REVIEW: ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (1941)

CAST

Tom Tyler (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon)
Frank Coghlan Jr. (Hell’s House)
William Benedict (The Sting)
Louise Currie (The Ape Man)
Robert Strange (Captain America 1944)
Nigel De Brulier (Zorro Rides Again)
John Davidson (The Devil Bat)

The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Tom Tyler, (Serial), 1941 Photo

Modern fans might assume the first comic-book superhero to get the movie treatment would have been Superman or Batman. In fact, one of their biggest rivals throughout the 1940s beat both of them to the screen by several years. According to Wikipedia, Republic Pictures did try to make a Superman serial first, but National Periodicals (which later became DC Comics) turned them down. The studio then approached Fawcett Comics, publishers of Captain Marvel, who was introduced shortly after the Man of Steel and quickly became one of the Golden Age’s most popular heroes.


The concept that kids flocked to was simple. Orphaned 12-year-old newsboy Billy Batson is selected by a wizard named Shazam to replace him as Earth’s protector. When Billy says the Wizard’s name—an acronym of the assorted gods and heroes who were the source of his power (Solomon’s wisdom, Hercules’ strength, Atlas’ stamina, Zeus’ power, Achilles’ courage, and Mercury’s speed)—he’s transformed by a magic bolt of lightning into Captain Marvel.


The movie version is somewhat faithful to the comics. In a cave somewhere in Thailand, a Billy Batson who looks to be somewhere in his mid-to-late 20s (Frank Coghlan Jr.) is granted the powers of Captain Marvel (Tom Tyler) by the old Wizard (Nigel De Brulier). This Billy works as the radio operator for an expedition into “The Valley of Tombs,” where a bunch of American archaeologists break into an ancient tomb over the objections of the local natives. While Billy finds Shazam and gets his superhero identity, the explorers discover “The Scorpion,” a bug-shaped device that functions as a “solar atom smasher,” concentrating the sun’s rays through a series of lenses into a powerful beam that can destroy human life or turn ordinary objects into gold. The Scorpion, which is placed in a heavily fortified tomb, is one of the local culture’s most sacred objects, so naturally, the white archaeologists just take it for themselves. That draws the ire of a mysterious evildoer also named “The Scorpion,” who is the serial’s villain.He sets out to reclaim the atom smasher, while the archaeologists divide its many lenses amongst themselves in order to protect it; over the course of the 12 chapters, the Scorpion sends his henchman to retrieve each crucial piece while Billy and Captain Marvel try to thwart his progress. Serials like ‘Adventures of Captain Marvel’ were originally programmed to run in weekly installments at theaters around the country. They weren’t meant to be watched in one sitting—and frankly it shows. The episodes all rely on a handful of tropes (chase scenes, fist fights, cliffhangers) that begin to get awful repetitive over the course of more than three hours of action. If you’re going to watch ‘Captain Marvel,’ your best bet is to do it the way it was intended; in small chunks before other feature presentations. That’ll keep things from getting too stale, and let you bask in the film’s pleasures in smaller, more manageable doses.


