze in the spring of 1966 resulting from the hit Batman TV show, the serial was re-released as a 4-hour movie compiling all 12 chapters.

Home media[edit]

Republic Pictures released the serial as a two-tape VHS set in 1995. The serial was released on DVD in 2003.

Critical reception[edit]

Harmon and Glut claim that Adventures of Captain Marvel is "unquestionably one of the finest movie serials ever made, possible the best with the exception of the three Flash Gordon epics."[6] Cline describes this as one of the most outstanding of all serials[11] and Republic's "masterpiece."[7] He writes that Tyler's "striking performance...remains in thousands of minds as the most memorable serial hero of all time - bar none."[12]

Influence[edit]

The characters of Betty Wallace, Whitey Murphy, and John Malcolm all appeared in the Fawcett comics in the 1940s starting with "Capt. Marvel And The Temple Of Itzalotahui"‏ (Whiz Comics #22, Oct. 3, 1941) featuring Murphy and Malcolm;[13] Murphy made several appearances in the 1970s DC Comics incarnation of Captain Marvel.[14]

Fawcett also published a sequel to the film in 1941. Titled The Return of the Scorpion, it was one of the four releases in its Dime Action Books series which imitated the format of the popular Big Little Books. The book is notable for reusing several characters from the movie and for being Otto Binder's first writing assignment at Fawcett; he went on to being a prolific scripter for the company.

In 1994, comic book writer/artist Jerry Ordway wrote and painted a graphic novel, The Power of Shazam!, and an ongoing comic book series spin-off which ran from 1995 to 1999. Ordway used the Republic serial as his initial inspiration in his handling of the Captain Marvel characters.[15]

Chapters[edit]

  1. "Curse of the Scorpion" (30 min.)
  2. "The Guillotine" (16 min.)
  3. "Time Bomb" (17 min.)
  4. "Death Takes the Wheel" (16 min.)
  5. "The Scorpion Strikes" (16 min.)
  6. "Lens of Death" (16 min.)
  7. "Human Targets" (17 min.)
  8. "Boomerang" (17 min.)
  9. "Dead Man's Trap" (16 min.)
  10. "Doom Ship" (16 min.)
  11. "Valley of Death" (16 min.)
  12. "Captain Marvel's Secret" (16 min.)

Source:[1][16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mathis, Jack (1995). Valley of the Cliffhangers Supplement. Jack Mathis Advertising. pp. 3, 10, 52–53. ISBN 0-9632878-1-8. 
  2. ^ a b Witney, William. In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase: Moviemaking Remembered by the Guy at the Door. (McFarland & Company) ISBN 0-7864-2258-0
  3. ^ Stedman, Raymond William (1971). "5. Shazam and Good-by". Serials: Suspense and Drama By Installment. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-8061-0927-5. "First superhero "taken directly from a comic book"" 
  4. ^ Cline, William C. (1984). "2. In Search of Ammunition". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 20. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X. "Adventures of Captain Marvel in 1941 pioneered a completely new type of screen champion - the SuperHero [sic]." 
  5. ^ a b Cline, William C. (1984). "2. In Search of Ammunition". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 20, 26. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "9. The Superheroes "Could Superman Knock Out Captain Marvel"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. pp. 219, 222, 223, 226, 227, 230. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9. 
  7. ^ a b Cline, William C. (1984). "9. They Who Also Serve (The Citizens)". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 142. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X. 
  8. ^ Stedman, Raymond William (1971). "5. Shazam and Good-by". Serials: Suspense and Drama By Installment. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-8061-0927-5. "It was the most successful illusion of such aerobatics ever put upon the screen, in serial or feature." 
  9. ^ Adventures of Superman-The Complete First Season (1952; Warner Home Video; Release Date: 10-18-05; Episode 1, "Superman on Earth.")
  10. ^ "costume display". Flickr. Retrieved 23 February 2011. 
  11. ^ Cline, William C. (1984). "3. The Six Faces of Adventure". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 37. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X. 
  12. ^ Cline, William C. (1984). "5. A Cheer for the Champions (The Heroes and Heroines)". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 83. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X. 
  13. ^ "Whiz Comics 22 "Capt. Marvel And The Temple Of Itzalotahui"". Silverage.greatnow.com. 1941-10-03. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  14. ^ "The Earth-S Index". Darkmark6.tripod.com. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  15. ^ (April 1998) Interview with Jerry Ordway. WestfieldComics.com. Retrieved April 10, 2009.
  16. ^ Cline, William C. (1984). "Filmography". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 230. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940)
Republic Serial
The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)
Succeeded by
Jungle Girl (1941)
Preceded by
Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940)
Witney-English Serial
The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)
Succeeded by
Jungle Girl (1941)