Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)

Created the year after Superman by C.C. Beck and Bill Parker, Captain Marvel is the alter ego of newspaper boy Billy Batson, who gains the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury when he says “Shazam!”

He was created when Fawcett Comics’ circulation director Roscoe Kent Fawcett said, “Give me a Superman, only have his other identity be a 10- or 12-year-old boy rather than a man.”

During the 40s, his comic book — Captain Marvel Adventures — claimed the “Largest Circulation of Any Comic Magazine” and was selling fourteen million copies a year.

This certainly didn’t make National Periodical Publications — the home of Superman — happy.

Republic made this serial was because Paramount Pictures successfully tied up rights to Superman and only made cartoons, not live action movies. Republic kept trying to get those rights and kept getting turned down. They took the script they had written for their Superman serial and changed it to The Mysterious Dr. Satan.

Then, they started talking to Fawcett and this became the first licensed live action comic book adaption.

National attempted legal action to prevent Republic from even making this serial, citing Republic’s failure at gaining the right for Superman. This would come back to haunt Fawcett, as litigation continued for seven years with National Comics Publications, Inc. v. Fawcett Publications, Inc. heading to trial in 1948.

While the presiding judge decided that Captain Marvel was an infringement, DC hadn’t copyrighted several of their Superman daily newspaper strips and basically had abandoned their Superman copyright. You can only imagine of Siegel and Schuster, who created Superman, felt after selling the rights to their character for $130. That said, the first court case went in Fawcett’s win column.

National appealed and secured the Superman copyright. In 1952, Judge Learned Hand did not find that the character of Captain Marvel itself was an infringement, but rather that specific stories or super feats could be infringements. Yet instead of a retrial, an exhausted Fawcett chose to settle, permanently canceling all of the Captain Marvel-related comics and paying National $400,000 in damages.

Fawcett creators Otto Binder and Kurt Schaffenberger ended up at DC, working on Superman. Hoppy the Marvel Bunny was sold to Charlton, British reprints became Marvelman instead of Captain Marvel for another decade. In 1972, DC Comics began licensing all of the Captain Marvel characters, except that Marvel was now around — which is why Marvelman became Miracleman but that’s another long story — which meant that now, Captain Marvel was Shazam. C.C. Beck did the first ten issues before quitting, saying “As an illustrator, I could, in the old days, make a good story better by bringing it to life with drawings. But I couldn’t bring the new stories to life no matter how hard I tried.”

For years, Shazam and his family lived on Earth-S, until the Crisis on Infinite Earths made all DC Comics take place on one Earth, which lasted for a few years until we came right back to a multiverse. By 1991, DC owned the characters outright and while they may have struggled to fit into their larger universe, the character has remained popular enough to get his own TV series in the 70s — this writer had a homemade costume as a child that he wore as soon as he got home from school — and the 2019 movie, which was released the very same year that Marvel had a Captain Marvel movie.

The serial changes up the origin somewhat. During an archaeological expedition to find the lost secret of the Scorpion Kingdom in the Valley of the Tombs, the Golden Scorpion is found inside a crypt. Only one person hasn’t entered the crypt, respecting the warning: Billy Batson, who is given the powers of Shazam by the ancient wizard with that very same name.

When the archaeologists come back to America, the villain known as the Scorpion starts killing them and stealing parts of the Golden Scorpion. Now, Captain Marvel must protect the surviving scientists and stop the villain from using the treasure for evil.

Directed by William Whitney — Quentin Tarantino is a huge fan: “Easily the most violent movies ever made for children were made by Witney (I say that as a badge of honor; get ‘em while they’re young). That would include many of his serials: Drums Of Fu Manchu, Spy Smasher, Dick Tracy Returns. And especially The Adventures of Captain Marvel, which easily contains in Tom Tyler’s Captain Marvel, the most homicidal berserker superhero of cinema. (Most of the gags and set pieces that Spielberg restages for Raiders of the Lost Ark are taken from Witney’s chapter plays)” — and John English, this is a fun serial, often looked at as one of the better examples of these short adventures. As for the effects, well, they used a weighted cape and a dummy to make it look like flight. People were amazed in 1941, though.

You can watch this on Tubi.

KINO LORBER BLU RAY RELEASE: Back Street (1941)

Adapted from the 1931 Fannie Hurst novel and the 1932 film version — which it follows nearly scene-for-scene — this sympathetic tale of an adulterous couple was pretty unique for 1941, as you wouldn’t think this type of behavior would play well then. It was also remade in 1961 with Susan Hayward and John Gavin in the lead roles.