Those pleasures are mostly of the two-fisted action variety. ‘Captain Marvel’ was directed by John English and William Witney, who were well-known in their day for their thrilling, stunt-laden serials. This one is no different, and even on a relatively limited budget (and with some bargain basement special effects) they do a very respectable job of conjuring Captain Marvel to life. Some of the stunts are dodgy, but a lot of them still work, like Captain Marvel bursting through walls like they were made out of cardboard (probably because they were made out of cardboard) or breaking rifles over his knee like they’re made out of wax (probably because they were made out of wax). And the fight scenes, which rely on the actors’ and their doubles’ athleticism instead of frenetic editing and shaky camerawork, are fantastic. The centerpiece battle in Chapter 10 between Billy Batson and the Scorpion’s goons, for example, is more fun than anything in ‘Taken 3.’ And there’s at least half a dozen more fights just like it.tom-tyler-shazam-the-adventures-of-captain-marvel-serialThere’s less to recommend about the story itself, which is mostly about Billy trying to track down the true identity of the Scorpion. Before too long, he realizes the Scorpion is actually one of the archeologists attempting to subvert the group from within, but he guesses incorrectly several times before the real bad guy reveals himself in the final chapter. (And this guy’s supposed to have the “wisdom” of Solomon? Yeah, no.) There are no clues or any real sense of mystery; it’s mostly just a process-of-elimination guessing game. Again, part of this is the nature of the beast; a serial is meant to be so simple that each chapter can be understood on in its own, in case a viewer happened to catch, say, Chapter 3, at the theater without seeing the first two. It’s easy to see why Republic wanted comic-book heroes for their serials; they’re well-suited to the format. Not only were comics loaded with the sort of action and intrigue that were the serials’ bread-and-butter, but the construct of a hero and his secret identity also served as an effective cost-cutting measure. Most of the film could follow the human alter ego sleuthing or romancing his leading lady, while reserving his costumed personality.

REVIEW: FLASH GORDON: CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE

CAST
Buster Crabbe (Buck Rogers 1939)
Carol Hughes (The Golden Arrow)
Charles Middleton (Dick Tracy Returns)
Frank Shannon (Batman 1943)
Shirley Deane (Kill Me Tomorrow)
John Hamilton (Adventures of Superman
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A deadly plague is ravaging the Earth, known as the Purple Death because of the spot left on victims’ foreheads. Ming the Merciless is suspected to be behind the plague and it is discovered that his spaceships have been dropping “Death Dust” in the Earth’s atmosphere. Flash Gordon, along with Dr. Alexis Zarkov and Dale Arden, is sent to the planet Mongo to find a possible cure for the plague. They eventually find an antidote, called polarite in the Kingdom of Frigia. Flash and Zarkov distribute the antidote the same way the original Death Dust was spread. Ming sends an army of robot bombs after the three and he succeeds in capturing Zarkov for a short time before Flash frees him.
The trio continue to battle Ming and his allies. Ming’s Captain Torch is the “head villain” of this serial. He is in charge of stopping the Earthlings.
Before Flash and his team leaves, they kill Ming by locking him in a tower and crashing a rocket ship loaded with Solarite into it. Prince Barin takes his rightful place as ruler of Mongo. Ming’s last words are “I am the universe!”. Zarkov announces that Flash Gordon has conquered the universe
Buster Crabbe was made to play the heroic Flash Gordon and Charles Middleton is the perfect Ming. However, it is the action sequences that carry this film. The special effects for this time period are also pretty good, even for the 1940’s. The only flaw I find with this, though, is that Jean Rogers is not playing Dale or that Richard Alexander is not playing Barin. The two actors that replace them are okay, but the originals defined the roles.

 

 

