ADVENTURE GENRE – TELEVISION:
Centering on a main character, or team of characters, adventure programs feature their experiences as they seek a specific goal. Usually on a mission for good against evil, the adventurer experiences the dangers and risks of new, unexplored territories and the underhanded plotting of their adversaries. Almost everyone enjoys the thought of an exciting adventure, and television is the ideal medium for sharing the adventures from the safety and comfort of your own home.
Airing from June of 1949 until April of 1955, “Captain Video and His Video Rangers” was the first-ever space adventure series produced for television. Broadcast live on television, the half-hour episodes were shown five to six evenings a week. Dressed in uniforms emblazoned with their symbol, a thunderbolt, the Video Rangers traveled by rocket ship from their secret base on a mountain top to patrol the solar system and colonies on other planets, fighting evil. The main characters were the Video Rangers, led by Captain Video (Richard Coogan 1949-1950 and Al Hodge 1950-1955). Captain Video had a young sidekick known only as the Video Ranger (Don Hastings, who later in his career would star in soap operas). The first villain the Video Rangers had to battle was the evil inventor, Dr. Pauli (Hal Conklin). The series also featured many appearances by I TOBOR, a robot. The program was so popular that Columbia made a movie serial in 1951 titled “Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere” which starred Judd Holdren.
“Space Patrol” is another space adventure series that was popular during its run on television from 1950 to 1955. The program was originally broadcast live as a 15-minute daily show in Los Angeles beginning in March of 1950, and then in December of 1950 was also filmed as a half-hour show and broadcast on Saturdays in additional cities. The role of Commander Buzz Corry was played by Ed Kemmer, and his young sidekick, Cadet Happy, was played by Lyn Osborn. Set in the 30th century, the Commander and the Cadet roamed the universe, using space-age gadgets like “miniature space-o-phones” and “atomolights” to battle interplanetary villains. Because of the success of the television program, a radio version, using the same cast of actors, ran from September of 1950 to March of 1955.
From 1952 to 1954 audiences enjoyed the jungle adventures of “Ramar of the Jungle”, chronicling the escapades of Dr. Tom Reynolds (Jon Hall) and his associate, Professor Howard Ogden (Ray Montgomery). Dr. Reynolds, known as Ramar (‘white medicine man’) to the natives, is a research scientist and physician. The 30-minute, live-action adventure show was presented in four 13-episode series set in Africa. Each episode centered on Dr. Reynolds and Professor Ogden coming to the rescue of a hapless victim, or thwarting a villain’s plot. In the episode titled “White Savages” two escaped convicts join forces with the White Goddess and rob a native tribe of precious jewels, and in “The Tiger’s Claw” people are being murdered, and the murders blamed on a man-eating tiger, but Ramar uncovers the real murderer, a white man using a poisoned tiger’s claw. Several episodes were combined and two movies were released in 1953 and another two in 1955 using these combined episodes. Seven made-for-television movies were also produced based on the series.
“The Adventures of China Smith ” was a 30-minute adventure program aired in 1952 for 26 episodes, and then another 26 episodes were aired in 1954 after a two-year hiatus. A tough guy who always wore a white suit, China Smith (Dan Duryea) was an American living in Singapore. He was a bit of a shady character himself, usually surrounded by beautiful women, but somehow was on the side of the good guys to fight against international villains. Faced with danger in each episode, China Smith managed to assist Inspector Hobson (Douglass Dumbrille) in defeating the bad guys, and sometimes the bad girls, such as the “Empress” Shira (Myrna Dell).
Appearing for one season from 1954 to 1955, “Flash Gordon” was another space adventure program, loosely based on the popular comic strip and film serials. (Buster Crabbe appeared as Flash Gordon in “Flash Gordon” (1936), “Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars” (1938) and “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe” (1940)). The television show, consisting of thirty-nine 25-minute episodes, featured Flash Gordon (Steve Holland), scientist Dale Arden (Irene Champlin), Dr. Hans Zarkov (Joseph Nash) and Commander Richards (Henry Beckman). Set in the year 3203, the team were agents of the Galactic Bureau of Investigation whose job it was to battle the villains of the galaxy, such as the Micro Man in “The Micro-Man Menace” episode where they had to thwart the evil plans of the villain who was able to shrink people and entire planets, and in “The Weapon that Walked” where they fought a woman who could turn people to stone with a single look.
“Sheena, Queen of the Jungle ” is a jungle-themed adventure series from 1955-1956 in 26 episodes. Sheena (Irish McCalla) was orphaned, and raised in the jungle, where she learned to communicate with the animals. Along with her companion Chim (Neal the chimpanzee) and her friend, trader Bob Rayburn (Chris Drake), Sheena encounters action and adventure as she fights evil. In “Forbidden Land” Sheena escorts a safari into deepest Africa in search of a tribe never seen by outsiders before, and in “The Renegades” she must help Bob search for stolen diamonds.
From 1955 to 1957 Larry 'Buster' Crabbe appeared in “Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion”, a desert adventure series. In this half-hour program Captain Gallant is an American serving in the Foreign Legion, accompanied by his sidekick Fuzzy (John Forrest 'Fuzzy' Knight) and his adopted son Cuffy Sanders (Crabbe’s real-life son, Cullen Crabbe). Captain Gallant strives to keep the peace among the native tribes and provide law and order at the fort. In “The Ransom” a wealthy tourist has been kidnapped from the marketplace and must be rescued. The program was re-titled “Foreign Legionnaire” and broadcast in syndication from 1958-1963.
