Adventures of Captain Marvel is a 1941 American 12-chapter black-and-white Republic Pictures film serial, produced by Hiram S. Brown, Jr., directed by John English and William Witney, that stars Tom Tyler in the title role of Captain Marvel and Frank Coghlan, Jr. as his alter ego, Billy Batson. This serial was adapted from the popular Captain Marvel comic book character then appearing in Fawcett Comics publications Whiz Comics and Captain Marvel Adventures.
Adventures of Captain Marvel was the 21st of 66 film serials produced by Republic and their first comic book character adaptation (not counting comic strips). The serial featured the Fawcett Comics superhero, placed within an original screen story. Captain Marvel fights a masked criminal mastermind called the Scorpion, who is determined to gain control of an ancient weapon. It is made in the form of a large metallic scorpion with adjustable legs, tail, and removable lenses that must be properly aligned in order to activate its powerful ray.
When Billy Batson receives the ability to become Captain Marvel from the wizard Shazam, he does so by speaking the wizard’s name, conferring upon him these powers:
S = The Wisdom of Solomon
H = The Strength of Hercules
A = The Stamina of Atlas
Z = The Power of Zeus
A = The Courage of Achilles
M = The Speed of Mercury
Republic’s flying effects, under the direction of Howard and Theodore Lydecker, were performed using a dummy that 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 cotton jersey. Four pulleys were connected to each shoulder and leg calf, which were then strung on two wires so the dummy moved along them by its own weight. The wires were attached to two opposite objects running across the camera’s field of view, and the dummy then slid from one to the other, giving the illusion of flight. This system was originally intended for use in their Superman serial; a prototype dummy was even built but later discarded. The flying pose used for the dummy (arms outstretched and back arched) was based upon a Captain Marvel drawing by comics artist Mac Raboy. If the dummy needed to be seen flying upwards, the cape was convincingly weighted and the dummy was then slid backwards. The film sequence was then optically printed in reverse, completing the flying illusion.
By William Witney / John English [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons