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Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941, William Witney and John English), Chapter 9: Dead Man's Trap

Dead Man’s Trap is, I guess, a bridging chapter. It depends on what’s next. Otherwise it’s a treading water chapter.

It picks up from the previous chapter’s “cliffhanger” (quotations because it’s more of a “beware the cliff 150 meters away” than anything else) and gives George Pembroke quite a bit to do for a while. He’s good, the regular guy captured by the Scorpion and then tortured until he talks. Pembroke’s pure joy at Tom Tyler coming to his rescue is one of Captain Marvel’s most honest moments.

There’s some convoluted machinations to get Louise Currie in danger and to give Frank Coghlan Jr. a chance to Captain Marvel out. But there’s no tension. It’s weird, coming off a strong chapter, to see the serial just go back to business as usual.

The cliffhanger’s kind of cool, but there’s no chance it’ll have a good resolution so who cares.

Three quarters done, it’s still impossible to guess how Captain Marvel is going to wrap up, quality-wise. The actors are fine, usually likable (though Currie’s a little dense here), but the serial itself spins its wheels too much.

CREDITS

Directed by John English and William Witney; screenplay by Ronald Davidson, Norman S. Hall, Arch Heath, Joseph F. Poland, and Sol Shor, based on the comic book by C.C. Beck and Bill Parker; director of photography, William Nobles; edited by William P. Thompson and Edward Todd; music by Cy Feuer; released by Republic Pictures.

Starring Frank Coghlan Jr. (Billy Batson), Tom Tyler (Captain Marvel), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Whitey Murphy), Louise Currie (Betty Wallace), Kenne Duncan (Barnett), Robert Strange (John Malcolm), Harry Worth (Prof. Luther Bentley), John Davidson (Tal Chotali), and George Pembroke (Dr. Stephen Lang).


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Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941, William Witney and John English), Chapter 8: Boomerang

Boomerang is the best chapter of Captain Marvel yet. Not because of Captain Marvel action–there’s some, but it’s perfunctory–rather it’s the plotting. Boomerang springboards off something in the previous chapter (unrelated to the cliffhanger), sort of narratively hopping over something. That something being the predictable, tedious, though visually interesting cliffhanger resolution. Boomerang then assumes a traditional three act structure, which the serial hasn’t been doing to this point. It’s kind of strange, but also excellent.

The good guys have a plan, they learn something, they execute their plan, things go wrong, resolution, second resolution. It’s exciting, but without any big effects sequences. Frank Coghlan Jr. only says the magic word to get out of immediate trouble. It’s a thankless role for Tom Tyler. He gets to have a little fun–albeit cruel fun–and fun is long overdo. It makes him more sympathetic, even though his part is still a mess.

Coghlan’s amateur sleuths–William ‘Billy’ Benedict and Louise Currie–both get some decent moments. Their characters have to interact in a way the actors get to define the characters. They’re not solely around to be functional in Boomerang. They get to show personality.

Good supporting work from George Pembroke this chapter too.

It’s not really a bridging chapter because it never resolves its opening problem. Coghlan and company thought they’d discovered something big, only for its veracity to get delayed… presumably until next chapter. Boomerang’s something though. It’s breathtaking in its pragmatism.

CREDITS

Directed by John English and William Witney; screenplay by Ronald Davidson, Norman S. Hall, Arch Heath, Joseph F. Poland, and Sol Shor, based on the comic book by C.C. Beck and Bill Parker; director of photography, William Nobles; edited by William P. Thompson and Edward Todd; music by Cy Feuer; released by Republic Pictures.

Starring Frank Coghlan Jr. (Billy Batson), Tom Tyler (Captain Marvel), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Whitey Murphy), Louise Currie (Betty Wallace), Kenne Duncan (Barnett), Robert Strange (John Malcolm), Harry Worth (Prof. Luther Bentley), John Davidson (Tal Chotali), and George Pembroke (Dr. Stephen Lang).