REVIEW: FLASH GORDON’S TRIP TO MARS

CAST
Buster Crabbe (Buck Rogers 1939)
Jean Rogers (Brigham Young)
Charles Middleton (Dick Tracy Returns)
Priscilla Lawson (The Girl of the Golden West)
Frank Shannon (Batman 1943)
Beatrice Roberts (Pioneers of the West)
When a mysterious beam of light starts disrupting and destroying the Earth’s atmosphere, Flash Gordon (Larry “Buster” Crabbe), Dr. Zarkov (Frank Shannon), and Dale Arden (Jean Rogers) – accidentally accompanied by wisecracking reporter Happy Hapgood (Donald Kerr) – swing into action in Zarkov’s rocketship, believing that it could be coming from the planet Mongo. Once in space, however, they discover that the ray is originating from Mars.
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Journeying to the fourth planet, they discover that their old enemy from Mongo, Ming the Merciless (Charles B. Middleton), whom they had believed dead, is still alive, and has formed an alliance with Azura (Beatrice Roberts), the Witch Queen of Mars. From Azura’s planet, and under her protection, he is operating a gigantic Nitron ray that is destroying Earth’s atmosphere. Azura’s powers include the ability to transmute people into figures of living clay, condemned to live in darkened caves, and she is hated and feared by most of the population. Conversely, the Clay People, led by their King (C. Montague Shaw), know the secret of how to eliminate Azura’s power, but lack the means of escaping the caves to which their ruined bodies restrict them, in order to battle her.
Gordon and his party would seem to hold the answer to their problem, except that the Clay People don’t trust them at first, and end up holding Dale Arden hostage. Ultimately the Earth visitors and the Clay People become allies in the tandem quest to defeat Azura and stop Ming from destroying the Earth. Flash, Dale, Zarkov, and Hapgood do battle against Azura’s magic and her Martian space-force, Ming’s super-scientific weaponry, the treacherous Forest People, and other dangers on the Red Planet. Finally, they win by the classic strategy of divide-and-conquer, showing Azura that Ming has been plotting behind her back to take power from her.
Azura’s alliance with Ming is broken, at the cost of the Queen’s own life, but the Clay People are freed from their curse. And the evil emperor of Mongo, his Nitron ray destroyed and his escape cut off on all sides by the now hostile Martian forces, is finally destroyed by the accidental result of his own machinations and treachery.
This is perhaps the best of the three Flash Gordon serials due to the fact that it not only was action packed, but that it also included some humorous moments provided by the character of “Happy” Hapgood. The first one was exciting, but really wasn’t as action packed as this one. This is the first one in which Dale takes part in the action, especially in the scene where she bombs the Forest People’s temple. If you want thrills, just look at this serial.

REVIEW: FLASH GORDON (1936)

CAST
Buster Crabbe (Buck Rogers 1939)
Jean Rogers (Brigham Young)
Charles Middleton (Dick Tracy Returns)
Priscilla Lawson (The Girl of the Golden West)
Frank Shannon (Batman 1943)

Chapters

1.The Planet of Peril
The planet Mongo is on a collision course with Earth. Dr. Alexis Zarkov takes off in a rocket ship to Mongo, with Flash Gordon and Dale Arden as his assistants. They find that the planet is ruled by the cruel Emperor Ming, who lusts after Dale and sends Flash to fight in the arena. Ming’s daughter, Princess Aura, tries to spare Flash’s life.

2.The Tunnel of Terror
Aura helps Flash to escape as Zarkov is put to work in Ming’s laboratory and Dale is prepared for her wedding to Ming. Flash meets Prince Thun, leader of the Lion Men, and the pair return to the palace to rescue Dale.
 
3.Captured by Shark Men
Flash stops the wedding ceremony, but he and Dale are captured by King Kala, ruler of the Shark Men and a loyal follower of Ming. At Ming’s order, Kala forces Flash to fight with a giant octosak in a chamber filling with water.
 
4.Battling the Sea Beast
Aura and Thun rescue Flash from the octosak. Trying to keep Flash away from Dale, Aura destroys the mechanisms that regulate the underwater city.
5.The Destroying Ray
Flash, Dale, Aura and Thun escape from the underwater city, but are captured by King Vultan and the Hawkmen. Dr. Zarkov befriends Prince Barin, and they race to the rescue.
 
6.Flaming Torture
Dale pretends to fall in love with King Vultan in order to save Flash, Barin and Thun, who are put to work in the Hawkmen’s Atom Furnaces.
 
7.Shattering Doom
Flash, Barin, Thun and Zarkov create an explosion in the atomic furnaces.
8.Tournament of Death
Dr. Zarkov saves the Hawkmen’s city from falling, earning Flash and his friends King Vultan’s gratitude. Ming insists that Flash fight a Tournament of Death against a masked opponent, revealed to be Barin, and then a vicious orangopoid.
 