This take on the story — Hurst also wrote Imitation of Life — stars Margaret Sullavan as Ray Smith, who has her pick of many men, but the one she wants, Walter Louis Saxel (Charles Boyer) gets away by the whim of fate. Years later, they reconnect and she becomes his kept woman, literally at his beck and call while he leads a family life and has her for his pleasure. They’re so connected that she dies moments after listening to him expire on the telephone.

As sad as this ending is, both Sullivan and Boyer would die from overdoses. On a happier note, she wanted Boyer to be in this movie so much that she gave up her normal top billing.

It’s pretty controversial material for Robert Stevenson, who would go on to direct Mary PoppinsThat Darn Cat and Old Yeller. Alfred Hitchcock was the original choice of director, so I can only imagine how he would have made this soap opera of a film.

The Kino Lorber blu ray of Back Street has a new 2K master, commentary by film historian Lee Gambin and costume Historian Elissa Rose, and a newly mastered theatrical trailer.

Spooks Run Wild (1941)

Phil Rosen made a ton of movies — six entries in the Charlie Chan series alone — but this is his only East Side Kids movie, made for Sam Katzman and Banner Pictures.

There had been six films in the series since 1940 — yes, a year — and the movies before this balance comedy and social commentary on being poor in America. For the seventh film, Katzman got Carl Foreman (The Bridge on the River KwaiHigh Noon — after which he was blacklisted for six years — and The Guns of Navarone) and Charles R. Marion to write a script that combined the two biggest stars of Monogram Pictures: the kids and Bela Lugosi.

How fast did this get made? It was still filming in August and in theaters for Halloween.

Muggs (Leo Gorcey), Danny (Bobby Jordan), Glimpy (Huntz Hall), Scruno (Sunshine Sammy Morrison), Skinny (Donald Haines) and Peewee (David Gorcey) are heading to juvenile delinquent summer camp in an area that’s being cursed by a monster killer.

Also on the way into town are Nardo (Lugosi), his hunchback assistant Luigi (Angelo Rossitto, whose career stretches from Freaks to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, with stops along the way in movies like Mesa of Lost WomenDracula vs. Frankenstein and The Trip) and master detective Dr. Von Grosch (Dennis Moore, who was in serials all the way to the end, acting in the last Universal Pictures entry in 1946 and the last episodic shorts Columbia Pictures made in 1956).

Dave O’Brien, who was Knuckles Dolan in this series before, shows up as does his wife Dorothy Short, who plays the camp nurse. They met on the set of Reefer Madness.

Lugosi would return as a Nazi spy in Ghosts on the Loose, teaming him again with the East Side Kids and a young Ava Gardner. Sadly, this was East Side Kid Skinny’s last film, as he enlisted as an aviation cadet and was killed in action in two years later.

You can watch this on Tubi.

The Blood of Jesus (1941)

Before drive-in exploitation filmmaker Ron Ormond found faith and made a series of films with Southern Baptist pastor Estus Pirkle (The Burning Hell), there was this early “Christploitation” classic, a low-budget concern with an all-Black cast (and crew) regarding a newly baptized, Baptist-believing woman accidentally shot by her atheist husband. Upon her death, she’s greeted by an angel who takes her to the Crossroads of Life. The story, intelligently, turns into a parable based on the tale of Blues musician Robert Johnson’s trip to the crossroads (and other Southern Baptist folk tales), as the Devil (a great James B. Jones) temps her with the sins of the big city.

Sure, the against-the-budget, student film productions values — shot for $5,000 ($91,000 in 2021) — are crude and the actors aren’t pros, but this “race film” packs a powerful punch.

The Blood of Jesus was written and directed by Spenser Williams, a black actor who got his start in the late 1920s in a series of “roadhouse” shorts. He worked his way up to a starring role as “Andy” in CBS-TV’s, 78-episode, three-year (1951-1953) adaptation of Chicago WMAQ-AM’s long-running radio comedy Amos n’ Andy (1928-1960). The radio show was, of course as common for the times, voiced by white actors. Beginning his writing and directing career at the same time he began his acting career, Jackson augmented his 30-plus acting credits as a writer of eight films and as a director of thirteen.

