Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere (1951)

Captain Video Master of the Stratosphere (1951)‘As a scientist, I need not remind you that there are 3 known dimensions. I have deprived you of 2 of them. You are in the 3rd: Death!’

Captain Video and his Video Rangers fight for truth and justice from his laboratory in the mountains. Alien despot Vultura threatens Earth with conquest and Video finds himself facing human traitors who are paving the way for the invasion…

‘Captain Video and his Video Rangers’ was a popular 30 minute TV series that ran from 1949 to 1955. It was broadcast live. Episodes usually included about 7 minutes of footage from old cowboy movies, described as ‘the undercover Video Rangers adventures on Earth’. In 1951, the Captain hit the big screen in his own movie serial for Columbia studios. Not surprisingly, given the short period of popularity of both media, it is the only instance of a serial being based on a TV show. Instead of Al Hodge in the lead role, the studio went with Judd Holdren for the serial and his teenage sidekick (only ever named as ‘The Ranger’) was played by Larry Stewart. Nasty villain Vultura was subtly depicted by Gene Roth.

This is an entertaining, but undeniably cheap, chapter play with familiar Columbia expertise behind it (writer George H Plympton, producer Sam Katzman, director Spencer Gordon Bennet). The plot is completely familiar too, with most episodes centring on Vultura’s agent on Earth, the evil genius Dr Tobor, and his attempts to grab whatever scientific thingamajig will further the alien dictator’s plans this week. A completely unrelated character called Tobor actually appeared on the TV show. This was a mechanical man, who was originally going to be called ‘Robot 1’ until someone mistakenly put the stencil on to the costume backwards! The only robots in the serial are actually the ‘cowboy’ ones featured 16 years earlier in the Gene Autry classic ‘The Phantom Empire’ (1935). Pleasingly, they still look like they’re made of silver cardboard and have cowboy hats firmly in place.

Captain Video Master of the Stratosphere (1951)

‘That’s the last time I let you bring that metal detector on holiday.’

There is some interplanetary action too, both on Atoma and its sister world Theros (although both bare the inevitable resemblance to good old Vasquez Rocks in California). Action on Theros is tinted entirely green and on Atoma entirely red. It is pleasing to think that low budget auteur Al Adamson may have simply cribbed this idea for his brilliantly wretched ‘Horror of the Blood Monsters’ (1970). Both Holdren and Roth (along with a lot of the props and costumes) turned up in Columbia’s last interplanetary serial ‘The Lost Planet’ (1953).

Highlights include the low budget uniforms (army surplus for Captain Video and his Rangers, complete with suits, ties and motorcycle helmets with big googles), crudely animated spacecraft drawn by an 8 year old and hilarious over-explanatory dialogue. Vultura dresses like some kind of cheap viking. Tobor’s assistant is played by the wonderful Skelton Knaggs. Vultura spies on Earth from a space platform in the clouds where one of his minions has a hand held telescope. Fire on Atoma has no effect on Captain Video because of its ‘different chemical properties’. Captain Video’s life is often saved when he falls out of aircraft because his top scientist can reduce the power of Earth’s gravitational pull so he floats gently to the ground. His jet mobile goes really fast and often crashes and explodes but he always jumps clear in time and has an inexhaustible supply of replacements. No one ever has any good ideas apart from Captain Video.

It’s reassuring to think that the future of Earth will be in the hands of such men as Captain Video and his wonderful science type stuff.

Buy ‘Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere’ here


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