"Captain Video," the 1951 Columbia serial is in 15 chapters, directed by Spencer Bennet and Wallace Grissell, based on the DuMont network live television program.
The plot has a villain, Dr. Tobor (George Eldredge), meddling with the Earth's weather, with help from Vultura of planet Atoma (Gene Roth), who wants control of the universe including the Earth, and has started by invading and mostly conquering planet Theros. Triangulating some measurements of magnetic impulses, Captain Video (Judd Holdren) and the Video Ranger (Larry Stewart) visit Dr. Tobor, who claims he is trying to counteract the evil forces causing the weather problem. Soon, however, Dr. Tobor takes off for Atoma, trying to make it look like he was abducted, and with Vultura's remote-control equipment tries to blast Captain Video's space ship by activating and guiding a couple dormant comets.
There have been a few rather unjustified complaints about the serial adaptation. First, that "Tobor" is a cheap reuse of a character name from the TV show. I did extensive research (at least 15 minutes with Google) and found that the episodes usually called "I TOBOR" and written by Isaac Asimov didn't air until 2 November 1953, almost two years after release of this serial. There seem to be a few references suggesting that Tobor was used earlier but nothing specific mentioned in descriptions available for those shows. The 1946 Columbia serial "Hop Harrigan" includes a Dr. Tobor, and is likely why the name was used here.
There has also been a complaint that the serial doesn't have much connection with the television program, but the few episodes that exist from before 1951 are mostly different in the pacing, owing to the amount of action that could be presented on live TV, and a desire to stretch the stories out longer for the daily program. The writers were careful to include many standard gadgets and procedures used on the television show, and reference Dr. Pauli, the main villain in the early days. Columbia's plot has to follow the conventions of serial movies, so there are a lot more fights, but the basics of the show are included.
Careful examination reveals a few minor technological blunders. We know from "Undersea Kingdom" that it is dangerous to be near operating rocket motors, yet Dr. Tobor and Vultura have their similar spacecraft launch from their laboratories. It's good that Captain Video had his version of the spacecraft launch from the next room; Gallagher (Don Harvey) is needed to operate many scientific devices to save his boss and the Ranger from certain death. At one point our hero is dumped into space, beyond normal gravitational pull, but he apparently still has enough air to breathe; the concern expressed is getting him back to Earth. The number of clever scientific devices carried by Captain Video is a little high, but I doubt the original theatre audience members were concerned about this. It is also unlikely that those involved at Columbia Pictures thought what they were doing was "cutting edge" unless that meant "cutting the budget" with the garage-sale acquisition of the robots last seen 16 years earlier in "The Phantom Empire." Columbia's animated space ships, recycled from the Superman serials are even tackier in their own way than the sparkler-powered ones in the 1936 Flash Gordon serial, which were far from "cutting edge" at that time. But mention should be made of the "cosmic vibrator" which can stun adversaries, and even open locked doors. This appears to be a prototype for the "sonic screwdriver" used on "Doctor Who" many years later.
As for plot and acting, one shouldn't expect much, and while Judd Holdren may seem a bit wooden, he, Larry Stewart and Don Harvey are to be commended for their ability to keep a straight face, even while mentioning the "opticon scillometer." George Eldredge as Dr. Tobor gives a better performance, but Gene Roth as Vultura deserves sympathy; about all he gets to do is talk into a microphone while flexing his mighty stomach muscles. The cliffhangers are resolved with too many handy devices, often remotely controlled from Captain Video's headquarters, and the threat from Atoma is only occasionally present. There are a number of continuity errors but great drama this isn't, and such details are less obvious when watched with a day or so between chapters. At least the plot moves along, with far better dialogue than what Republic had at the time. And there is good nostalgia in some of the equipment, such as mechanical calculators, the 8mm movie projector that activates "Dr. Pauli's cloak of invisibility" and the Brush tape recorder with reels that turn in opposite directions. While it isn't used, Captain Video's laboratory includes an oscilloscope; one made by DuMont, of course.
The tinted sequences, while unusual for the 1950's and the only example I've heard about in sound serials, were fairly common during the silent era, though not by Cinecolor. The tints in VCI's DVD are a "restoration," used only on Atoma (red) and Theros (green) while the bulk of the action is on planet Earth, where everything is in shades of gray. A video seen elsewhere of Chapter Four, apparently from a faded Cinecolor print, shows red tinting on the main title and opening credits, and yellow on the Chapter Four and "next week" titles, but unfortunately that chapter has no scenes on Atoma or Theros.
VCI's release, #8428 is on two DVD's, and is a mostly clean transfer, though there are a few problems. The image is reasonably free of scratches and dirt, and the gray scale is fine, but it could be a little sharper. Edge focus is decidedly soft, suggesting a 16mm reduction print, and a few splices interrupt the dialogue and narration. There are two recurring vertical scratches, not seen often but present in more than one chapter, about a third of the way in from each edge of the screen, and it is at these points that the restored image pulls in with a "funhouse mirror" effect for a few seconds in a couple places. The sound often has some audible flutter and sprocket-induced buzz along with a little noise and distortion, but none of this is too serious. Overall this is a fine edition, and as an update, the "pop-up logo" issue mentioned in other reviews has been corrected; new copies do not have them. The "extras" include trailers for serial movies "Superman," "The Green Archer," "Captain Marvel" and "The Phantom Empire" plus the one for the 1954 feature "Target Earth." There are "bios" of Judd Holdren, Larry Stewart, Gene Roth, Spencer Bennet and Wallace Grissell, and a "promo" of other serials available from VCI with brief trailer clips.
This is an entertaining serial, for those tolerant of such nonsense, and VCI's transfer, if not ideal, is quite good. The animated menu, while amusing the first time it is seen, requires a long wait before the selections become active and the sound is loud, so when watching one chapter at a time be sure to use a player that remembers where it was stopped.