9.Fighting the Fire Dragon
Flash survives the tournament with Aura’s help, after she discovers the weak point of the orangopoid. Still determined to win Flash, Aura has him drugged to make him lose his memory.
 
10.The Unseen Peril
Flash recovers his memory. Ming is determined to have Flash executed.
 
11.In the Claws of the Tigron
Zarkov invents a machine that makes Flash invisible. Flash torments Ming and his guards. Barin hides Dale in the catacombs, but Aura has her tracked by a tigron.
12.Trapped in the Turret
Aura realizes the error of her ways, and falls in love with Barin. She tries to help Flash and his friends to return to Earth — but Ming plots to kill them.
13.Rocketing to Earth
Ming orders that the Earth people be caught and killed, but Flash and his friends escape from the Emperor’s clutches, and Ming is apparently killed in the flames of the “sacred temple of the Great God Tao”. Flash, Dale and Zarkov make a triumphant return to Earth
This serial might not interest children today with its hokey effects – oh, that spaceship! – but it’s a fun bit of nostalgia for those who liked it the first time around or those that have an interest in comic books and film . The actors play it straight and don’t play down to kids.

REVIEW: ATOM MAN VS SUPERMAN

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CAST

Kirk Alyn (When Worlds Collide)
Noel Neill (Music Man)
Tommy Bond (Five Little Peppers at Home)
Pierre Watkin (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)
Lyle Talbot (Batman & Robin 1948)
Jack Ingram (Man Without a Star)
Don C. Harvey (The Scarlet Coat)

Atom Man vs. Superman was a Columbia serial of 15 installments. It’s notable as the second live action version of Superman to hit the big screen. It’s penchant for campy sci-fi gadgetry was a precursor to the Silver Age. As with the 1948 Superman serial, the budget is quite low and the special effects have been added in as animation, though some improvements have been made – notably closeups of Superman with his hair and cape blowing while in flight. I like that the first episode, ‘Superman Flies Again’, wastes no time on Superman’s origin. It doesn’t even waste time introducing Luthor, even though he wasn’t in the first serial. It is mentioned that Luthor is Superman’s arch-enemy, but other than that it presumes you know who Superman and Luthor is before it begins – something the modern Superman film franchise could take note of. With the second episode, the series slips quite a bit. There are a number of plot holes (mostly concerning who has a special coin and who knows they have it), and there are several moments of bad acting. There’s a lot of use of gimmicky gadgets, and Atom Man himself looks kind of funny with a giant sparkly head mask. On the plus side, the effects are a bit better than in the last serial, with the film sped up in parts to make it look like Superman is moving at super speed. The ship rescue was a nice touch, showing that Superman still has other work to do besides fighting Atom Man.

The third episode keeps things moving, with Superman rescuing Lois from a fall from a skyscraper, putting out a blazing oil fire, rescuing Luthor from an assassination attempt, and saving Jimmy and Lois when their airplane becomes disabled. Though his part is small, the highlight of the episode is Lyle Talbot as Luthor, who is clearly the best actor in the series. And, even though he has a somewhat silly script to deal with, his portrayal of Luthor as a no-nonsense businessman may be the best ever, possibly even superior to Gene Hackman’s version in the 1978 film Superman.

The fourth episode is both good and bad – Superman rescues Lois and Jimmy in a perfunctory sequence, then they go back to the Daily Planet where they celebrate Lois’ birthday – only to have a fake gift transport her into the clutches of Atom Man. The episode has some great ideas – particularly Superman’s plan to get himself ‘captured’ to save Lois, but it seems to move from idea to idea too fast to capitalize on them.

The fifth episode is one of the best written episodes of the series. Superman enlists the help of the Daily Planet to post a fake news story about a shipment of plutonium – a material Atom Man needs for his plans – as a trap. But Luthor is too smart for this and turns the tables, sending a henchman into the trap to be captured and interrogated – thus revealing information about a secret package at the check room at Central Station, knowing that Superman would go there and investigate, inspecting all the packages with X-Ray vision. And leaving an inert material that converts to plutonium when subjected to X-Rays, allowing Luthor to get his hands on actual plutonium!

