In Captain America's original story, a man named Steve Rogers - who is too weak and puny to fight in World War II - is injected with a Super-Soldier Serum and develops an enhanced physique, after which he becomes Captain America and does battle with the agents of Nazi Germany. This back-story was rejected by Republic during the making of this serial, as it would have required costly retakes at the time. In the serial, Captain America's real name is Grant Gardner, he is the city's district attorney, and his foe is the Scarab, aka Karl Maaldor, played by Lionel Atwill. See more »
In chapter 11, some film equipment is reflected in the rear window of the ambulance as the bad guys get inside. See more »
This is the voice of the Scarab, Wilson. I command you to drive your car over the cliff!
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In the 1940s, every studio had at least one genre they excelled at. Universal had horror films, Warner Brothers had crime dramas and social commentaries, MGM had lavish musicals and costume dramas. Republic Studios was near the bottom of the barrel, but they had something they did better than anyone else: serials, weekly chapterplays where the heroes faced a deadly peril at the end of each episode. No one did them better than Republic. They had the best writing, music, special effects, stuntmen, and these factors added up to the best serials of all time: `Zorro's Fighting Legion,' `The Lone Ranger,' `The Adventures of Captain Marvel,' `Spy Smasher,' and others.
But by 1944, the Republic formula had become just that, formula. `Captain America' is a product of a studio and a genre in decline. While the movie is technically proficient and slickly produced, the thrill and excitement is gone.
Any Captain America fan seeing this movie without prior warning is in for a shock: Republic was notorious for making arbitrary changes to characters, and Captain America had it worse than anyone. Instead of being Private Steve Rogers of the United States Army, now he was Grant Gardner, District Attorney of an unnamed American city. His trademark shield was gone, replaced by a mundane .38-caliber revolver. His sidekick, Bucky, was also missing, so Cap was assisted by an efficient secretary, Gail Richards (Lorna Grey). Most bizarre was ignoring the whole World War II angle instead of having Captain America battle spies and saboteurs like he did in the comics, they had him battling a run-of-the-mill criminal mastermind, Cyrus Maldor (Lionel Atwill), alias the Scarab. It strikes me as an odd choice for an overtly patriotic hero in the middle of a world war, but
Dick Purcell does a good job as Grant Gardner / Captain America, although he wasn't the best physical match for the part. Most of the young, trim guys were off fighting the war, so instead you have the nicely-rounded Purcell in the tights. Sometimes he looks more like Captain Dad than Captain America, but Purcell still does a decent job. Lorna Grey makes a surprisingly sexy sidekick (I can imagine younger moviegoers in 1944 lamenting Cap hanging out with a girl instead of his pal Bucky, while the slightly older audience would see the improvement). Lionel Atwill is appropriately scheming and menacing, but his climactic fistfight with Captain America stretches credibility a little too much.
The two words that best describe `Captain America' are `competent' and `tired.' The serial goes through all the paces and delivers some excitement, but the classic Republic crispness, the snap, is gone. The serials would die slowly over the next twelve years, doomed to exhaustion and competition from television, but the glories of those years live on in memory.
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