Film Serial Review: Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)

Release Date: March 28th, 1941 (first chapter)
Directed by: William Witney, John English
Written by: Ronald Davidson, Normas S. Hall, Arch B. Heath, Joseph Poland, Sol Shor
Based on: characters created by Bill Parker, C.C. Beck
Cast: Tom Tyler, Frank Coghlan, Jr., William Benedict, Louise Currie, Robert Strange, Harry Worth, Bryant Washburn, John Davidson

Republic Pictures, 216 Minutes total (12 episodes)

Review:

Captain Marvel, often times erroneously called Shazam, was a hero very similar to Superman. He also shares his name with several Marvel Comics characters. He is, however, a creation by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck and was originally published by Fawcett Comics from 1939-1953. He was resurrected by his new owners DC Comics in 1972, where he is still a major presence today.

In 1941, not too long after his comic book debut, Captain Marvel was adapted into a serial by Republic Pictures.

In this serial, we see our hero take on the Scorpion, an evil masked villain hellbent on ruling he world. But wasn’t that every villain in every serial?

Young Billy Batson finds himself on an archaeological expedition trying to discover the lost secret of the Scorpion Kingdom in Siam. Mainly, they are looking for a device, the Golden Scorpion. Billy reads a warning, not to enter the crypt where the device is. When the scientists enter the crypt, the device shoots a beam, resealing the entrance. Because Billy heeded the warning, he is chosen by the wizard Shazam to be given awesome powers. As the buff and manly Captain Marvel, Billy saves the scientists from danger and thus begins his adventure.

Following the cave mayhem, the scientists divide up the lenses from the Golden Scorpion device between them. In the meantime, the villainous Scorpion steals the device and then sets out to acquire all the missing lenses. So what you have now is a race against time, as the Scorpion will most assuredly get all the lenses from the wimpy scientists unless Captain Marvel rushes to stop him before he succeeds and rebuilds the Golden Scorpion.

Adventures of Captain Marvel is a good mix of superhero fun and an Indiana Jones type of story. It is like a classic Iron Fist tale but the Iron Fist is more like Superman.

In regards to filmmaking quality, it is consistent with most of the other Republic Pictures. The cinematography is decent but nothing exceptional, the directing is good and the acting, for a serial, isn’t half bad.

The one really big positive, is that above all else, this serial is just fun and engaging. I owned this on VHS with a couple other serials when I was younger and this was the one I probably watched the most. I’ve just always liked archaeological adventure stories and this has enough of that to whet my palate.

Adventures of Captain Marvel is one of the better serials of its day. Check it out if you’re into these things, which if you’ve read this far, you probably are.

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