The sixth episode has a lot of things that really annoy me. There is an appalling lack of understanding of science – in addition to the X-ray vision turning the alloy nails into plutonium – and they just open up the box and look at them with no protection, there is the part where Luthor teleports a henchman wearing just a business suit into outer space, then brings him back a couple minutes later just fine. Later Luthor decides he now needs radium, and so he plans to steel it from a reduction plant. A little of this could be excused by the era, maybe it wasn’t yet common knowledge that space is a vacuum, but it really seems they didn’t even try to be respectful of science.

There’s also a lot of ridiculous plot and action points, for example, Lois escaping some thugs by throwing powder in their faces, the bad guys getting radium from a hospital safe by just asking for it and showing no credentials, the reduction plant having a vault that has a lethal gas booby trap, and Jimmy driving right onto a bombing range (no fence, gate, guard or anything) and there happening to be a bomber on a test run to drop a bomb right on him. There are a few good points in this one too, though. Lyle Talbot’s Luthor is particularly devious – when his henchmen fail him he threatens to sentence one to the vast doom of space and asks them who it will be, then when one of the men volunteers, he says that he’s brave – and then he chooses to sentence the other one instead. Also, unlike most of the chapters where all the Superman special effects are animated, this one actually has a pretty realistic looking scene of Kirk Allen overturning a villain’s car and then ripping out the engine and using it to bar the upright door from opening.

Episode 7 is a great episode – as the rough halfway point, it acts as a summary on Superman. Lex Luthor reveals that he acquired the records of Jor-El’s final pleas. In something that has been copied and re-used in many times in Superman stories since, we find out that Lex Luthor knows more about Superman’s origins than Superman himself. It also has the added twist on the end of Krypton that the planet-wide upheaval was caused by a decaying orbit – a pretty good science based explanation for the time. This is accomplished quite deftly in this episode by using a lot of found footage including natural disaster footage, and clips from the original Superman Serial.

The eighth episode provides something of a twist: we finally learn what exactly the ’empty doom’ is – it’s not so much a place (though it could involve displacement in space as well), so much as it’s a form of incorporealness. Superman is unable to affect the physical world. Though he does somehow manage to find a way to send Lois and Jimmy a message via her typewriter (possibly because it’s electric). There’s a lot of unexplained stuff, from how he types, to what is the empty doom, to more mundane things like why does everyone willingly stand under Luthor’s main arc without restraints, and what exactly does Lois keep in her purse that enables her to club thugs unconscious with it… but overall, the fantasy elements of this episode are a nice change of pace, even as poorly explained as they are.

Episode 9, ‘Superman Crashes Through’ takes things too far. In addition to the profound misunderstanding of outer space which I’ve been able to excuse up to this point, we also discover that Luthor’s synthetic kryptonite doesn’t work when exposed to air, and when Superman finally manages to get the drop on Atom Man, it turns out to be just an Atom Man robot. Things get better in the second half, but not enough to save this installment. Episode 10: ‘Atom Man’s Heat Ray’, despite its title, isn’t as grandiose as you might suspect. The heat ray itself is a small device Luthor’s men use to make the doorknob to a payroll truck too hot to touch after they’ve trapped some patsies in it. Storywise, this is a pretty good episode, but there are a few really dumb bits in it. At the start of the episode, Jimmy gets his foot stuck in a railroad tie, just as a train happens to be coming, necessitating rescue by Superman. In another part of the episode, Lois catches Clark coming in through a window (after having made an appearance as Superman), and the best thing he can think to cover his tracks is that he “just woke up” on the window ledge. But on the whole it’s a better than average episode, and even Jimmy gets to punch out a bad guy.

