The Adventures Of Captain Marvel
Film Length: 216 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Standard (4:3)
Audio: DD Mono
Retail Price: $14.98
I decided to let Scott review the screener for the recent release of the 1941 serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel, which marks the first serial released to DVD by Artisan/Republic. I've known Scott for many years now and his knowledge of serials has always amazed me so I felt it was best for him to handle this release and inform others about what Republic has in their vaults.
Review by Scott Favareille
The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) is Artisan's first DVD release of a Republic serial. (Several other Republic serials have appeared on DVD, most notably from VCI and Hal Roach Studios/Image) Artisan did decide, however, to release with what is considered by many cliffhanger fans to be the greatest serial ever released. For the most part, Artisan has not disappointed and this disc can be had for around $10 at some on-line retailers.
Captain Marvel was originally conceived as a second attempt by Republic to do a serial based upon the Superman character. (Republic's first attempt came a year earlier, but negotiations with the publishers of Superman fell through and that first attempt became the Republic serial called The Mysterious Dr Satan.) Republic was competing with the Fleischer Brothers and Paramount for the film rights to a Superman project. Paramount and the Fleischers won over Republic and they produced a number of Superman cartoons between 1942-1944. Republic, having lost out, decided to negotiate with Fawcett Publications, who was publishing a rival to Superman, and that was Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel, whose comics had only been published for a year, actually became so popular that his two titles (Whiz Comics and Captain Marvel Adventures) were outselling the two Superman titles in 1941. Thus, in May 1941, when The Adventures of Captain Marvel first hit theaters, Republic wound up with a hit on their hands. The serial was re-released theatrically in 1953 (as Return of Captain Marvel) and in 1966 (to cash in on the Batman craze) and even played some theatrical engagements in the early 1970's (with, of all things, Reefer Madness!).
The plot of the serial involves an archiological expedition going to Siam, where they discover a golden scorpion and 5 lenses. When put together, they can form a powerful weapon. One of the expedition members, seeing this, decides to become a masked villain named The Scorpion, and he convinces some natives to attack the expedition. One of the other expedition members, Billy Batson, discovers a god named Shazam, who tells him about protecting this golden scorpion and grants Batson powers to turn into a superhero named Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel helps the rest of the expedition to fight off the natives and then the expedition goes back to the US.
Back in the US, the masked villain, The Scorpion, decides to go after the lenses (which the archiologists decide to split up amongst themselves). The serial becomes a whodunit now, as the suspects get murdered off as The Scorpion steals the lenses from the others. Captain Marvel does battle with the Scorpion and his henchmen throughout the remainder of the serial.
Tom Tyler, who was best known for his Western roles in the 1930's (including a final showdown with John Wayne in Stagecoach), plays Captain Marvel. Tyler does not have a heavy amount of dialogue (and much of that is short phrases like "Where's Miss Wallace? Talk, or I'll..."), but is quite believable in his role. (The main credit should go to Dave Sharpe, who did much of the stuntwork as Captain Marvel, including a sequence in which he knocks down two villains at one time with a somersault). Frank Coghlan Jr plays Billy Batson. The most familiar faces to film fans would be Kenne Duncan as Barnett, the Scorpion's main henchman; William Benedict as Whitey, and Reed Hadley as Rahman Bar, a villainous native in Siam. Duncan is best known for his appearances in Ed Wood films. Benedict played Mr McNabb in several episodes of All in The Family (he was the neighbor who was against the Jeffersons moving in), and Hadley was better known for the 1950's TV show Racket Squad and various narrating roles. (An uncredited Gerald Mohr, familiar to film noir fans, does the voice of The Scorpion) To serial fans, you will also spot Robert Strange, John Davidson, George Pembroke, and Jack Mulhall.
Captain Marvel first appeared on home video in the early 1980's on VHS and Beta on the Nostalgia Merchant label. Republic Pictures home video later released it on VHS and on LD in the early 1990's. It appears that Artisan did use the LD master for their DVD issue of this serial. The transfer itself has a good clear picture, with some minor scratching (and one noticeable one in Chapter 2, this was also on the LD as well). Some night scenes in Chapter 1 were a little dark. The sound does have some flutter in some musical passages, and there is some background hiss, but the dialogue is quite audible. I do prefer the sound on the LD because of the flutter makes some of the music harsh sounding, however, it does not deter me from rewatching this DVD. The picture is full frame 4:3, no noticeable overscan noted. The sound is Dolby Digital Mono. The only extra is a trailer in decent shape. The menu does have the following options: Play all, Chapters 1-6, Chapters 7-12, Trailer. Each chapter does have a scene access menu, which allows you to access 5 scenes per chapter. (Chapter 1, which is longer, has 8 scenes you can access.) The chapters run 17 minutes each, except the first one, which is 30 minutes.
To conclude, Artisan has done a decent job with this DVD release. While extras are scant, the fact that you can get 4 hours of entertainment for around $10 is a good deal in itself. Let's hope this sells well enough for Artisan to release more Republics. Some good ones to consider: Nyoka and the Tigermen, The Fighting Devil Dogs, Spy Smasher, The Purple Monster Strikes, Mysterious Dr Satan, and King of the Rocketmen.
Release Date: December 16, 2003