Adventures of Captain Marvel

Infobox Film
name = Adventures of Captain Marvel

caption = Original theatrical poster for "Adventures of Captain Marvel" Episode 10: "Doom Ship"
director = William Witney
John English
producer = Hiram S. Brown, Jr.
writer = Character:
Bill Parker
C. C. Beck
Ronald Davidson
Norman S. Hall
Arch B. Heath
Joseph Poland
Sol Shor
starring = Tom Tyler
Frank Coghlan Jr.
William Benedict
Louise Currie
Robert Strange
Harry Worth
Bryant Washburn
John Davidson
music = Cy Feuer
cinematography = William Nobles
editing =
distributor = Republic Pictures
released = Flagicon|USA 28 March 1941 "(serial)"cite book
last = Mathis
first = Jack
title = Valley of the Cliffhangers Supplement
origyear = 1995
publisher = Jack Mathis Advertising
isbn = 0-9632878-1-8
pages = pp. 3, 10, 52-53
chapter =
Flagicon|USA 15 April 1953 "(re-release)"

runtime = 12 chapters / 216 minutes

country = USA
awards =
language = English
budget = $135,553 (negative cost: $119,343)
preceded_by =
followed_by =
amg_id =
imdb_id = 0033317

"Adventures of Captain Marvel" is a 1941 twelve-chapter film serial directed by John English and William Witney for Republic Pictures, adapted from the popular Captain Marvel comic book character then appearing in Fawcett Comics publications. It starred Tom Tyler (who also played "The Phantom") in the title role of Captain Marvel and Frank Coghlan, Jr. as his alter ego, Billy Batson.

This serial was the twenty-first of the sixty-six serials produced by Republic and their first comic book adaptation (not counting comic strips such as "Dick Tracy"). "Spy Smasher", also based on a Fawcett character, would follow in 1942.

This serial was the first film adaptation of a comic book superhero. That claim would have gone to the previous serial, "Mysterious Doctor Satan", which was intended to have been a Superman serial until National Comics (now DC Comics) pulled out of negotiations. National Comics unsuccessfully attempted to sue Republic for producing a Captain Marvel serial.


The serial featured an adaptation of the Fawcett Comics superhero, placed within an original story in which he fights a criminal mastermind, called The Scorpion, who is determined to gain total control of a magical gold scorpion figurine. It is actually a disguised optical weapon of incredible power (including, but not limited to, melting rock via a projected death ray).

Billy Batson is an assistant radio operator with the Malcolm archaeological expedition to "the Valley of the Tombs". The expedition is attacked by natives but Tal Cholatli parleys with Rahman Bar. A sacred legend states no desecration will occur until the volcano, Scorpio, is active again. At the tombs, Billy refuses to enter the inner tomb as it would desecrate the religious beliefs of others. Instead he goes to pack pottery in another tunnel. In the inner tomb, Tal Cholatli, Prof Malcolm, Prof Luthor Bentley, Dwight Fisher, and Dr Stephen Lang, find the Golden Scorpion. A ray from the Scorpion collapses the entrance to the tombs and opens a hidden passage between Billy and the ancient wizard Shazam. Shazam grants him the ability to change into Captain Marvel in order to prevent the Golden Scorpion from falling into the wrong hands. It is his "duty to see that the curse of the Scorpion is not visited on innocent people."

The lenses from the Golden Scorpion are divided among the five scientists. Scorpio then erupts which triggers a Native 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 after bullets bounce off his chest.

Back in the United States, one of the expedition members masquerades as the Masked Mystery Villain, The Scorpion. He attempts to acquire all of the lenses and the Scorpion for his own power. Several expedition members are killed in his quest despite Captain Marvel's continual efforts to thwart the villain.

Eventually a second expedition sets out because Long had hidden his lens in the Valley of the Tombs. The Scorpion witnesses Billy's change during this and captures him - tying him up and gagging him. The Scorpion interrogates Billy for the secret. When Billy agrees to tell him, The Scorpion removes the gag and Billy says "Shazam", which transforms him into Captain Marvel.

The Scorpion is then later revealed to be Bentley. He is killed by the disillusioned native chief, Rahman Bar, who uses the Scorpion in death ray mode. Shazam himself is heard to say the magic word and Captain Marvel is transformed back into Billy Batson.