I liked episode 11 for a lot of the subtle attention to details. Luthor holds a press conference, and from the way his office is decorated, one can see that he is a man that likes/admires horses. Later when Lois is reporting with her TV crew on a flood, the camera they are using is not a mere prop – she asks for a closer view and the camera man rotates lenses. It’s subtle touches like these that make some episodes, such as this one, just a little better than average. The flood itself is a mixture of stock footage and models that cuts together better in some places than others, but once again it’s good to see Superman in action saving lives rather than just fighting bad guys.

Episode 12 is a fairly good episode, most of the characters behave in intelligent ways (except perhaps Lois in covering the flood – but risk-taking is normal for reporters and it’s not out of character), and the acting is actually pretty good. Lyle Talbot’s reaction as Luthor to a pad being stolen from his office, for example, is very well played. This episode also features one of the smoothest transitions between Kirk Allyn in costume, and the animated Superman, right on screen (rather than the usual Clark ducking behind a rock and emerging as Superman type thing). There is a sense that the series is finally starting to come to a climax.

Luthor’s pseudoscience gimmicks come fast and furious in Episode 13. Heat rays, death rays, camera devices that see everywhere, flying saucers that for all their sophistication are just used as ramming devices. Pretty much all science and logic goes out the window this episode, but at least it’s counterbalanced by the feeling that things are moving toward a climax.

Luthor pulls out all the stops in Episode 14, ‘Rocket of Vengeance’. He attacks Clark and Lois’ plane with a Flying Saucer, attacks Metropolis by means of his perennial favorite tool: an earthquake, orders Superman shot with an Atomic Projector, and finally launches a missile strike on Metropolis. As you can see, at this point the series has been reduced to gimmick-after-gimmick, thankfully everything will resolve in the fifteenth episode.

Like most serials, the final installment is a bit more exciting than the others, but overall the series maintains a pretty even level, unlike a feature film which steadily builds to a climax. The title of Episode 15, ‘Superman Saves the Universe’ may be a bit of hyperbole; by this time Luthor is on the run, and the biggest threat he makes is against one city (Metropolis) on Earth, never mind anyplace else in the universe. It’s overall pretty good though, a full plate of action that makes the episode seem to fly by faster than the previous ones. It should be noted that Kirk Allyn, though his performance throughout is  he generally does a pretty good job as Superman, but the real standout in the cast is Lyle Talbot as Luthor, who does an excellent job of providing a down-to-earth performance, even amid a plot that is rife with over-the-top gadgets and gimmicks.

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REVIEW: SUPERMAN (1948)

CAST

Kirk Alyn (When Worlds Collide)
Noel Neill (Music Man)
Tommy Bond (Five Little Peppers at Home)
Carol Forman (Blackhawk)
George Meeker (Road to Rio)
Jack Ingram (The Cisco Kid)
Pierre Watkin (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)

we are taking a look at the big blue boy scout’s first attempt on the film screen. That’s right, it’s time to take a look at the first Superman movie serial starring Kirk Alyn. Released in 1948 by Columbia Pictures, the serial was produced by Sam Katzman who produced many film serials starring superheros (and just about every single one I’ve reviewed so far) and contains Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent / Superman.

The serial stays very much true to the origin of Kal-El being launched from Krypton by his father Jor-El, but the only differences are that Jor-El is portrayed as more of a villain that actually caused the destruction of Krypton because of his science experiments and even considered using his son in a prototype rocket to see if it could carry a Kryptonian into space. So the story goes like you remember, Kal-El’s rocket arrives on Earth, the Kent’s pick him up, they take the blanket he was in and made a costume for him out of it when he gets old enough to be a reporter and so on. The plot of the serial is okay, but the only problem is that Superman finds out he is from Krypton for no apparent reason because the rocket he was in explodes mere seconds after Pa Kent rescues him from it thus destroying almost any evidence that he was from the planet Krypton other than the blanket. This is later explained when a meteor from the destroyed planet of Krypton lands on Earth and is discovered by Dr. Leeds who somehow knows it’s from Krypton and thus calls it Kryptonite. Of course, this rock affects Superman and its his Achilles heel throughout the whole serial. At the same time a scientist named Dr. Graham invents a machine that creates natural reducer rays that create a beam that can harness enough energy to trigger an atomic blast. Of course if you saw any of the superhero serials that we review on this website it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there is going to be a villain that is going to steel the device.

