Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Among best of best Republic serials...

Published Feb. 2, 1996 in my weekly Crum on Film column that ran in The Kansas City Kansan.


By Steve Crum 

After all these movie-going, widescreen years. After all the popcorn that has spilled by the aisle-side. Those schlocky, corny films are dear and near. Rarely Oscar caliber, true, but fun to view. Consider this installment of a critic’s Shameless Screenings. 

Movie Serials

Originally shown an episode once a week for 10-15 weeks before the Saturday feature film (along with a cartoon, previews and newsreel), dozens of serials can still be appreciated via videotape. The best were made by Republic Pictures, the cream of B-movie producers during the 1930’s-early ‘50s. 

These action-packed black and whites packed the best special effects (of the time) and the most spectacular stunt work into each 20-minute chapter. The hero was always on the verge of being crushed, crashed or exploded. But we’d have to wait until next week to see how he would get out safely. 

•The best of the best is 1941’s The Adventures of Captain Marvel, featuring upright Tom Tyler as the comic book “Shazam” superhero in the best flying sequences this side of Commando Cody. Also, this Marvel guy is no slouch about carrying out violent death sentences on his enemies, such as gleefully pitching a hoodlum from atop a 20-story warehouse. (Note the same falling scream used in all Republic serials.) 

•1943’s The Masked Marvel (no direct relation to Captain Marvel—except they both have their origins in Marvel brand comic books) is a modern (’43) action hero in a double-breasted, gray flannel suit and hat! Add a black upper face mask, and you get some of the best two-fisted fighting in serials. The gimmick in this one is there are five guys dressed in the same wardrobe, working as insurance agents side-by-side. One by one, they are killed off, finally revealing the real Masked Marvel’s secret identity. MM is laced with propaganda, typical of serials and mainstream films of the WWII era. In this one, he battles a Japanese infiltrator and his gang of saboteurs.

Though not possessing super powers, MM does turn a neat trick in one scene by jumping from a standing position straight up, over 100 feet, lighting atop a wall. And he does it backwards!

The Adventures of Red Ryder (1940) stars Don Barry as the Fred Harman comic strip western hero, always accompanied by Native American sidekick Little Beaver. (“You betchum, Red Ryder!”) So popular was the serial that it not only made Barry a major B-western star, it gave him a nickname for life, Don “Red” Barry. In real life, Barry’s hair was not red. 

This is a great stunt film that ends in the last chapter with an incredible fall by Red and the bad guy down what looks to be the Grand Canyon. No way could Republic writers come up with a logical way he could survive the death dive. So in the last 30 seconds of the final chapter while everyone, including Little Beaver, is crying and mourning the late Ryder, who do you think comes galloping from out of nowhere, his arm in a sling? Yep, pardner, Red Ryder lives. 

His classic explanation to the Beav: “Well, we fooled ‘em this time, sprout.” The end. Fadeout. 
And now, boys and girls, the coming attraction promo for The Adventures of Captain Marvel:

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