THE NEXT TIME you find yourself marveling at the glorious slate of superhero movies we have to enjoy these days, take a moment to thank Captain Marvel for being the first of his kind to make the crossover from page to screen, in 1941’s much-heralded, 12-part serialized movie, The Adventures of Captain Marvel. And while you’re at it, be sure to thank the folks at Kino Lorber for giving this seminal film a home video release worthy of its historical significance.
The film has been newly re-mastered from a 4K scan by Paramount Pictures Archives, which means it should look at least as good as it did when it first thrilled audiences 76 years ago. It’s available on both Blu-ray and DVD, and extras include an essay booklet and commentary tracks from a long list of recognized film historians, including Matt Singer, Tom Weaver and Leonard Maltin.
WHILE A NUMBER of pulp, radio, and comic strip heroes did beat the Captain to the screen—Green Hornet, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, and Mandrake the Magician come to mind—Marvel was the first super-powered character to actually make the leap from comic books. And what a leap it was! Kids went crazy as they watched a caped superhero take to the sky for the very first time. And the fact that he was really just one of them, an ordinary young man named Billy Batson who could transform into a flying colossus just by saying the word Shazam!, must have made it seem like a dream come true.
The 12-chapter serial runs 216 minutes and serves as an origin story, showing young Billy attaining his powers and then putting them to work against a hooded villain named the Scorpion, who’s out to gain control of an ancient superweapon. It stars Tom Tyler (The Phantom) as Captain Marvel, and Frank Coghlan, Jr. as Billy Batson. Loaded with action, it’s widely considered by critics to be one of the finest serials of its kind.
For fans of superhero cinema, it’s certainly one of the most important.