That villain or should I say villainess is The Spider Lady, played by actress Carol Forman who also played the villainess Laska in the movie serial Blackhawk also starring Kirk Alyn. The Spider Lady wants to steal the machine in order to rule the underworld and later learns that Superman is helpless against Kryptonite, so she figures that she could combine the Kryptonite with the device in order for it to officially kill Superman. The way she finds out about the Kryptonite is earlier in the serial when Clark reveals his identity to Dr. Leeds after the discovery of the Kryptonite and is overheard by one of Leeds’ assistants who decides to make some money by offering the information to The Spider Lady for some money.

The majority of the serial revolves around Clark working for the Daily Planet while Lois and Jimmy get into trouble until Superman bails them out. One thing I enjoy about the serial is that most of the action scenes don’t involve long take fist fights and instead focuses on Superman using his powers. One thing that gets really annoying is the fact that the filmmakers use Kryptonite almost every time when they film Superman in an action scene in order to make a decent buildup to the cliffhanger at the end of the episode. It gets old and tiring really fast but when you’re the man of steel, it’s hard to lose to two-bit thugs.

Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill do a great job of portraying Clark/Superman and Lois respectively, bringing a lot of tension and chemistry to the characters and some childish antics between the two. One of the best parts of the serial is the fact that Lois always tries to trump Clark in his stories but ends up getting saved by Superman AND also having her story stolen by Clark as a way for some type of reward for Clark. One of the reasons why Kirk does such a great job is that he adds a touch of Smallville to the Clark Kent/Superman character in that he adds that young charming farm kid-like attitude towards the character. He’s just so bright and chipper that you really feel he’s this kid from the Midwest really trying to make it in the big city and he stands out from the rest of the characters, and it’s not because he has super powers. Noel Neill even brings a feisty attitude to Lois that still resonates today in the comic book and you feel that she really nails the part of Lois.

Now before I end this review, I feel that I should probably voice my opinion on the flight scenes portrayed by Superman in the serial. If you don’t know, many fans of Superman are generally disappointed by the serial because of the fact that Kirk Alyn does not fly in the serial but is in fact, replaced by a cartoon every time he goes to fly. Even before I saw the serial for the first time, it took me years to finally stir enough interest to watch due to the fact that the only thing I heard about it was that the flight scenes suck because Superman doesn’t actually fly. To be honest, it doesn’t really bother me that much. Don’t get me wrong, I would have much preferred to see Kirk Alyn being yanked on a harness uncomfortably than seeing a cartoon,(because we already have the Fleischer cartoons for that) but the animation is okay and it is a little neat to see the animators splice the footage in with the live action scenes. Supposedly Kirk Alyn was supposed to wear a harness in order to film some flight scenes but later complained that it was really uncomfortable and Katzman did not like the test footage, so instead found it cheaper to fire the special effects team created to do the flight scenes and instead hired animators.

