Captain Marvel Was in Rare Good Humor

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I try to keep an eye out for Turner Classic Movies' broadcasts of The Good Humor Man so I can remind comic-book fans that this is a farce that, oddly, involves comic books. Though many of the brief summaries you'll find online and in reference books fail to note it, the existence of Fawcett's Captain Marvel comic books is a sort of subplot. For example, Leonard Maltin gives the 1950 film (79 minutes) two and a half stars, but he only has room enough to note it's a "Broad slapstick comedy about ice-cream vendor Carson, who stumbles into a crime ring. Written by Frank Tashlin." And he's correct, of course. But. Whereas Jack Carson's Biff is the amiable and well-meaning (if not quite bright) Good Humor Man of the title, he's also the adult overseeing the neighborhood's "Captain Marvel Club." And it's the kids of the club who unite to lend a hand at the stunt-packed climax.

There are many points of interest for the trivia-minded. First, of course, is that Fawcett actually produced a comic book that consists of a tale by Otto Binder in which Captain Marvel flies to Columbia Pictures so as to act as technical advisor for the Captain Marvel Club sequences. Second, though the word "Shazam!" is unspoken in the film itself, the club's code words are "niatpac levram," and the kids use them as a call to arms. Third, though the serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel was a Republic film in 1941, it is Columbia Pictures that produced this film - but stuntman Dave Sharpe was on hand for both, stunting as Captain Marvel in 1941 and as one of the bad guys in this film. Fourth, though Tashlin wrote the script for Columbia, the original story appeared in The Saturday Evening Post - and it was by Roy Huggins. Perhaps, indeed, Columbia made this film because it had already brought Huggins to Hollywood to adapt his The Double Take  to movies as I Love Trouble. (Of course, he later went on to create and oversee such comedy-tinged successes as Maverick, The Rockford Files, and Alias Smith and Jones.)

While The Good Humor Man is neither subtle nor a comedic masterpiece, then, you might want to catch it the next time TCM offers it. Which will be, come to think of it, tonight at 3:30 a.m. Eastern Time. (Oh, and why do I say Captain Marvel is in rare Good Humor? Because the movie is not available on DVD - which means your best way to catch it is when TCM offers it.)


BK June 13, 2011 at 8:30 PM  

Maggie, by chance I did watch it, and it was life-changing! Fell asleep after a long day and woke up for the end of Mr Hulot's Holiday. Was still awake for Robert Osborne's introduction and thought I'd give the Good Humor Man a shot since I like Jack Parsons and Frank Tashlin. And once they got to the Captain Marvel fan club, I was hooked! Wonderful confluence of comics and film obscurities, even if the birds were chirping by the time the film ended!

MaleKim June 26, 2011 at 10:58 PM  

One other thing which makes this an interesting movie for comic book fans: The bad guy is played by George Reeves who, of course, would soon be seen on TV screens everywhere as Captain Marvel's greatest rival, Superman! If a writer had put that in a story beforehand, I don't think any editor would've accepted it as believable.

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