Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Discuss: Movie Serials

Doug:  As a kid, I've mentioned that I lived in Milwaukee for around 2 1/2 years and that it was a formative time for me in comics as well as films of old pulp characters.  Below you'll see an episode from King of the Rocket Men, which I saw around 40 years ago on broadcast television.  What serials have you seen and which ones do you actually own due to their influence on you?


Anonymous said...

Bought it on DVD. Fairly consistent with the comics, decent storyline, pretty impressive effects, and not a lot of "cheap" resolutions to cliffhangers. Highly recommended.

William said...

I have that Captain Marvel serial DVD as well. It is supposed to be the cream of the crop of the old superhero movie serials. It's pretty good for the budget and year it was made.

I used to love watching those old movie serials when I was a kid. They would run them late at night on UHF channel 51. I especially remember watching Flash Gordon and another called the Masked Marvel. Those old serials are hard to watch now, but when I was a kid they seemed like really serious stuff to me. lol

Doug said...

You know when you were a little kid you were the worst typecaster, right? It took me several days to understand how Buster Crabbe could be Flash Gordon in the serial episode that immediately preceded the Tarzan flick where he played the Lord of the Jungle! Wait... what?!?


Anonymous said...

I wasn't all that into those but I vaguely remember watching a Captain America serial where he had a gun but no shield.


Anonymous said...

"Adventures of Captain Marvel" was one of the best serials ever. I saw it at a sci-fi convention many years ago. Universal's Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials used to be a staple of Saturday morning TV. More recently, TCM ran some pretty good serials, including the Green Hornet, Zorro's Fighting Legion, and Dick Tracy on Saturdays. I've seen a few episodes of Columbia serials on Youtube. Their "Shadow" serial was probably the best movie adaptation of that character. "Superman" (1948) was not bad, but the flying scenes were done with line-drawn animated cartoons that did not match up well with the live action. Also, several serials were edited into feature films, and they used to turn up often on late night TV on weekends. There were two Tarzan movies, one with Buster Crabbe and another with Herman Brix (aka Bruce Bennett). Also several feature versions of Republic serials: Spy Smasher, Dr. Satan, Masked Marvel, Ghost of Zorro (with Clayton Moore), and Commando Cody/Rocket Man. One of those (Zombies of the Stratosphere, aka Satan's Satellites) had a brief appearance by Leonard Nimoy as one of the alien invaders.

Anonymous said...

The Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe were on BBC TV in the '70s, the special effects were primitive of course but so what as it was the stories that mattered, nowadays the CGI seems to come first and the story is just an afterthought.

Garett said...

I like the vibe of that Batman video--not campy or too dark, just right. Funny that they park the Batmobile in their driveway though!

I saw a bit of Flash Gordon serials as a kid, and it whetted my appetite for more. The spirit of adventure in the heroes of that time is something that I look for...derring-do! I'll check out that Captain Marvel serial on youtube.

There's a comic that just came out called the Black Beetle, that looks like it has the pulp fiction vibe. Written/drawn by Francesco Francavilla.

MattComix said...

We just watched the first four of the Batman ones on Rifftracks. They're pretty bad. In many ways a precursor to the 60's show only in this one all the humor is unintentional. Wayne Manor looks like the set for the Dick Van Dyke show and the Batmobile...well, if you want "realism" for your Batmobile there ya go. :P

The Superman one's are kinda fun despite the use of animation for when he flies. (and for all of our vaunted technological advancement we now basically do the same thing using computers. This is part of why the 78 movie still wins.)

Kirk Alyn is kind of underrated in the pantheon of Superman actors IMO.

You guys were talking about Buster Crabbe. I really think if they had made a Captain America serial and actually gave a damn about making good Crabbe would have been an excellent choice for Steve Rogers.

Greg said...

I remember the old Flash Gordon serials, those were a hoot. We used to watch them on a little B&W TV up north on weekend nights... ah those days. :)

Doc Savage said...

love both Batman serials, the Captain America serial, Captain Marvel, the Phantom, Mandrake, all of 'em...rather watch those than the later stuff. Heaps of fun. Who knew Cap was the District Attorney and his real name was Grant Gardner?

Unknown said...

To Make A Long Story Long:
I had never heard of movie serials until I ran across a book called To Be Continued in the early 70's. Wow!
There were movies with Superman & Batman in the 40's? And Capt. America? And Capt. Marvel? And Congo Bill? My mind was duly blown. Mediascene also ran an extensive article on the serials, with plenty of photos.

The thing of it is, there was practically no superhero-oriented television available in Monterey, CA in the early 70's. The Filmation cartoons were a distant memory. Eventually we got Super-Friends, and then Shazam, and then the Cathy Lee Crosby Wonder Woman TV-movie. At least someone tried to threw a punch in that one. We didn't have Batman reruns for a few years, and we never did get Superman reruns. It was so bad that I used to get excited every Sunday when I heard The Six Million Dollar Man theme.

Bob Wilkins announced that the Flash Gordon serial was coming to Creature Features about a month beforehand in the mid 70's. My god, was I excited. True to his word, he showed all three of them. We got a chapter before every feature on Saturday night. They were great! And awful. But I loved them. I could see them for what they were, which was cheap. But they had some magic to them (Princess Aura magic at least).

I had high hopes that the flood gates were opening, but that was it. I think he kept them all in rotation for years. But I never saw any other serials for years. It really took home video, and then TCM and Youtube to finally make them available. I wish TCM still showed them on Saturday mornings. I really got used to that.

Having said all that, I have to say that Flash Gordon and Capt. Marvel hold up about the best from what I've seen. But they were all made very cheaply, and with very little care. Some of them are so embarrassing. Still, the serials still hold a certain mystique for me. It's probably a combination of my general love of comix history & the time period (30's-40's) and that feeling I've never been able to shake of comix-to-film desolation. I'm still so surprised when a comic film actually comes out, that I'm embarrassed to say that I paid money to see even Ghost Rider in the theatre (I drew the line at the 2nd one). I even convinced myself that Green Lantern wasn't half bad until I caught a few minutes channel surfing the other night. My god it sucked!

The first chapter of Batman, awful as it is, has moments that show how much potential a 40's era Batman film taken seriously could have had. I'm still waiting to catch a chapter or two of Blackhawk and the Vigilante. I've yet to summon up the curiosity to even type the words "Congo Bill" into Youtube, though.

P.S. Imagine if Republic and the Lydecker Bros had bought the rights to Plastic Man. I wonder how that would've turned out?

James Chatterton

Rip Jagger said...

Love 'em!

The Rocketman serials are top notch schmaltz and fun as heck! Aliens, babes, and gangsters run amok on the rocky hills of Hollywood, it's a hoot.

I really enjoy the Captain Marvel, Phantom, and both Batman serials. The Superman serials are pretty good, and the one with the Lone Ranger is great too.

Some of the older ones with pure adventure themes are great. Perils of Pauline is dandy as well as the Return of Chandu with Bela Lugosi. Lugosi is a real star in some great serials such as The Phantom Creeps.

If you want the most accurate Tarzan ever on screen you have to see the serial starring Herman Brix titled The New Adventures of Tarzan.

There are so many great serials. I've really enjoy them.

Rip Off

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