Captain Video | New Yorker Review


December 22, 1951
A review by Philip Hamburger [abridged]

…”Turn it on,” the [four-year-old] demanded, and promptly at seven o’clock, over DuMont, and for thirty minutes thereafter, the Captain invaded the house.

The program opened with a picture of a region of high and craggy peaks. Perched on one of them was a small house with an antenna on top of it, from which electric rays were flashing. “Dot-dot-dot- dash-dash,” crackled the rays, as a voice filled with authority let it be known that we were viewing the secret mountain retreat of the Captain himself, and of his Video Rangers. The Captain, the voice said, “rallies men of good will,” and added that he is “the champion of justice, truth and freedom.” The mountain retreat melted away, and someone spoke briefly of Post’s Sugar Crisp, the yummy cereal that not only nourishes Captain Video, but underwrites him. We were then told that we were to be taken to a marine metropolis, which, I gathered, had been pictured the previous evening. Down in the marine metropolis, a sinister character was engaged in eavesdropping, but it was hard to determine whom he was eavesdropping ON. He was replaced by a gentleman carrying a long spear, who was terribly angry. He, too, disappeared, and the scene shifted to a coldly forbidding room, the decor of which I assumed, on the basis of my science-fiction reading, to be other-planetary, although it may have been ultra-marine. Two men in the room were wearing odd-looking uniforms, which were not quite military, and not quite not military. One of them had epaulets the size and shape of waterwings, and he kept inquiring, “Did you get to the airport?” The other fellow, a garrulous type, made no sense at all. Another uniformed man, hitherto in the shadows, stepped forth, pulled a knife from inside his shirt, and smirked. When he had wipe the first smirk off his face, he smirked a second time, without difficulty.

Matters, if the truth be told, did not quickly come to a head. A man called Darius announced that he was sending an emissary to the flooded area. Darius said that he was, after all, the Prime Minister, and told an underling that he had better do his bidding or he would suffer the consequences. He spoke darkly of an electronic prison. The underling mumbled something that outraged Darius. “You dare use that word to me?” he asked. A precipitate scene shift brought us to two men in diver’s suits [Captain Video and the Ranger] struggling to make headway on the bottom of the ocean. They were fifty fathoms deep and the tiny screen was alive with fish and bubbles and, of course, the two men. Quite suddenly, the fish and bubbles and men vanished and we were on dry land again, in the Communications Center. A young man in a military-type uniform mentioned FS36, and in a flash a Western movie appared on the screen. (I have since learned, from a hep Space Cadet in the Park, that part of a Western is inserted in the middle of each Captain Video program. The Space Cadet could provide no rational explanation for these singular interruptions.) … the film ended abruptly. Just as abruptly, Captain Video and his Rangers reappeared on the tiny screen. “What’s going on here?” asked [the four-year-old].

One of Captain Video’s Rangers was in danger of losing his life. He was flying alone in an unarmed and unescorted rocket plane, and he was wearing what I took to be a football helmet. Calls were coming through on his intercom. “Take over, squadron! Take over, squadron!” a voice rasped. “Then fire on him!” The scene switched to the ocean floor. The two divers had reached an impasse. They were gazing at a deep hole in the ocean. “We must confront Dr. Clysmok with his crime,” one of them said, presumably swallowing a mouthfull of water, and, on land again, a chap announced that once and for all he was going to put an end to Captain Video. There was a pause for the commercial, which was concerned with “appetitis,” a disease that strikes small boys in the middle of the afternoon. “Fifteen seconds to go!” said the voice over the intercom. “Ten seconds!… Five seconds!” The tension was unbearable. “Attack and blow that plane to space dust!” said the intercom voice. This order was instantly carried out. Fifty fathoms below the men were again pushing against the waters. “It is sapping my strength,” one of them said. A voice remarked, “The crucial moment is at hand for all of us,” and the program was over.

“Read me a story,” said the [four-year-old].