Classic Cinema: The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) – By Jason S. Lockard

My name is Jason S. Lockard and I love Classic Cinema and they don’t come much more classic than the serials. The serial were 20 minute cliffhangers that would play at the local theaters each week! You had to come back the next week to see what would happen! This had to be irritating to the people at the time, but for us it’s all apart of TV nowadays. In 1941 Republic Pictures decided to adapt the popular comic book character to the screen and they decided on Captian Marvel. Director John English needed a muscular looking man who could be believable as the powerful Captain Marvel enter Tom Tyler.

Born Vincent Markowski on August 9,1903, into a Polish-American family. Tyler had a long career in film stretching from the 1920s to the 1950s. Most were westerns most notably John Ford’s Stagecoach and She Wore and Yellow Ribbon. He also starred as the boxing referee in Abbott and Costello’s Buck Privates.

The biggest part of Tyler’s career was spent making low-budget B-movie westerns for modest salaries. Larger studios cast the athletic Tyler in rugged roles. In 1940, he was the Mummy "Kharis" in The Mummy’s Hand. Producers felt he looked enough like Boris Karloff that they could use old footage of Karloff and new footage of Tyler and no one would notice. Than in 1941 Tyler would receive his title role as The Superhero Captain Marvel!

Captain Marvel begins with an archaeological expedition in Siam to "the Valley of the Tombs." It is here we first see assistant radio operator Billy Batson played by Frank Coghlan, Jr. The expedition is attacked by natives. The legend states no desecration will occur until the volcano, Scorpio, is active again. Billy not wanting to desecrate the religious beliefs of others refuses to enter the inner tomb thus he goes to retrieve pottery in another tunnel! In the inner tomb the team consisting of Tal Chotali, Prof Malcolm, Prof Luthor Bentley, Dwight Fisher, and Dr Stephen Lang find the Golden Scorpion. The Golden Scorpion is actually an optical weapon, a projected death ray. Suddenly a ray from The Golden Scoripon collapses all the entrances to the tombs, but opens a hidden passage to the ancient wizard Shazam. The wizard bestows on Billy the charge to prevent the Golden Scorpion from falling into the wrong hands. It’s his duty to see the curse of the Scorpion is not visited to the innocent. To aid him in his charge the Wizard tells him to just speak his name and he shall change into The Powerful Captain Marvel [Tom Tyler]!

Lenses from the Golden Scorpion are divided among the five scientists. The volcano Scorpio erupts which triggers a native attack. Then a masked villain the Scorpion appears, stealing one of the lenses during the attack. The expedition is rescued by cavalry from Fort Mooltan. Captain Marvel then flies to a group of natives with a machine gun, knocks them out by throwing one at the other, and takes over the gun. Marvel then throws aside the gun and attacks with his bare fists. Marvel learns he is invulnerable as bullets bounce off his chest.

The expedition then returns to the United States, where the Scorpion attempts to acquire all of the lenses and the Scorpion device for his own power. Expedition members are killed one after another in his quest; despite Captain Marvel’s continual efforts to thwart the villain. Billy channeling his inner detective believe that the man behind the Scorpion’s mask is one of the team. Will Billy fulfill his Charge? Who is the Scorpion? Will the Scorpion gain control of the Golden Scorpion Death ray? You’ll have to watch the four hour twelve chapter serial to find out!

After His success as Captain Marvel in 1943 Tyler was given the rains in another superhero movie serial, this time playing The Phantom based on Lee Falk’s famous comic strip. Tyler personified the role, looking especially striking in the character’s familiar costume, and much of the serial’s great success was due to Tyler himself. It was Tom Tyler’s last major screen role.

In later years Tyler was beset by rheumatoid arthritis , and was limited to occasional supporting roles. Nearly destitute, he returned to live with his sister in the Detroit area, dying there of heart failure at the age of 50 in 1954. He was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

To many Captain Marvel is a cheap rip off of Superman, but this film is no doubt the first and best of all The Superhero serials produced! Filled with action, adventure and the outstanding special effects for the day. In 2003 The Adventures of Captain Marvel was released on DVD. I picked up a copy and believe me it is well worth your money!

*   *   *

Moral Rating: Mild Violence
Audience: Teens and Adults
Genre:
Super Hero
Length: 216 min.
Released: 1941
Our Rating: A-