“Challenge of the Yukon ” was a popular radio program from 1938-1955, and in 1955 the program was brought to television as “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon”. Seventy-eight episodes were filmed of the 30-minute program, and were broadcast for three seasons. Based in Canada’s Yukon Territory during the Gold Rush of the 1890’s, the series centered on the adventures of Sergeant Preston (Richard Simmons), a member of the North-West Mounted Police, and his loyal dog, Yukon King. Assisted by Yukon King, Sergeant Preston must protect local residents, deal with thieves and murderers, and hunt down smugglers and other wrongdoers, all the while struggling against the harsh conditions of the frozen environment. At the end of each episode, when the villain was in custody, the staunch Sergeant Preston was heard to say, “Well, King, this case is closed”.
Running for four seasons from 1955 to 1960 for 143 half-hour episodes, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was a very popular adventure series on television. Set in medieval England, the series tells stories based on the the legend of Robin Hood (Richard Greene) and his gang of Merry Men, who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. Robin’s main rival is the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Wheatley), constantly plotting to capture the outlaw. His Merry Men include Little John (Archie Duncan), Maid Marian (Bernadette O’Farrell and Patricia Driscoll), Friar Tuck (Alexander Gauge), and Alan-a-Dale (Richard Coleman).
“The Adventures of Fu Manchu ” was a 13 episode series broadcast in 1956. Dr. Fu Manchu (Glen Gordon) was an extremely wealthy and evil genius whose goal it was to cause the downfall of western civilization. It is up to law enforcement officer Sir Dennis Nayland Smith (Lester Matthews) and his partner Dr. John Petrie (Clark Howat) to stop the evil Dr. Fu Manchu from accomplishing his goal. Dr. Fu Manchu’s evil plots include assassinations, germ attacks, and scheming to start an all-out war.
Airing in 30 episodes, “The Adventures of Sir Lancelot” is an English adventure series broadcast in 1956 and 1957 in 30 minute programs. Based on the legends of Sir Lancelot, the most famous of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, the program storylines were carefully researched by the University of Oxford for accuracy. From the first episode, where Sir Lancelot (William Russell) has to prove his worthiness to become a Knight, through the following twenty-nine episodes, his exploits and adventures in service to King Arthur are revealed. Other characters whose stories are interwoven are King Arthur (Ronald Leigh-Hunt), Lady Guinevere (Jane Hylton), Merlin (Cyril Smith), and Brian (Robert Scroggins), Sir Lancelot’s squire.
“The Buccaneers” was a thirty-nine episode, 30 minute swashbuckling adventure program aired in 1956 and 1957. Set on the island of New Providence in the early 18th century, the story is told of the island’s new governor, Woodes Rogers (Alec Clunes) and his mission to offer a pardon to pirates who will swear to amend their ways. Most of the pirates accept the pardon, but those that don’t plot and plan and carry out attacks on the island and various ships. The main character and hero of the series is Captain Dan Tempest (Robert Shaw), who constantly struggles to overcome the villainous pirates as they attempt to steal the cargo from ships, kidnap ladies and notables, and generally cause trouble for the island. The main bad guy of the series is Blackbeard the Pirate (George Margo) and he and Dan Tempest repeatedly battle each other in a struggle of good against evil.
Set in the time of the French and Indian War in the northwest of the North American continent, “Northwest Passage” is a 26 episode, half-hour frontier adventure series broadcast in 1958-1959. This is one of the earliest television series broadcast in color. Major Robert Rogers (Keith Larsen) has gathered a group of volunteers to assist him in fighting on the side of the British against the French and their Indian allies. Rogers’ Rangers, as they are called, include Sergeant Hunk Marriner (Buddy Ebsen) and Ensign Langdon Towne (Don Burnett). (A feature film of the same name was distributed in 1940 by MGM, starring Spencer Tracy as Rogers, Walter Brennan as Marriner, and Robert Young as Towne.)
Another British series popular with adventure fans is “The Adventures of William Tell”, a thirty-nine episode, 30 minute program airing in 1958 and 1959. The stories of the legendary William Tell (Conrad Phillips), set in the lands under Austrian rule that would one day become Switzerland, are told in this series. The main villain of the series is the Austrian Governor Landburgher Gessler (Willoughby Goddard), a brute of a man who insists that everyone pay homage to him by saluting his hat which is hanging from a pole in the village. When William Tell refuses, their lifelong enmity is ignited. Each episode features a story of William Tell’s efforts to aid the members of the county and free them from Austrian rule, and to avoid arrest by the evil Gessler.
From 1959 to 1961, for two seasons, the western adventures series “Riverboat” was broadcast weekly in hour-long episodes. Set in the 1840’s, the series told of the adventures of Captain Grey Holden (Darren McGavin) and his pilot, Ben Frazer (Burt Reynolds / Noah Beery Jr.) as they navigate the riverboat Enterprise along the rivers of America, encountering interesting passengers and situations along the way.
Another great adventure series airing in 1957 is “Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans ”. This western-themed adventure originally aired for one season of 39 half-hour episodes. Nat Cutler, known as Hawkeye (John Hart) is a fur trader in the Hudson Valley of New York in the 1750’s, and Chingachgook (Lon Chaney Jr.), the last of the Mohican tribe, is his Indian companion. Hawkeye and Chingachgook encounter adventure and adversity as they battle bandits, kidnappers, murderers, and renegade Indians and come to the aid of settlers and peaceful Indians alike.
Many episodes of these and other great adventure series are available for viewing here on Matinee Classics. Look around and select your old favorites or find some new ones and sit back and enjoy the escapades from the early days of television.