It goes without saying that Tom Tyler's most popular starring roles during his career was as two superheroes: Captain Marvel, and The Phantom. Physically he was perfect for both roles even though he was 38 years old when he portrayed the caped superhero, and 40 years old when he donned the purple tights. Unlike a number of other superhero portrayals onscreen, Tom never had to wear any padding with his costumes; this former championship weightlifter's muscles were real! Tom brought these two comic book figures to life on the screen in 1941 and 1943, and what is so notable about “Adventures of Captain Marvel” is that it is in fact the first superhero film ever made even though it was a twelve chapter serial.
Created by C. C. Beck and Bill Parker in 1939, Captain Marvel was published by Fawcett Magazines and soon became so popular it even outsold the Superman comics published by DC. As a film serial, “Adventures of Captain Marvel” is considered to be the greatest ever made by film critics and fans alike: its production (Republic Pictures), casting, acting, directing, special effects, and the mystique that surrounds the superhero himself. It is not just the magic of the word “Shazam!” or the film's lack of need to formally introduce Captain Marvel in name to the audience, though, for Tom Tyler could portray Captain Marvel with the right enigma. From the film serial's setting in Thailand to the city, “Adventures of Captain Marvel” moved at an even pace through all twelve chapters, each cliffhanger making the viewer wondering in excitement what the next chapter would bring.
So it was with “The Phantom”, the second superhero film serial for Tom, released in 1943. By this time Tom was still in fantastic shape and once again, looked exactly like the superhero created by Lee Falk in 1936. Similar to the many westerns that Tom Tyler made in the 1920's and 1930's, the jungle was just as rugged for him, often contending with wild animals in addition to The Phantom's main enemy, Dr. Max Bremer. Bremer plans on locating the lost city of Zoloz so he can establish an airbase there for his home country. Just like Captain Marvel, the enigma factor plays well in The Phantom, and who could resist the superhero's faithful companion Devil, portrayed by Ace the Wonder Dog? “The Phantom” was not the first jungle picture for Tom, as he made another jungle-themed film serial in 1932 called “Jungle Mystery” for Universal.
With both of Tom's superhero film serials readily available on DVD - “Adventures of Captain Marvel” was released on Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber in 2017 - both are a must-have for anyone who wants to see and appreciate his physical prowess and acting ability to its full potential.
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