Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere (1951)

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Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere (1951) Poster

Space hero Captain Video battles the evil Vultura on the planet Atoma.


5.7/10
97

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3 May 2008 | Chance2000esl
3
| Nothing Going On Except the Gadgets
This is one of the worst Columbia science fiction serials. That said, it does have a couple of interesting qualities. First, it has some very unusual cliff hangers, but there's no set up that allows you to guess 'How do they get out of it?' Almost every one is a cheat, with Captain Video pulling out a new secret gadget to neutralize the terror, or Gallagher (Don C. Harvey, usually a 'henchman' in other serials and movies) in the Control Room twirling dials and flipping switches to save our heroes. When a fire in a well fails to burn them, Captain Video explains that it's because human bodies from Earth react differently to the atmosphere of Theros. But there's only one 'jump out of the car before it explodes / goes over the cliff' cliff hanger! As usual, it's the stirring narration by Knox Manning at the end of each episode that teases you into wanting to watch the next chapter.

The real fun and the best part of the serial are the names of the gadgets! The 'hose-inator' sucks up poisonous gas; the 'degravitator' counteracts gravity by creating a 'sonic air cushion' which allows our heroes to fall slowly and safely to Earth from deep space; their 'inertializer' paralyzes the bad guys; bombs are defused by an 'anti-detonator'--- wow! The list goes on and on! There's 'the space platform,' the 'optican skillometer,' the 'thermograph,' the giant binoculars called 'scanning goggles,' the 'atmospheric locator,' the 'static beam,' 'platinite,' the 'stethapod,' the 'interference ray,' 'hyrogenic radiations,' the 'magnetic impulse detector,' the 'diathermic accelerator,' 'paralyzing vapor bombs,' the 'space radiophone,' the 'palm mike' (a kind of mini-walkee talkee), the 'cosmic vibrator,' and the 'cloak of invisibility.'

Remember, this was made in the days of when you could order your 'decoder ring' and other gadgets from the top SF TV shows of the time -- the best of which in all ways was 'Space Patrol' (1950) which offered home versions of gadgets used on the show. (And then again, you get one for free in a box of cereal!)

What makes this one really weak as a serial: too much walking or driving around outside (but it's in the great slanted rocks of the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth); bland hero; costumes from the stock room; no physical contact between the hero and head villain, Vultura (Gene Roth, a left over from the Three Stooges shorts)-- in fact, as someone who wants to rule the universe, he spends virtually all his screen time talking into hand held microphones and showing his flabby stomach. There's too much time spent by all the characters twisting dials, flipping switches, using microphones, and staring into video screens ('the optical skillometer').

So this serial is on the same level as some of Republic's worst SF serials (hey, weren't all Republic's SF serials the worst?). I'll be generous and give this Columbia effort a 3, just for the names of the gadgets!

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