Here it is: the conclusion of our four-week recap of Republic’s Adventures of Captain Marvel serial from 1941. Once again, this will be pretty long because I’m trying to finish it in four weeks. In the last chapter, Republic upended the normal cliffhanger formula by putting a couple of bad guy mooks into the deathtrap, and what do you know? In the opening of Chapter 9, “Dead Man’s Trap,” they don’t escape when the bomb goes off in the car they are driving.
Lang’s car runs off the road, but luckily Barnett and Braincase drop by to give the professor and Billy a ride. They are taken to the Scorpion’s house, where Lang meets the Scorpion, who enters through a secret passage. You know, the secret passage doesn’t stay secret for long if you keep showing it off to everybody. Just saying. Anyway, Lang is tortured in a cage with spikes inside.
Lang gives up the location of his lens. It’s in his library, in a safe hidden behind a painting. He gives the Scorpion the combination. The Scorpion orders Batson brought up from the basement. Billy’s guard leaves the room to get water to revive Billy, so Billy (who was just playing possum) gets up and cries “Shazam!”
The thug walks in and shoots at Captain Marvel. There’s a close-up of something bouncing off Marvel’s chest, and whatever they’ve been shooting Tyler with really startles him this time, because he flinches and blinks, then forces on this hideous smile. The thug screams in terror because he knows he’s doomed.
Captain Marvel grabs him and tosses the gun away, which goes off and shoots the thug in the back. Captain Marvel looks completely confused as this guy dies in his arms. Then he heads to the Scorpion’s office.
The Scorpion uses Lang as human shield to escape through the secret passage, where he loses his mask and we get a glimpse of face for just a few frames.
It’s not actually any of the Lensmen, so he’s probably one of the crew used as a decoy. The Scorpion escapes pursuit through another secret passage in the secret passage. Tricky.
Meanwhile, Lang is calling Betty to retrieve his lens before the Scorpion’s men can get it, but just as he’s warning her that there’s a deathtrap set on the safe, the Scorpion reenters through another secret door, shoots Lang and escapes with the Golden Scorpion (now called the Golden Scorpion Atom Smasher). Lang survives just long enough to tell Captain Marvel there’s a deathtrap, but not what it is, nor who the Scorpion is.
Barnett’s men go to Lang’s place, where the groundskeeper also turns out to be one of their men. They leave him out front with a rifle, then go in to find the safe. Betty arrives, but before the groundskeeper can shoot her, Captain Marvel tackles him and knocks him out.
Meanwhile inside, as Braincase is working the combination to the safe, a panel opens in the wall behind the men and two Thompson submachine guns move into position.
Professor Lang don’t play. Bet the butler installed that. Before the guns can fire, though, the men hear Billy outside calling to Betty. Even though they are three armed, hardass thugs, they hide from the kid and the girl.
Betty mentions the deathtrap to Billy, but he assumes that the danger was from the groundskeeper guarding the gate. He and Betty move to the safe. As Billy begins the combination, the panel with the machine guns opens once more. Even though Billy looks back at Betty between every number, he never notices the threat. Once the combination is finished, the guns fire.
Welcome to Chapter 10, ” Doom Ship.” The third thug knocks Betty and Billy out and turns to the last number of the combination, causing the guns to fire and kill him. Barnett and Braincase open the safe once it’s, um, safe, and find a map showing that the lens (or “lense”) is still hidden inside the tomb back in Siam. As Barnett and Braincase are leaving, Billy goes on the attack!
Braincase escapes with the map, while Billy stands on a chair and delivers a mighty uppercut which leads to Barnett being knocked out by a decorative sculpture. Then Billy changes to Captain Marvel and flies after Braincase as he flees across the lawn in another really nice flying effects shot.
He ties Braincase up with his own belt and takes the map, then changes back to Billy Batson to join Betty.
They run back to tell the three remaining Lensmen (Malcolm, Turban and Mustache) about the map. Malcolm decides they must return to Siam to retrieve the lens. He rips the map into five pieces and gives one each to Billy, Betty, Turban and Mustache to ensure everyone’s safety or something (because doing that with the lenses has worked out so well). Betty books passage on the freighter Carfax.
Back at his house (the house we last saw him leaving in a hurry when Captain Marvel had discovered it), the Scorpion tells Barnett that he’s leaving on the freighter “Colfax.” He gives Barnett some written orders, along with “ample funds,” to follow until he returns. Damn, Scorpion makes his thugs do homework. He’s a tough boss.
The freighter is caught in a storm off the Siamese coast and runs onto a reef. Billy changes to Captain Marvel and offers to fly a line ashore so they can get people safely off the ship. But as everyone is in line to be hauled to shore, Betty remembers “something” in her cabin and runs back to get it, watched by Turban and Mustache. Moments later, the Scorpion (who has taken the time to don his full Scorpion robe) knocks Betty out and takes her handbag.