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Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941, William Witney and John English), Chapter 7: Human Targets

Starting Human Targets, I couldn’t remember what cliffhanger needed to be resolved. It’s not a good one. More of the “Tom Tyler is bad at being a superhero” same. Once it gets resolved, with William ‘Billy’ Benedict shooting the breeze with Tyler and asking zero questions about why Tyler’s trying to save him, the action moves back to the archaeologists’ meeting.

It’s never clear why they meet so often. They’re not working on anything. This time they get mad about Frank Coghlan Jr. knowing their business and trying to, you know, save their lives. But since the Scorpion is secretly a member of the archaeologist club, he’s really just setting a trap to rid himself of Coghlan.

The Scorpion uses Louise Currie as the bait. She gets kidnapped, rescued, then kidnapped again. The second kidnapping is, you guessed it, because Tyler’s bad at being a superhero. When Currie does get to the Scorpion’s lair, she has the best moment in Captain Marvel to date. It’s just a second of agency, but it’s more than I’d ever expected for her to get; it’s a great second of agency too.

There’s some great special effects, particularly of Tyler taking down a gunsel on a dam. The cliffhanger at the end seems dire, but I’m sure Captain Marvel will come up with a lackluster way to get out of it.

Still, good chapter. Marvel works better when it’s Coghlan, Currie, and Benedict. They’ve got all the energy.

CREDITS

Directed by John English and William Witney; screenplay by Ronald Davidson, Norman S. Hall, Arch Heath, Joseph F. Poland, and Sol Shor, based on the comic book by C.C. Beck and Bill Parker; director of photography, William Nobles; edited by William P. Thompson and Edward Todd; music by Cy Feuer; released by Republic Pictures.

Starring Frank Coghlan Jr. (Billy Batson), Tom Tyler (Captain Marvel), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Whitey Murphy), Louise Currie (Betty Wallace), Kenne Duncan (Barnett), Robert Strange (John Malcolm), Harry Worth (Prof. Luther Bentley), John Davidson (Tal Chotali), and George Pembroke (Dr. Stephen Lang).


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Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941, William Witney and John English), Chapter 6: Lens of Death

Lens of Death has great fistfight in the middle. Sadly, it’s not Captain Marvel fighting, but this guy’s butler. The place is being robbed and the butler takes on the two crooks and keeps them busy until Captain Marvel does arrive. There’s no great fight scene Captain Marvel Tom Tyler, though he does get a fairly neat rooftop chase scene. He’s on the rooftop, chasing people on the ground. William P. Thompson and Edward Todd edit the heck out of the sequence, as Tyler’s stunt double looks nothing like him, so they’re cutting on movement and trying to match. It’s cool.

Unfortunately, it’s the middle of the chapter and there’s no more cool after it. Death opens with another lackluster cliffhanger resolve. The only reason for the cliffhanger, it turns out, is because Tyler’s not good at making himself aware of his surroundings. The time he wasted let the bad guy get away.

Then, thanks to the radio, the bad guy outwits all the archaeologist types. Frank Coghlan Jr. and William ‘Billy’ Benedict are the only ones who can save the day. They split up, but eventually Tyler has to go to save Benedict. And he manages to get himself in another easily avoidable predicament.

Coghlan always come across as pretty smart. It’s unclear why once he becomes Tyler, the character makes really poor choices.

CREDITS

Directed by John English and William Witney; screenplay by Ronald Davidson, Norman S. Hall, Arch Heath, Joseph F. Poland, and Sol Shor, based on the comic book by C.C. Beck and Bill Parker; director of photography, William Nobles; edited by William P. Thompson and Edward Todd; music by Cy Feuer; released by Republic Pictures.

Starring Frank Coghlan Jr. (Billy Batson), Tom Tyler (Captain Marvel), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Whitey Murphy), Louise Currie (Betty Wallace), Kenne Duncan (Barnett), Robert Strange (John Malcolm), Harry Worth (Prof. Luther Bentley), John Davidson (Tal Chotali), and George Pembroke (Dr. Stephen Lang).


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