*Tom Tyler as Captain Marvel
*Frank Coghlan Jr. as Billy Batson, radio operator with the Malcolm Expedition and secret identity of Captain Marvel.
*William Benedict as Whitey Murphy, a friend of Billy Batson.
*Louise Currie as Betty Wallace, a friend of Billy Batson.
*Robert Strange as John Malcolm, leader of the Malcolm Expedition.
*Harry Worth as Prof Luther Bentley, a member of the Malcolm Expedition and the mystery villain The Scorpion.
*Bryant Washburn as Harry Carlyle
*John Davidson as Tal Chotali, the Malcolm Expedition's guide.
*George Pembroke as Dr. Stephen Lang, a member of the Malcolm Expedition.
*Peter George Lynn as Prof Dwight Fisher, a member of the Malcolm Expedition.
*Reed Hadley as Rahman Bar, the native chief in the Valley of the Tombs.
*Jack Mulhall as Howell
*Kenneth Duncan as Barnett
*Nigel De Brulier as Shazam, the wizard who gives Billy the power to become Captain Marvel.
*Tetsu Komai as Chan Lai
*Stanley Price as Owens
*Gerald Mohr as the voice of The Scorpion


"Adventures of Captain Marvel" was budgeted at $135,553 although the final negative cost was $145,588 (a $10,035, or 7.4%, overspend). It was filmed between December 23, 1940 and January 30, 1941 under the working title Captain Marvel. The serial's production number was 1098.

The serial was an outgrowth of Republic's failed attempt at a chapterplay to feature National Periodical Publications (today DC Comics)'s Superman, the script for which had become the studio's "Mysterious Doctor Satan". The film company approached Fawcett Comics for their most popular character, and that publishing house did not refuse. Director William Witney was, however, skeptical about trying to film Captain Marvel after the problems with Superman.Witney, William. "In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase: Moviemaking Remembered by the Guy at the Door". (McFarland & Company) ISBN 0786422580] As a result, "Adventures of Captain Marvel" became the first superhero film adaptation of a comic book. [cite book
last = Stedman
first = Raymond William
title = Serials: Suspense and Drama By Installment
origyear = 1971
publisher = University of Oklahoma Press
isbn = 9780806109275
pages = pp. 125
chapter = 5. Shazam and Good-by
quote = First superhero "taken directly from a comic book"
] [cite book
last = Cline
first = William C.
title = In the Nick of Time
origyear = 1984
publisher = McFarland & Company, Inc.
isbn = 078640471X
pages = pp. 20
chapter = 2. In Search of Ammunition
quote = "Adventures of Captain Marvel in 1941 pioneered a completely new type of screen champion - the SuperHero [sic| [sic] ."

National attempted legal action to prevent the filming, citing the previous attempt at a Superman serial, but was unsuccessful. Writing in his autobiography of the period, William Witney revealed that in his deposition he had claimed that both Superman and Captain Marvel were derivatives of Popeye. About a decade later, following a legal battle with National and a declining market, Fawcett ceased publication of all its comic series. In the 1970s, the Captain Marvel family of characters was licensed and revived (and ultimately purchased) by DC Comics.

The opening military scenes are taken from a 1938 Republic Pictures film "Storm Over Bengal".


The Republic writers replaced the wit and humor of the original comics with "serious, dedicated professionalism." As they could not use the standard fistfights with Captain Marvel, due to his superpowers compared to the normal antagonists, they had time for plot and characterization in the script.cite book
last = Harmon
first = Jim
coauthors= Donald F. Glut
authorlink = Jim Harmon
title = The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury
origyear = 1973
publisher = Routledge
isbn = 9780713000979
pages = pp. 219, 222, 223, 226, 227, 230
chapter = 9. The Superheroes "Could Superman Knock Out Captain Marvel"


Republic cast Frank Coghlan as Billy Batson due to his physical resemblance to the character.cite book
last = Cline
first = William C.
title = In the Nick of Time
origyear = 1984
publisher = McFarland & Company, Inc.
isbn = 078640471X
pages = pp. 20, 26
chapter = 2. In Search of Ammunition
] However, there was some criticism that Tom Tyler did not sufficiently resemble the "beefy, baby-faced Captain Marvel." At the time, Tyler was a weightlifting champion and the costume matched Captain Marvel's original appearance, even down to slenderness. The appearance of the comic version had changed by this time, however.

Tyler, who was described as clumsy, knocked over props with his "lanky arms". Punches in fight scenes would sometimes connect.

Due to his performance in "King of the Royal Mounted", Robert Strange as John Malcolm was the choice as the villain in this serial; however, in the end he was not actually the villain.cite book
last = Cline
first = William C.
title = In the Nick of Time
origyear = 1984
publisher = McFarland & Company, Inc.
isbn = 078640471X
pages = pp. 142
chapter = 9. They Who Also Serve (The Citizens)

pecial effects

The serial has been hailed as among the finest of the form for both its writing and its production values. In particular, the special effects produced primarily by the Lydecker brothers, and specifically the shots showing Captain Marvel flying, are often impressive.

