“I wonder who Captain Marvel will rescue in this story,” Daniel asked as we sat down. I’m really pleased by how much he enjoys watching old shows with me.
This one’s really unusual, and I liked it more than most. It’s Jackson Bostwick’s final episode, and his big scene is tunneling into a collapsed mine to rescue an old hobo – slash – prospector who goes by the name Seldom Seen Slim. He’s played by the veteran actor Dabbs Greer, who had a really long career going back to 1950, many of those early roles (312[!!] listed at IMDB) uncredited. You probably know him best as Old Paul in The Green Mile, but he was also Reverend Alden in Little House on the Prairie.
This is subtle, but the usual structure of a Shazam! episode sees Billy and Mentor meeting some characters at the point of a crisis and effecting a reconciliation in some way. This isn’t quite like that; it’s more like a Fugitive or Route 66 where the situation is going to be resolved regardless of our traveling heroes; Richard Kimble or Tod and Buzz (or Linc) just need to stay out of the way, keep their heads down and not get killed as the character drama comes to its conclusion and hope that it’s not too grim.
Obviously, something that is going out to kids on Saturday mornings isn’t going to end badly – certainly not in 1975 – but this doesn’t have the easy and pat moral reminders that a typical Shazam! has, like “don’t tell lies,” “trust the police,” and “don’t hang out with kids who steal cars for joyrides.” The closest thing here would be, what, “don’t be a little ass to old hobos in the desert?” No, the heroes are very much on the periphery of these characters as their story comes to a conclusion, and don’t impact anybody’s understanding or resolve the matter; the hobo and the kids do that on their own.
I wondered whether the writer had actually contributed to more adult dramas in the 1960s to come up with such a structure. It is credited to Olga Palsson Simms, who does not have a listing at IMDB. Google only pulls up this credit and a notation that a woman by that name died in California in 1997. I wonder who she was.
I must have been too young for it to really register that there was a different actor playing Captain Marvel at the time, but I think that kids who were older than I was must have been surprised to see a new guy in the role, especially when Jackson Bostwick was back the following week. But that wasn’t to last; Bostwick was let go after filming two episodes, which were aired first and third this season.
For what it’s worth, Filmation immediately put the word out that Bostwick had been holding out for more money, and that John Davey was rushed onto location the same afternoon in July 1975 that he accepted the part. Bostwick countered that he had obtained a mild injury doing a stunt and was actually seeing a doctor when he was expected on location. The Screen Actors Guild later agreed with Bostwick, and Filmation had to pay him for the five episodes (of seven) that they didn’t use him.
The biggest name among the guest stars in this episode is Wallace Earl Laven, who is in two scenes as a mother who, sensibly, doesn’t want her teenage daughter hanging out with some punk who ends up arrested at the end. She had been acting since the 1940s and continued to appear in small TV roles for the next decade. Of principal interest to me, however, is the appearance of an original “mission”-style Taco Bell building, with tacos, tostadas, and bellburgers on the menu. If you don’t blink, you can also spot a big Kentucky Fried Chicken “bucket” sign on the stretch of businesses where they filmed this.
I’m more than just a little bit envious. I checked out seven episodes of 1977’s All-New Super Friends Hour for Daniel to watch. They’re terrible, of course, but those DVDs are as complete as can be, with all the interstitials, magic tricks, health tips, previews for the next week’s episode, and everything like that. Somebody hacked the end-of-show moral message from the master films of these episodes – many, if not all, are at least included as very low-quality bonus features – and the closing credits of this episode has an announcement about the episode of Isis that followed it. Except it’s an announcement about a totally different Isis episode than the one that originally aired as the season premiere… what a mess.
The episode is tame, safe, and dull. It’s about sibling rivalry, and all Captain Marvel does this week is fly the teens’ dad from the bottom of a ravine to join the others. Eric Shea plays one of the teens; nine years previously, he had been that kid who wandered through the first Shame episode of Batman yelling “Come back, Shame!” Daniel liked it at least. The teens ride dirt bikes.
I’d be fibbing if I implied that the two-parter that ended the first season of Shazam! was some kind of undiscovered gem, or any less timid than the standard of the previous episodes, but it is the first one that feels like the show’s writers or producers had ever read a Captain Marvel funnybook. It does have an actual villain, a teen gang leader played by Jack McCulloch, and Billy does get tied up and gagged, keeping him from saying his magic word, which is an old, old trope from the comics. Nevertheless, our son was less engaged than usual, although he did declare this was “pretty cool.”