Everybody else leaves the ship, and nobody notices that Billy somehow makes the trip to shore without riding the rope line, nor that Betty is missing, until the storm is over. Once Billy notices, he gets the others to help him back to the ship. He finds Betty’s unconscious, and instead of rescuing her, begins undressing her (apparently because the life jacket makes her too bulky to carry or something). But as he lifts her up, the line securing the ship breaks and the ship begins to sink!
Into Chapter 11, “Valley of Death!” Billy doesn’t even bother changing to Captain Marvel for this cliffhanger, just swims to shore towing Betty. She tells everyone how she was knocked out and her bag taken, but she has the map fragment hidden inside her jacket. The expedition goes to a nearby village to rest up. The Scorpion sends a message to Rahman Bar, the tribal leader we saw in Chapter One, by messenger, um, eagle? Hawk? It’s really big, whatever it is.
Meanwhile, Billy steamrolls the members of the expedition into leaving for the Valley early. They should call him “Bully Batson.” The Lensmen are reluctant to go so early, the Scorpion because he wants to give Rahman Bar time to prepare, and the others apparently because they were really hoping to party with some Thai prostitutes.
On the journey, Billy spots a native with a signal mirror.
Billy changes to Captain Marvel and chases the guy down in another nice flying shot. I keep showing all these, because it’s amazing to me how convincing and versatile this effect was, and yet nobody after the Lydeckers seems to have used it.
The tribesmen block the road through a pass and set a charge to blow up the mountainside in order to kill the expedition (including the Scorpion, unbeknownst to them). And amusingly, they set the charge on an identical hilltop to where the signal mirror guy was a few miles back (the scene was obviously shot on the same location).
Captain Marvel unblocks the road, allowing the expedition to escape before the bomb goes off, and Billy somehow catches up to them by the time they reach the tomb. They join the pieces of the map to figure out the lens’s hiding place. And even though he has traveled halfway around the world to get here, Turban refuses to enter the tomb.
Meanwhile, the tribesmen have decided to divert the river into the volcano to cause it to erupt so they can rouse all the local tribes against the white men. The eruption causes an earthquake, which causes the tomb to cave in. Everybody is trapped, except for Turban and Billy outside.
So here we are, finally at the last chapter, “Captain Marvel’s Secret.” Turban runs off to stall the tribesmen while Billy changes to Captain Marvel and rescues Whitey and Betty. Meanwhile, Malcolm amd Mustache (Bentley) have managed to escape down a rear tunnel, where the Scorpion reveals himself and shoots the other man. Though their faces are kept in shadow, it’s pretty clear that Malcolm is shot.
The Scorpion finds his robe somewhere and puts it on, then goes outside in time to see Captain Marvel change back to Billy Batson. But he doesn’t see how it’s done. He sends the tribesmen to capture Billy, Whitey and Betty.
Final confrontation time. In a cave with the tribal leaders and the prisoners, the Scorpion threatens to kill Betty with the atom-smashing power of the Golden Scorpion (now with all its lenses fully in place) unless Billy reveals the secret of how he transforms himself (the Scorpion thinks it might be a drug or something that Billy takes). Betty never seems particularly frightened in this scene, just baffled.
Seriously, I give Louise Currie a hard time, but it’s only because her performance was pretty bad. Anyway, Billy agrees, so the Scorpion removes Billy’s gag, and Billy says the magic word for the last time.
Captain Marvel breaks his bonds and grabs the Scorpion, pulling off his mask to reveal… Bentley.
No big surprise there, although it does mean that the big fight that destroys Bentley’s study in Chapter 6 was basically a big misunderstanding. But it is a surprise when Bentley breaks free and shoves a pistol into Betty’s side. He backs toward the cave entrance, using Betty as a shield, and walks directly into the path of the Golden Scorpion’s disintegration ray, activated by Rahman Bar, the tribal leader. The Scorpion is no more.
Captain Marvel gives a speech about power and greed, and then he throws the Golden Scorpion into the red-hot lava of the volcano. A ghostly voice says, “Shazam!” and Captain Marvel changes back to Billy. Turban explains that with the Scorpion destroyed, Captain Marvel is no longer needed to guard it. Therefore Billy is just a normal guy once more.
Billy, Betty and Whitey link arms to head happily back to America. Let’s hope that Barnett and Braincase weren’t left orders to kill them if they ever showed their faces again.
And that’s it. On the one hand, it’s a pretty rousing adventure serial with some unique and convincing special effects, better than Columbia’s Superman serials that would follow several years later. But on the other hand, since it was the first comics superhero to make it to the screen, the unwritten rules for heroes hadn’t been set in stone yet. So Captain Marvel had no problem gunning down his enemies, or throwing them off rooftops and cliffs. He wasn’t as dark as heroes would get in the 80’s and 90’s, but darker than most of what would follow for the next 40 years.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this. We’ll return with something more modern next week.