Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941, William Witney and John English), Chapter 1: Curse of the Scorpion

Adventures of Captain Marvel has a lot of action in its first chapter. Setting up the ground situation is even action. There’s an expedition to Thailand and, although they have permits with the occupying British forces, the native people aren’t thrilled with the expedition coming in to tomb rob. So it’s up to native guide, John Davidson (no, he’s not Thai), to talk down the angry natives. He does, setting up not just the goals of the expedition, but the local superstitions and so on. Excellent exposition.

It all comes after a fairly exciting and well-executed siege sequence, with the natives attacking the expedition’s fortified camp.

Directors English and Witney shoot all the action well. Sometimes the stunt people are a tad obvious, but the action’s still good. And William Nobles’s day for night photography is solid too.

Anyway, the expedition rushes to grave rob, with only young (twenty-five year-old young) Frank Coghlan Jr. deciding he wants no part in breaking into tombs. He’ll just collect the ancient pottery. When the rest of the expedition sets off a trap and gets locked in the tomb, it’s eventually up to Coghlan to save them.

Luckily by then an ancient wizard (Nigel De Brulier) has bestowed the powers of Captain Marvel on Coghlan. He just says the magic word and he turns into Tom Tyler, who can fly, is impervious to bullets, is super strong, and who has a flashy outfit. Coghlan’s appealing. It’s not clear yet if Tyler’s going to be appealing. He’s effective, but appealing is something else.

Then there’s more with the native forces returning to attack in the middle of the night and grab the expedition’s findings. There’s this ancient device to turn any substance into gold. Each member of the expedition gets a piece–setting up the mystery of whoever is going to be the traitor. Coghlan (and Tyler) have to make sure everyone gets out of the camp and to safety.

Lots of action in the finale. The cliffhanger’s a great model but dramatically questionable so far.

Curse of the Scorpion sets up the serial incredibly well. It just doesn’t give any indication of how the serial’s going to play out chapter-to-chapter.


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 Fawcett 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), Robert Strange (John Malcolm), Harry Worth (Prof. Luther Bentley), Bryant Washburn (Henry Carlyle), John Davidson (Tal Chotali), George Pembroke (Dr. Stephen Lang), George Lynn (Prof. Dwight Fisher), Reed Hadley (Rahman Bar), Jack Mulhall (James Howell), and Nigel De Brulier (Shazam).

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