No, it’s really not very good, even by the show’s standards, and Carol Anne Seflinger has even less to do in part two than she did in the first half. The extras who make up the teen gangs include one fellow with a ’70s porn moustache who’s at least ten years older than the rest of the bad guy crew. The climactic fight takes place at an oil refinery, and the local police refuse to get involved because they can’t arrest anybody who “might” commit a crime. No, they don’t even send an officer to tell these punks to scram, so Mentor calls the highway patrol instead. I’m not sure they arrest anybody either, but at least they show up. Let’s hear it for CHiPs.
This is an interestingly forward-thinking bit of kidvid. It’s the first of a two-parter; like the previous one in this series, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, instead seeming to divide the action and problems into two separate stories with the same character. Yet I am interested in how Filmation chose to end the season with a larger-than-normal two-part story with bigger issues.
This one isn’t about being trustworthy or respectful or not telling lies. It’s one baby step up closer to a proper antagonist, and a problem that isn’t going to be solved in twenty-two minutes, with lingering distrust and bad feelings among two gangs of teenagers. It starts out with a more ominous warning from the Elders than the usual fortune cookie gibberish, and Billy and Mentor soon find themselves dealing with a reformed young crook who is immediately suspected of a gas station robbery.
The cast is larger than usual, too, with six speaking parts. Among them is Carol Anne Seflinger, and two seasons later she’d be a regular in Sid and Marty Krofft’s Wonderbug, one of the shows that would end up sinking this one. Oops!
Daniel was very attentive and curious about this episode. The plot of framing people for crimes they didn’t commit was a little confusing for him, but he was really interested in this and wants to know what will happen next. We’ll find out in a couple of days.
Recognize that kid on the right? It’s Jackie Earle Haley, who would play one of the Bad News Bears a couple of years later. Much, much later on, he’d make the rare transition from child star to grownup actor. He was Rorshach in the Watchmen movie, Freddie in a Nightmare on Elm Street remake, and he currently appears in the Preacher TV series. Well, maybe “grownup” isn’t quite the right word.
Daniel really liked this episode because, speaking of bears, a big brown bear shows up in this episode and Captain Marvel needs to chase it away. That’s pretty much it for the excitement this time out. Captain Marvel lands… and the bear walks away. My son was happy because bears are cool, and I suppose it would be asking a bit much, even with the surprising stunts this show pulled, to expect any kind of stuntman-bear wrestling.
For a few years in the 1990s, incidentally, this was the only episode of Shazam! to make its way around any of the VHS tape trading circles in which I moved. Others eventually joined it, mainly from the John Davey run, but for a while, this was most people’s only exposure to the show. Sadly, it’s easily among the weakest of the first twelve, without even a neat stunt, camera trick, or cool car to set it apart, and set the tone for all the mocking my friends and I ladled out.
Another “memory cheats” moment: I swear that sometime in the late seventies, my mother made me sit down and watch an afterschool special or a TV movie or something called “Little Boy Lost” about a kid who ran away, but I can’t find any trace of it now, although I did find that David Janssen, Joanna Pettet, and Greg Morris made a charity short film for the United Way in 1974 with that title.
As for this episode, which was written and directed by Arthur H. Nadel and which guest stars John Carter (Lt. Biddle on Barnaby Jones), it’s a pretty treacly “kid-and-puppy go missing” segment, which Daniel really enjoyed most because of the puppy. It does, however, have a remarkably surprising visual effect. In a very, very contrived moment, the dad, having found his missing son, and the puppy, pauses on the drive home at some kind of “ghost town” tourist attraction, “for old time’s sake,” and, in the least surprising development possible, ends up trapped down a mine shaft so that the little boy has to then get help.
What nobody saw coming was this: the entire front of one of the fake abandoned buildings falls atop the hole to the mine shaft. I’ll give Nadel and Filmation total credit for that. The “trapped dad” angle would have worked just fine, in its low budget kids’ show way, without that very neat flourish. The full-size building collapses, and Jackson Bostwick has to haul it back into place before he jumps down into the hole to save the day. It’s always nice to have a surprise watching these shows, you know?
How’d this episode come about? Well, somebody said “Let’s see. Kids like dune buggies, and they should be reminded to stay in school, so let’s do a story where a guy with a dune buggy is thinking about dropping out. That’ll work!”
Trying to convince the guy with the buggy to stay in school is actress Lisa Eilbacher, who had lots of small parts like this in the seventies before getting some choicer roles in the eighties, chief among them the recurring part of Nicky in the NBC drama Midnight Caller. She doesn’t have a lot to do in this other than ride a motorcycle around the desert with Les Tremayne’s stunt double.
I am pleasantly surprised that this show resonates with Daniel. He really likes it, despite my mocking of it here, so never mind what I say. This was made for kids, and this one enjoys it just fine.