The flying effects were performed with a dummy. The dummy was slightly larger than life, at 7 feet tall, and made of paper mâché so that it weighed only 15 lbs. The uniform was made of thin silk and a cotton jersey. Four pulleys connected to each shoulder and calf, which were strung on two wires so the dummy moved along them by its own weight. The wires were attached to two objects across the view of the camera, and the dummy slid from one to the other, giving the appearance of flight. This system was originally intended for a Superman serial, a prototype of which was built but discarded. The flying pose used for the dummy, arms outstretched and back arched, was based on drawing by Mac Ruby. If Captain Marvel needed to be seen flying upwards, the cape was weighted down and the dummy slid backwards. The film of this was then reversed.

Dave Sharpe was the human part of the effect. Dressed as Captain Marvel, he would leap from a high point with his body straight, as if able to fly, then roll to land at the last second. The combination of effects and stunts produced the overall illusion of a flying person. Sharpe also performed other stunts as Captain Marvel, such as back flipping and knocking down attacking natives in the first chapter. Some shots of Captain Marvel flying were filmed with Tyler against rear projected clouds. However, some of these scenes show the wires used to hold him up.

According to Stedman, the flight scenes were "the most successful illusion of such aerobatics ever put upon the screen, in serial or feature." [cite book
last = Stedman
first = Raymond William
title = Serials: Suspense and Drama By Installment
origyear = 1971
publisher = University of Oklahoma Press
isbn = 9780806109275
pages = pp. 127
chapter = 5. Shazam and Good-by
quote = "It was the most successful illusion of such aerobatics ever put upon the screen, in serial or feature."

The technique had been developed in the earlier serial "Darkest Africa" (1936) and was later used again in the "Rocket Man" serials ("King of the Rocket Men", "Radar Men from the Moon", "Zombies of the Stratosphere" and "") released during 1949-1953.

The much cheaper Columbia Pictures "Superman" serials which appeared in the late 1940s used animated cartoon sequences to represent various actions, most frequently Superman's flights (Columbia produced the cheapest serials of the period and producer Sam Katzman was notorious for cutting costs).


The tunic worn by Tom Tyler and stuntman David Sharp was actually colored gray, not red. Since the serial was filmed in black and white, this change is unnoticeable. Some Republic publicity materials featured water-colored stills of Tyler in this uniform, in which it was mistakenly colored blue instead of red.

One of the tunics later appeared as the costume of a member of the Kryptonian science counsel in the first episode of "The Adventures of Superman" television show, filmed in 1951. ["Adventures of Superman-The Complete First Season" (1952; Warner Home Video; Release Date: 10-18-05; Episode 1, "Superman on Earth.")] The lightning bolt on the tunic is partially concealed by means of an oversized collar around the actor's neck, but it is unmistakable to anyone familiar with this serial. Considering the fact that Captain Marvel was still being published and that Fawcett Publications and Superman's publishers were bitter adversaries, the appearance of Captain Marvel's uniform in Episode One for his rival could be seen as highly ironic. It is unknown if anyone from the cast or crew was aware of the significance of the artifact.

Today, at The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, Washington, one of the remaining Captain Marvel tunics is on public display (they also have one of the Superman uniforms from the classic George Reeves TV series as well).


The exposure of the movie serial no doubt aided sales of the Captain Marvel magazines, and it is well-documented that for several years the character outsold Superman.

The original Captain Marvel comics, as a rule, did not absorb many elements of this serial, but there were some effects nonetheless. The characters of Betty Wallace and Whitey Murphy both appeared in the Fawcett comics for a while in the 1940's, and Whitey Murphy made at least one cameo appearance in the 1970's DC Comics incarnation of Captain Marvel.

The famed two year story arc featuring Mr. Mind and the original Monster Society of Evil began as a sort of quasi-sequel to this serial. The first chapter is actually introduced with a splash panel showing a movie screen and the opening credits for "A Thrilling New Serial." The heads of an imaginary theater audience are shown silloutted against the movie screen, and the names of the star (Captain Marvel) and supporting cast are listed on the screen, as well as the title of the first chapter. [13] This was clearly meant to evoke the experience of watching a chapter-play in a theater, and to build on the thrills of the original movie serial. As did the creators of the Republic serial, Otto Binder and the staff of Fawcett comics kept the true identity of the master villain a secret for many chapters (although Mr. Mind's true identity was revealed far sooner than the Scorpion, whose identity was not known until the final chapter). This two-year story arc is universally regarded to be one of the milestones of the Golden Age of Comics and can arguably be considered the first graphic novel.

