Saturday, 30 April 2016

Nerdversity Reviews: Captain America (1944 Serial)


As Captain America: Civil War has been released and has so far achieved a $40 million worldwide box office, I thought we'd take a look at Captain America's on screen exploits, starting with his earliest incarnation, Captain America: The Purple Death, released by Republic in 1944.

Produced in 1943, it cost $222 thousand to make, though originally slated to only cost $182, 623. This is by far the most expensive serial Republic ever made. The costume was changed significantly to film and photograph easier. The costume itself was primarily grey. The wings on the cowl were removed. The pirate boots were changed to regular boots. The chainmail armour was changed to a regular cloth suit. There were flags sewn into the gloves and the belt buckle was turned into a shield. In this, Captain America is NOT private Steve Rogers, he is a District Attorney under the name of Grant Gardner. He doesn't have the shield as Cap does, instead he carries a revolver, naturally, this upset the comics owner, Timely. Republic replied that the sample pages Timely had sent didn't include any information like that. They also stated that adding all this stuff would cost too much in time and money to film new scenes and redub lines, something that Republic were actually under no obligation to do. Now, many film historians actually believe this serial was intended for another pulp hero, possible Scarlet Shroud (Fawcett), Spy Smasher or The Copperhead and was changed to Captain America at the last minute.

The plot revolves around a rash of suicides happening to scientists and businessmen and all under suspicious circumstances. They were all found dead holding a small golden scarab. These come to the attention of Mayor Randolph (Russell Hicks). He enlists Police Commissioner Dryden and District Attorney Grant Gardner to investigate these suicides. However, Gardner's secretary, Gail Richards investigates and finds out that someone knows of The Purple Death, a hypnotic chemical that was responsible for the suicides. Grant Gardner rescues her and flees.

The suicides are linked to a recent Mayan Archaeological Expedition. One of the last remaining few scientists, Professor Lyman goes to Dr. Maldor for help. Maldor reveals he's responsible for the Purple Death and is the villain The Scarab. He orchestrated the murders as punishment for the others claiming the fame and fortune, despite Maldor finding the ruins and organising the expedition. He used the Purple Death to get the location of a new device that Lyman built, the "Dynamic Vibrator", a device used for mining, but could be turned into a powerful sonic weapon.

The Scarab uses the new information to raid Lyman's lab and acquire a working version of the "Dynamic Vibrator". Gardner learns of the Scarabs plans and tries to stop him. In true serial fashion, the Scarab dies in pitch battle with Captain America. 

Dick Purcell, who played Captain America in this film, sadly passed away not long after the movie was made. He was slightly overweight for being Cap and was found dead of a heart attack in a country club. 

If anyone is interested, this movie is now officially in the public domain and can be found on eBay, Amazon or even YouTube for free. I'd say it's worth a look at, simply for the 1940s serial nostalgia and the fact it's Republic's last ever superhero movie.