(directors: John English/William Witney; screenwriters: Ronald Davidson/Norman S. Hall/Arch B. Heath/ Joseph Poland/Sol Shor/based on the comic book created by C.C. Beck & Bill Parker; cinematographer: William Nobles; editor: William Thompson/Edward Todd; music: Cy Feuer; cast: Tom Tyler (Captain Marvel), Frank Coghlan Jr (Billy Batson), Louise Currie (Betty Wallace), William Benedict (Whitey), Robert Strange (Professor John Malcolm), Harry Worth (Professor Bentley), Bryant Washburn (Dr. Henry Carlyle), John Davidson (Tal Chatali), George Pembroke (Dr. Stephen Lang), Peter George Lynn (Dr. Dwight Fisher), Reed Hadley (Rahman Bar), Jack Mulhall (Howell), Kenneth Duncan (Barnett, chief henchman), Nigel De Brulier (Shazam); Runtime: 210; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hiram S. Brown Jr.; Republic; 1941)

“The cliff-hanger serial was great fun.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Adventures of Captain Marvel is a 12-episode serial based on the popular comic strip created by Whiz Comics (appearing two years after Superman and an obvious ripoff). DC publications, creators of Superman, sued Fawcett Publications, the publishers of the Captain Marvel strip for plagiarism and got it off the news-stands in the ’50s. DC themselves revived it soon after buying the rights for it from the publisher they sued. It’s co-directed by John English and William Witney, with a wink and a nod, and based on the comic book created by C.C. Beck & Bill Parker.

An archaeological expedition led by Professor John Malcolm (Robert Strange) goes to Siam and discovers in the forbidden Valley of the Tombs, the tomb of The Scorpion. The native chief Rahman Bar tells Tal Chatali, the native adviser to the scientific expedition, there’s a curse on those who enter the tomb and meddle with the secrets of the Scorpion and the white scientists will die if they dare enter the tomb. But the scientists ignore the curse and enter the tomb, except for young Billy Batson (Frank Coghlan Jr), the geeky radio broadcaster on the expedition. As a reward for his honesty and being respectful of the ancient secrets by heeding the warning not to snoop, an ancient figure named Shazam appears and bestows an unusual gift on the mild-mannered Billy –- by saying the word ‘Shazam’ he will be transformed into the superhero Captain Marvel (endowed with all the powers of the ancients, whereby each letter of his name stands for an ancient figure – Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury) and his mission will be to always do good and stop evil. His powers as Captain Marvel will only last as long as the golden scorpion idol is threatened.

In the meantime the scientists uncover the golden scorpion with 5 lenses that when lined up with the sun can project either a disintegrating ray or else transform base metals into gold. Since the discovery would give the users of it great powers and a leg up in world domination, it’s agreed upon to give each of the scientists one of the lenses and that Billy should hold the scroll that contains further secrets that are written in the language of the ancients. This way all the scientists have to agree that it be used for good and no one individual could misuse it. Before they leave Siam the group is attacked and Billy’s boss Mr. Howell and a sentry are killed by the natives. Back in the States, the villain turns out to be a masked man known as the Scorpion. He happens to be one of the five scientists holding the lens –- Dr. Dwight Fisher, Professor Bentley, Dr. Stephen Lang, Dr. Henry Carlyle and Professor Malcolm. It’s up to Captain Marvel to stop this evil madman from his scheme to rule the world by killing the others to get all the lenses.

The cliff-hanger serial was great fun; it’s one of the better ones (which might not be saying much) if it’s silly laughs that you are after and don’t mind that it doesn’t take itself seriously.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”