Tuesday, October 20, 2009

From the '40's to the 70's to the '90's, Hollywood has proven itself a greater threat to Captain America's well-being than the infamous Red Skull.

It started in 1944 with Republic Picture's 15 chapter Captain America serial. Though the serial itself was good, and was in fact, the highest budgeted chapterplay in Republic's history, it just wasn't the Captain America we all know and love. For starters he wasn't even Steve Rogers. Instead he was two-fisted District Attorney, Grant Gardner!

The changes didn't stop there: Cap didn't have his shield and frequently used a gun. And Bucky -- well, for the record, Bucky's never made it into any Captain America film. Despite the absence of Cap lore in his serial, at least this puppy moves. It was produced when Republic was at its height as the best action studio in Hollywood, and the fights and '40's style special effects are great. It may not be Cap as we know him, but you've gotta love any movie where the hero takes on the menace of the "Dynamic Vibrator" with a straight face.

In the late 1970's, television rediscovered the superhero. Prime time versions of Wonder Woman and The Hulk were on air every week, and Spider-Man appeared in a series of one-hour specials. Buoyed by the success of its Hulk series, Universal Television pacted with Marvel to develop eight of their characters for television. Other than the Hulk, only two others were filmed, Dr. Strange and Captain America -- the latter twice! A funky disco era sensibility permeates Cap's two TV movies. Polyester supersuits and vans abound, not the least of which is Steve Roger's own midnight blue van with the huge seagull painted on its side.
In this version, Cap is Steve Rogers, son of the original Captain America. An itinerant artist by nature, the '70's superhero preferred driving down the California coast with his pet cat to thwarting evil as Captain America. Not that he wasn't ready pull on the star-spangled spandex, hop on the rocket propelled motorcycle that was stashed in his van, and jet out to toss his transparent Lucite shield (which doubled as the cycle's windshield) at an unconvincing thug when the situation demanded. The best that can be said of these two flicks is that Reb Brown might have been a great-looking Captain America if not for the badly designed shiny-looking body suit and the winged crash helmet he wore as a head piece. If you have to see one of these, see Captain America 2 -- it at least has Christopher Lee and Connie Sellica at her most gorgeous going for it.

The '90's came into Cap's life with a theatrical feature that never saw the inside of a theater, and just barely made it to video release after sitting in the vaults for years. In this one Cap/Steve Rogers is played by the much too thin Matt Salinger -- who wears a plastic appliance to give him a bigger chin! But that fake chin is the least of the picture's problems. The direction is confusing, and the editing incomprehensible, but the real villain of the piece is the screenplay. Your jaw will drop at some of the achingly bad storytelling. Cap has only one 1940's adventure, which ends in failure when the Red Skull effortlessly whips him. In the 90's portion of the adventure, the revived Cap is supposed to save a kidnapped President, who instead ends up saving Cap!

Just how dumb is this movie? Picture this: Having whupped Cap royal, the Red Skull ties his fallen foe to an ICBM. Then, seconds before the missile's launch, Cap grabs the Skull's wrist in an unbreakable grip of steel. The desperate Skull pulls out a huge knife and... and... get ready for it... cuts off his own hand! At that point I stopped respecting the Red Skull, or this dismal little movie. Once again Cap was done in by Hollywood.

But who knows what Cap's future holds? The glimpses of his shield and frozen body in Iron Man and the Hulk respectively seem to promise him a brighter Hollywoood future.

As always, the pictures and film clips are copyright by their respective owners. The Masked Mayhem character and the text of this post are copyright 2009 Will Meugniot


  1. wow. talk about epic fails.

    love the "oil slick" trick in the 70's version.

  2. As far as the Captain America serial goes I always believed Republic had a "Return of the Copperhead" script lying around and used it when they obtained the rights to use Cap.