Despite all of its shortcomings, Superman is still a great serial to watch mostly due to its great cast and special effects throughout the whole production. The costume on Kirk Alyn looks good and the serial doesn’t rely on fist fights for their action scenes and still manages to pull off a few good cliffhangers. So if you got a couple of hours to kill and if you don’t mind a flying cartoon Superman, then I would give this serial a watch

REVIEW: BATMAN AND ROBIN (1949)

 

CAST

Robert Lowery (Adventures of Superman)
Johnny Duncan (Plan 9 From Outer Space)
Jane Adams (Angels in Disguise)
Lyle Talbot (Atom Man vs Superman)
Ralph Graves (Ladies of Leisure)
William Fawcett (Gunsmoke)
Leonard Penn (Spartacus)

Those familiar with Batman and Robin only through Warner Bros.’ franchise or 20th Century-Fox’s campy TV series (and subsequent feature) may be surprised to learn that Batman’s big screen debut dates all the way back to 1943, in a serial produced by Columbia Pictures. The Batman, as it was called, was followed years later by Batman and Robin (1949), an enjoyable 15-chapter serial. The one-a-week chapter play was running out of steam by 1949; the burgeoning medium of television was killing the market for such things. Moreover, Republic and Columbia, the leading producers of serials in the late-1940s, were cutting corners by recycling the same footage — cars sailing off cliffsides, planes crashing into mountains, dams bursting, etc. — over and over, and unimaginative, budget-conscious writing resulted in one serial’s script playing pretty much like any other. In standard movie serial plotting, the villain of the piece is The Wizard, a hooded criminal mastermind operating from the caverns of a remote island base. (As usual with such villains, he has a lot of all-purpose futuristic equipment stacked atop sturdy wood tables.) As usual for chapter plays, The Wizard’s identity is kept secret until the serial’s climax, though its writers surely want viewers to think it’s eccentric, paralyzed inventor (William Fawcett), who secretly sits at an electric chair-type device decked out in neon that enables him to walk around unaided.vicky-valeThe Wizard’s henchmen steal a fantastic new invention which allows the operator to control moving vehicles of any size from extreme distances. Gotham City’s Commissioner Gordon (Lyle Talbot) enlists the aid of crime-fighters Batman (Robert Lowery) and Robin (John Duncan), the secret alter-egos of wealthy — and, in this serial, outrageously lazy — playboys Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Also on the case is plucky photographer Vicki Vale (Jane Adams), who is unaware that Batman/Bruce and Robin/Dick are one and the same. According the IMDb, Vicki Vale’s popularity was boosted by the serial’s success, prompting Batman creator Bob Kane (who is credited in tiny print onscreen) to make the character more prominent in the comics. He reportedly based her design on Marilyn Monroe, though Jane Adams, a brunette, is rather matronly in Batman and Robin. Some will want to watch Batman and Robin solely to mock its now dated thrills and limited budget, others will be drawn to the DVD’s attractive cover art (see above) and perhaps mistake it for something else. (Columbia’s large font “1949” on the box art seems an effort to stave off lawsuits from Warner Bros. and Fox.) Batman and Robin is an easy target next to, say, Joel Schumacher’s over-produced Batman & Robin (1997), whose honeywagon budget alone probably eclipsed the entire cost of the serial.It’s certainly easy to laugh at Bruce and Dick grabbing their superhero costumes out of a file cabinet drawer or, in one scene, Dick putting the top up on his late model Mercury convertible so that Bruce can change into Batman. Really, though, by serial standards of the day, Batman and Robin is above average: the two-heroes-for-the-price-of-one premise is a novelty, and it has a lot of energy in some of its action set pieces. There’s a long fight sequence atop a moving train that’s pretty elaborate for a serial, and there’s enough going on in each chapter — mysterious submarines, underground lairs, futuristic gadgetry — that only the most cynical audiences wouldn’t be entertained. Lowery and Duncan are only okay as Batman and Robin. As Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, the script forces them to behave like sloths around Vicki, and though physically right (at least by late-1940s standards), neither is exactly bursting with charisma. Lowery’s fleshy features suggest Johnny Weissmuller, while Duncan’s Robin/Dick doesn’t so much resemble a Boy Wonder as he does Michael Rooker’s Henry the Serial Killer. Character veteran Talbot is no match for Neil Hamilton’s earnest Commissioner Gordon on the TV show, while Eric Wilton’s Alfred the Butler is all but invisible.