He made his directing debut with the 10-minute comedy short Hot Biskits (1931) about two-men in a high stakes golf game. He followed the hour-long The Blood of Jesus with another faith-based film, Brother Martin (1942), which concerns the life Peruvian Martin de Porres, a late sixteenth-century believer (later elevated to sainthood in 1962 by Pope John XXIII). Spencer Jackson’s final feature film (a really fun watch) is the comedy Juke Joint (1947), which follows the Amos n’ Andy model of two con men trying to turn a buck as part of a small town beauty contest.

If there is any filmmaker who demands a restoration box set of his films (at least his efforts as a writer-director) or a biographical film (not a documentary, but a dramatic film on the level of say, Richard Attenborough’s 1992 Chaplin homage to British Comedian Charlie Chaplin), Spenser Williams is it.

Make it happen, Hollywood. In fact, Will Smith, if you’re reading this: make that movie.


You can You Tube “The Blood of Jesus 1941” to discover several uploads of your choosing, but here’s one of them. I implore you watch this film. And I need to stop talking about his movie, before I start to cry.

Justifiably, this film was added to the National Film Register in 1991, as this is a culturally significant document on the beginning the the black film industry. It’s powerful, magnificent stuff. A beautiful film that crushes it. Watch it. Then watch it again. Just watching this five minute preview clip on You Tube won’t be enough.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The Ghost Train (1941)

Okay, so I’ve absconded with this end of the month throwaway week for some celluloid odd n’ sods and turned into an unofficial “Good Life TV Network” week. Yep, it’s more “good life” memories of watching old movies with good ‘ol pop.

This, like The Rogues’ Tavern we previously reviewed this week, is another dark n’ stormy night type of movie: one that’s part murder mystery and part comedy; one that alternately gives you the frights and the chuckles.

This movie is the punch line to the joke: Did you hear the one about Tommy Gander, (a very corny, ugh-inducing) vaudeville comedian, blonde bombshell Jackie Winthrop, the hot-for-Jackie Teddy, and Jackie’s stuffy snob hubby Richard Winthrop ending up in abandoned train station?

The quartet gets off at Fal Vale Junction in the remote, English countryside, along with Herbert and his fiancée Edna, spinster Miss Bourne, and the (lovable) boozing Dr. Sterling, for a train transfer — which they miss.

Together, with the nearest town four miles away and no cabs available and a storm approaching, they hunker down in the train station — against the conductor’s warnings: warnings of the station being haunted by a “phantom train” and its passengers.

Just another one of those fun, public domain ditties that survives courtesy of You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The Wolf Man (1941)

As you watch this movie, understand the pains that Lon Chaney Jr. had to go through for your entertainment. While the stories got exaggerated over the years, even a portion of their truth is a testament to the actor’s herculean patience. Although the effects improved with each movie, this makeup — which was originally developed for Werewolf of London — took five to six hours to apply and a full hour to remove. There were even “finishing nails” carefully hammered into the skin on the sides of the actor’s hands so that they would remain motionless during the transformation scenes, which took ten hours of Chaney getting makeup, going to set to hold still against a pane of glass, then back for more makeup on a day that stretched to twenty-one hours of work over two days of filing.

Larry Talbot has returned to Wales to make peace with his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains) and falls for a local girl (Evelyn Ankers, Universal’s “Queen of the B’s”).

During their initial meeting, he buys a silver-headed walking stick decorated with a wolf just to get to talk to her while she works. She tells him that it depicts a werewolf, a fact of life that he learns all about when he defends her friend from an attack and gets bitten on the chest as a result.

Soon, he learns from the fortune teller Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) that it was her son Bela (Bela Lugosi!) who bit him. Now, he will live up to the poem that is recited several times during this film: “Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night; May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

The funny thing is that poem is not an ancient tale; it was written for the movie by screenwriter Curt Siodmak. He based the chasing of Talbot and his life being thrown upside down on his experiences in post-WW II Germany.

Director George Waggner would go on to direct plenty of TV, including episodes of Batman and Cheyenne.

While this film was a success and Larry Talbott (with Chaney playing him) would return for four more films, the character never appeared in its own direct sequel. Joe Johnston would direct a 2010 remake with Benicio del Toro in the lead role. There was also talk that the character would be played by Dwayne Johnson in the planned Dark Universe and Ryan Gosling in a Blumhouse version of the film.

Most of the legends of werewolves come not from folklore but directly from this film, including a person becoming a werewolf through a bite, the weakness to silver bullets, and werewolves’ and their victims’ hands being marked with pentagrams.

Fun fact: A five-year-old Sam asked every child in his kindergarten class to show their palms, as he had told his teacher that he was doing a magic trick for the class. In truth, he was checking to see if any of them were werewolves.