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Captain Video

Entry updated 13 February 2023. Tagged: Character, Film, TV.

1. US tv serial (1949-1953 and 1955-1956). DuMont. Produced by Larry Menkin. DuMont was a New York television company; in the early years of television many programmes came from New York. Captain Video, a 30-minute children's programme that went out five nights a week, was the first sf on television. Written by Maurice Brockhauser, it starred Richard Coogan (replaced in 1950 by Al Hodge) as Captain Video, who 300 years from now, with the aid of his Video Rangers, battled various threats from outer space. Many early scripts were written by Damon Knight, C M Kornbluth, Robert Sheckley and Don Wilcox.

Captain Video was shot live in a small studio and on a low budget, with the result that much of the spectacle had to be provided by the imaginations of young viewers; it also incorporated filmed material, such as short Westerns (none themselves in any way sf or fantasy) and cartoons, which were introduced by the Captain himself. In 1953 the serial format was dropped; Captain Video was retitled The Secret Files of Captain Video and became a weekly adventure with self-contained stories, but it folded that same year. In 1955 Hodge returned as Captain Video in a weekly 60-minute children's show, which he also produced. Though still wearing his uniform, which looked like a cross between a marine's and a bus driver's, he merely acted as the show's host, introducing stock adventure-film footage and undemanding shorts of an "educational" nature which he would then discuss with the studio audience of children. In 1956 Captain Video ended his career with Captain Video's Cartoons, the Master of Time and Space reduced to announcing the funnies. There was a comic book based on Captain Video. [JB]

2. Serial Film (1951), full title Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere. Columbia. Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Wallace Grissell. Written by Royal K Cole, Sherman L Lowe, Joseph F Poland, based on a story by George H Plympton. Cast includes George Eldredge, Judd Holdren, Gene Roth and Larry Stewart. 15 episodes totalling 287 minutes. Tinted.

This serial, the first example of a film based on a television programme, combined special effects of a slightly higher quality than those of the tv series with a typically juvenile story: Vultura (Roth), the sinister dictator of the planet Atoma, seeks to conquer both the peaceful planet of Theros and Earth with the covert assistance of treacherous Earth Scientist Dr Tobor (Eldredge) and his henchmen. But Captain Video (Holdren), supported by his Video Rangers (Stewart and others), employs his Spaceship and advanced scientific Technology to defeat Vultura, as he helps the Therons fight off Vultura's invading army, proves Tobor is a traitor, and thwarts Vultura's various efforts to undermine Earth's defences, which include the use of Robots. Despite one effective scene when characters ascend in the open compartment of an Atoman "space platform" through the blackness of space, the serial is otherwise undistinguished, filled with pointless fisticuffs and scientific nonsense, such as a rescue of Captain Video achieved by a successful effort to temporarily "increase the Earth's gravitational pull" (see Gravity). To assist young viewers in keeping track of where the repetitive action is occurring, scenes set on Theros are tinted green, while scenes on Atoma are tinted red. [GW]


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