Now available from the Warner Archive Collection, Shazam! The Complete Live-Action Series collects all 28 episodes of the Filmation program, which initially aired from 1974 to1976. After airing under its own title for the first season, Shazam! was paired with The Secrets of Isis to create The Shazam!/Isis Hour. The set contains three Isis (Joanna Cameron) crossover episodes, “The Odd Couple,” “Finders” and “Out of Focus.”
Captain Marvel was an extremely popular comic book superhero of the ‘40s and ‘50s. In those years, Captain Marvel even had enough muscle to occasionally outsell Superman. In the original comic book, main character Billy Batson was a 12-year-old boy, who by yelling out the word “SHAZAM”, would be “struck” by a lightning bolt, and transformed into the world’s mightiest mortal, “Captain Marvel”. For the television series, several changes were made, including making Billy slightly older, probably 16 or 17.
Billy (Michael Gray) travels across the country in a RV driven by the elderly Mentor (Les Tremayne). Instead of saving the world (as he did in the comics), Billy becomes Captain Marvel (Jackson Bostwick for the first season and two episodes into the second, then John Davey took over the role) to keep kids from getting in trouble. He was given these powers by the Greek Elders—Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. The series had a very limited budget, so the idea of having Captain Marvel keep kids out of trouble was probably a smart fiscal choice. Watch just a couple episodes of Shazam! And it becomes obvious that the special effect shots of Billy talking to the Gods, turning into Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel flying were reused in every episode. Teaching kids a moral lesson doesn’t have to cost much.
Each episode plays out similarly to an after-school special. In “Joy Riders” a teenager must decide whether to give in, or stand up to his friends when they decide to steal cars. “The Athlete” has a boy sabotaging a girl’s academic record in an effort to keep her off his team. “The Doom Buggy” warns against dropping out of school. You get the point, moral lessons abound. As a matter of fact, each episode original concluded with “moral sequences” where Captain Marvel or Billy would explain the lesson for anyone who didn’t understand what they just saw.
Shazam! Is dated and corny, but it wpuld be hard to deny that producer Lou Scheimer had his heart in the right place. Trying to create programming that will both educate and entertain younger children is no easy task and for the mid ‘70s Shazam! was a valiant attempt. Today it’s a real nostalgia piece and I enjoyed picking out some of the notable guest stars: Barry Miller (Saturday Night Fever), Lance Kerwin, Pamelyn Ferdin, John Karlen (Cagney & Lacey), Butch Patrick (The Munsters), Lisa Elibacher, Jackie Earle Haley, Dabs Greer, Jimmy McNichol, Danny Bonaduce, Patrick Labyorteaux, Maury Wills, Eric Laneuville (St. Elsewhere) and Andrew Stevens.
The series is presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Even though it was shot in 16mm, the elements used in this transfer look surprisingly good considering their age.
The Dolby Digital Mono audio is nothing special, but it delivers dialogue clearly without hisses or chirps.
The set also includes the ability to Play All with Morals where Billy or Captain Marvel explains the moral of the episode. Be sure to watch these, as they really add some flavor to the proceedings.