Captain Marvel was the first super-powered, costumed, comic strip hero to be filmed, and the first character exclusively created for comic books (as opposed to newspaper strips, such as Flash Gordon and Dick Tracy) to be filmed as well. Therefore, it fell upon 'The Adventures of Captain Marvel' to prove that comic book heroes could be bankable movie properties. The release of this serial is the beginning of a long sequence of comic book super-hero serials, films, and television shows which continues to this day. In the modern world, relatively few actual comic books are sold; nonetheless, it is routine for movie studios to spend over $100 million to produce the likes of X-Men, Superman or Spider-Man, and it is equally routine for such a film to gross twice that amount. As of fall 2008, for instance, 'The Dark Knight,' a cinematic adaptation of the comic book hero Batman, had grossed over $500 million. In this way, 'Adventures of Captain Marvel' foreshadowed the future of comic book heroes. Home video copies of this serial became commercially available in the 1990s, bringing it to a wider audience. The Scorpion weapon would reappear in the 1990s "Power of Shazam" comic book.

The creator of the "Power of Shazam", Jerry Ordway, has on multiple occasions cited his admiration for the serial, and his version of Captain Marvel wears a button-flap 'tunic' similar to that of Tom Tyler. Prior to Mr. Ordway, this garment had been unseen for 54 years: In the comic books, Captain Marvel had discarded the button-flap in favor of a more typical super-hero skin tight shirt after only a few appearances and many fans were not even aware of the garment. In fact, Capt. Marvel already abandoned the button-flap by the time this serial was produced and wasn't seen wearing it again until the 1994 "Power of Shazam" graphic novel. Since the novel's publication, and even after the demise of the ongoing Power of Shazam comic book, Captain Marvel continues to sport the button-flap tunic.

In addition, artist Alex Ross's version 1990's and subsequent renditions of Captain Marvel feature a shiney, metallic lightning bolt emblem on the chest, like gold foil. Ross openly credits the movie serial as his inspiration for this alteration.

Screenwriter and B-movie producer Don Glut is an avowed fan of this serial and produced his own home-movie version of Captain Marvel. Glut would later go on to write episodes of TV's 'Super-Friends,' and other juvenile fare. Coming full circle, Glut also became a writer for the live-action 'Shazam!' TV program, a popular 1970's adaptation of Captain Marvel. At least one episode of 'Shazam!' featured outdoor shots of the famous Bronson Cave, which had been used for a memorable sequence during 'Adventures of Captain Marvel.'



"Adventures of Captain Marvel"'s official release date was March 28, 1941, although this is actually the date the sixth chapter was made available to film exchanges. The serial was re-released on April 15, 1953 under the title "Return of Captain Marvel", between the first runs of "Jungle Drums of Africa" and "Canadian Mounties vs. Atomic Invaders".

Home media

Republic Pictures released the serial as a two-tape VHS set in 1995. The serial was released on DVD in 2003.

Critical reception

Harmon and Glut claim that Adventures of Captain Marvel is "unquestionably one of the finest movie serials ever made, possible the best with the exception of the three Flash Gordon epics." Cline describes this as one of the most outstanding of all serials [cite book
last = Cline
first = William C.
title = In the Nick of Time
origyear = 1984
publisher = McFarland & Company, Inc.
isbn = 078640471X
pages = pp. 37
chapter = 3. The Six Faces of Adventure
] and Republic's "masterpiece." He writes that Tyler's "striking performance...remains in thousands of minds as the most memorable serial hero of all time - bar none." [cite book
last = Cline
first = William C.
title = In the Nick of Time
origyear = 1984
publisher = McFarland & Company, Inc.
isbn = 078640471X
pages = pp. 83
chapter = 5. A Cheer for the Champions (The Heroes and Heroines)

Chapter titles

# Curse of the Scorpion (30 min.)
# The Guillotine (16 min.)
# Time Bomb (17 min.)
# Death Takes the Wheel (16 min.)
# The Scorpion Strikes (16 min.)
# Lens of Death (16 min.)
# Human Targets (17 min.)
# Boomerang (17 min.)
# Dead Man's Trap (16 min.)
# Doom Ship (16 min.)
# Valley of Death (16 min.)
# Captain Marvel's Secret (16 min.)Source: [cite book
last = Cline
first = William C.
title = In the Nick of Time
origyear = 1984
publisher = McFarland & Company, Inc.
isbn = 078640471X
pages = pp. 230
chapter = Filmography


13. Captain Marvel Adventures #22, March 1943, "The Monster Society of Evil, Chapter I, The Pearl of Peril."

External links

*imdb title|id=0033317|title=The Adventures of Captain Marvel

###@@@KEY@@@###succession box
title=Republic Serial
before=Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940)
years=The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)
after=Jungle Girl (1941)
succession box
title=Witney-English Serial
before=Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940)
years=The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)
after=Jungle Girl (1941)

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