From 1914 to the late 1950s (due in part to the rise of television), audiences flocked to their neighborhood movie theater every week to catch the latest filmed serial chapter of their favorite heroes in action.
Most of the vintage motion picture serial series were adapted from comic books, newspaper comic strips, western dramatizations, mystery/suspense tales and science fiction novels. Some of the weekly action/adventure serials were sometimes billed by cinema exhibitors as “kiddie matinees” (for weekend showings).
After the decline of the weekly cinema serial in the late 1950s (Columbia and Republic were the last motion picture studios to specialize in the serial format alongside theatrical feature films), some of the older serials would be syndicated to television.
Several motion picture serializations would be re-discovered, due in part to the growth of home and entertainment cable television. “Mystery Science Theater 3000” hilariously mocked the vintage Republic “Radar Men From The Moon” serials early in the show’s “Comedy Central” era.
AMC (then-known as American Movie Classics) would show several vintage motion picture serial anthologies in the mid-1990s. Turner Classic Movies has continued to show several vintage movie serials on Saturday morning to emulate the old Saturday morning “matinee” theatrical film showcase. Legendary Chicago-based horror film host Svengoolie (portrayed by Rich Koz) has mocked the classic Buster Crabbe “Flash Gordon” serials in “Svensurround” on Me-TV (in case the coveted Universal horror/sci-fi feature has a short run time).
In commemoration of the upcoming release of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” TCM will showcase several vintage motion picture serial series based off of several popular comic book and newspaper periodical strips.
The festival will begin with the first two chapters of Columbia Pictures’ “Batman” serial from 1943 at 8 p.m. Eastern. After that, the network will present the first two chapters of the 1949 serialization sequel, “Batman and Robin” at 9 p.m. Eastern.
At 10 p.m. Eastern, TCM will present the first two chapters of the 1948 serialization of “Superman,” followed by the first two chapters of the 1950 sequel, “Atom Man vs. Superman.”
The rest of the evening will consist of the first two chapters of other movie serials based off of comic books and comic strips from the 1930s and 1940s, including “The Green Hornet,” “Buck Rogers,” “Flash Gordon,” “The Phantom,” “Ace Drummond,” and “Dick Tracy.”
An interesting experience for fans of comic books and classic cinema everywhere (or if you want to “riff along,” a la “MST3K,” “RiffTrax” and “Svensurround.”).
Wed., Mar. 23 at 8 p.m. Eastern
“Cyclotrode X” (1966) Feature-length compilation re-release of the classic 1946 Republic Pictures serial series, “Crimson Ghost” (via Paramount Pictures’ official “vault” YouTube channel, Paramount is the successor-in-interest to the Republic/NTA library)