CAPTAIN VIDEO, MASTER OF THE STRATOSPHERE (1951)
Article #1419 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-1-2005
Posting Date: 7-1-2005
Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Wallace Grissell
Featuring Judd Holdren, Larry Stewart, George Eldredge
Captain Video must do battle with the evil space dictator, Vultura from the planet Atoma, and his agent on earth, a turncoat scientist named Dr. Tobor.
Ten thoughts on CAPTAIN VIDEO.
1) This serial has a certain degree of novelty value in having been based on a TV show, “Captain Video and his Video Rangers”. I found this a little ironic, because to some extent, the rise of television was one of the factors that wiped out movie serials.
2) Most of the serials I’ve covered so far just barely qualify as genre. This is one of the exceptions; it’s so packed with science fiction gadgetry that I don’t have to strain at all to argue for its inclusion in this series. Actually, this may have gone a ways towards helping me enjoy this one.
3) Still, one problem with a serial with this much science fiction gadgetry in it is that the cliffhangers end up being rather repetitive. Most of the cliffhangers are resolved by someone pulling out just the scientific gadget they need to help them escape their predicament. This doesn’t mean they aren’t above using the “roll-out-of-the-car-just-before-it-explodes” ploy, which also gets a bit of a workout here.
4) Still, the lamest resolution to a cliffhanger here is where our heros get caught in an underground furnace that threatens to burn them up. Well, it turns out that fire on the planet Atoma doesn’t burn human tissue. Why? It just doesn’t! If believability was essential to enjoyment of this serial, the whole thing would have gone out the window at this point.
5) Gene Roth plays the evil dictator, Vultura. Unfortunately, being a dictator doesn’t mean you get to wear figure-flattering costumes, and his outfit really accentuates his pot-belly. This does have a tendency to distract you a little from his ruthlessness.
6) The turncoat is named Dr. Tobor. Tobor, by the way, is robot spelled backwards, a fact that will be obvious to anyone who has seen TOBOR THE GREAT. However, at least the Tobor in that movie was a robot. Here, the fact that his name is Tobor means precisely nothing.
7) This is not to say that there are no robots in the movie. There are. However, they’re the same robots that appeared in THE PHANTOM EMPIRE; you know, the ones that look like they’re wearing cowboy hats. Of course, given that THE PHANTOM EMPIRE is partially a western, that makes sense; here they just look silly.
8) Dr. Tobor does have one cool thing about him, and that is that his assistant Retner is played by none other than Skelton Knaggs. And what does it say about me that I consider that cool?
9) Captain Video and his Ranger pal are aided by a scientist named Gallagher. There is no reason to fear this; not a single watermelon was hurt during the course of the movie.
10) And finally, I must say a word about Captain Video’s weapon. He wields a Cosmic Vibrator. When he uses is it on people, it really shakes them up.
It’s always nice when I can close one of my write-ups with an image that will stick in the mind.