Captain Video was a daily live childrens' television program on the DuMont network from 1949 to 1955, initially produced with very little in the way of sets and nothing recognised today as special effects. Little of the program survives, and Alpha's DVD, # ALP 5702D contains four episodes that have been available in other video collections. Three of these are from 1949-1950 with Richard Coogan, the fourth is from 1952 with Al Hodge in the title role. The Video Ranger in all of them is played by Don Hastings. The episodes are complete with "Ranger Messages" of the "public service" type. There are also informative announcements of how to obtain a Captain Video Secret Identifying Ring, for two Power House candy bar wrappers and 10 cents. The later show has more-traditional Post Sugar Crisp cereal advertisements and no mention of the ring. Data on the shows is sketchy, especially the earlier ones, with only a few of the actors identified, and the exact transmission dates not known. Alpha lists the one with Al Hodge as being from 1954, but contemporary program listings indicate the 1952 date. Still, the episodes appear to be on the DVD in the order of their transmission. The old film clips in the "special agent" reports are a little easier to identify than the actors in the rest of the show. Episodes involve:
1 An evil scientist known as The Sparrow works on a machine producing a ray of mass destruction, a small test of which has just been made. Meanwhile Dr. Pauli (Hal Conklin), temporarily detained, plans to escape in an unguarded airplane. And Captain Video checks the scanner for a report from one of his special agents, Buster Crabbe in "Billy the Kid Wanted" (1941, PRC) where by pretending to be drunk he gets "Fuzzy" (Al St. John) out of jail using bad singing to cover the noise of a hole being sawed in the roof by third agent Jeff (Dave O'Brien).
2 "Captain Video Prepares to Visit Regus" -- An interplanetary meeting is in progress on planet Metastheros to determine what should be done with defeated planet Terzan and its leader Regus. Captain Video agrees to go to the planet to deliver their decision. Back on Earth, Dr. Pauli has perfected his ultra-planetary transmitter, and part of one of his messages is intercepted on Metastheros. And on the Scanner, the Special Agent Report is from the 1934 Willis Kent production "Range Warfare" with Marshal Reb Russell (Reb Russell) posing as a rustler known as "The Whistler", who, with help from Tommy Lord (Hal Taliaferro) rounds up some bad guys including the crooked sheriff (Slim Whitaker).
3) The date of this episode can be approximated from a "Special Ranger Message" asking people to sign "The Freedom Scroll" which, according to newspaper accounts was being promoted in New York City by General Lucius D. Clay on 19 September 1950.
In Shanghai, Captain Video is on the trail of war-lord Soo Ching Sing, who has been seen wearing one of Captain Video's special rings. Dr. Pauli, in an impenetrable Chinese disguise is working with Soo Ching Sing, and has murdered a member of the Dancing Bear Tong. Now he is plotting to rob the Shanghai Imperial Bank. And the Special Agent report is from a 1942 PRC epic, "A Yank in Libya" with American reporter Mike Malone (Walter Woolf King) messing up operations of British Consul Herbert Forbes (H.B. Warner) and agent Nancy Brooks-Graham (Joan Woodbury) who, with help from Shiek David (Duncan Renaldo) are trying to stop Nazi-sympathizer Sheik Ibrahim (George J. Lewis) from running stock footage of a revolt by the Arabs.
4 "Birth of the 'Galaxy'" -- middle of the series, which started 24 March 1952. Pluto's man-made inhabited satellites are threatened by an erratic comet, so Captain Video and the Video Ranger are on what may be a suicide mission to deal with it, with the rest of the crew sent back to Earth on the 'Excalibur.' But a switch has been left in the wrong position which will cause something terrible to happen. The report from Captain Video's Special Agents is announced as being from Marshal Nevada Smith McKenzie and Sandy Hopkins (Johnny Mack Brown and Raymond Hatton) who are investigating a gang that has just murdered the sheriff in "Border Bandits," a 1946 Monogram film.
The picture quality is actually pretty good, considering that these are Kinescope films taken directly off live TV. Alpha puts their logo in the upper right corner of the screen during the main title, but otherwise it is not present. There are no obvious signs that these were copied from videotape. There are some video elements, especially retrace lines when the picture goes dark, but from the monitor used to make the film copy. The sharpness isn't bad for the transfer process, though the earlier shows have low contrast, possibly due to camera capabilities or what was thought to be appropriate lighting for broadcasts, and the clips from old 'B' movies, shown while sets or costumes were being changed, look better than the rest of the show in the earlier programs. But the clip from "Border Raiders" in the 1952 episode has problems beyond Kinescope transfer, with a quite blurred image and bad sound.
While the dramatic and technical qualities of the show are not great, I rate the DVD 5-stars because this is a very welcome release from Alpha for those who remember the show, and for others whose first childhood was deprived of it by youth or poor coverage by the DuMont network. It is decently transferred, and while it would be appropriate to watch it on a television set of the era, it works on newer equipment for those who understand the nature of the source material.