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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Captain America's Oddball Movie Career

Captain America has seen many animated incarnations over the years. This is not one of them.

Captain America: The First Avenger hits theaters today.

The latest chapter in the Marvel Comics quest for superhero box office dominance is the not first time that the red, white and blue superhero has appeared on the big screen. The good Captain has, in fact, made no less than five different previous movie appearances. While the new movie is certainly Cap's biggest silver screen foray, it is not the strangest film adaptation of the character.

Not by a long shot.

That honour squarely rests on squarely on the shoulders of Captain America's 1940's through 1990's surprisingly prolific and generally bizarre movie career.

Captain America first appeared in comics in 1940. Contrary to popular belief , he was not created to be an American World War II propaganda tool. He was actually created as an American propaganda tool to get the US involved in World War II.

The story of scrawny 4F US Army reject Steve Rogers being injected with the experimental super soldier serum and thus transformed into the heroic Captain America first appeared in comic books in December of 1940.

Captain America made his first on screen appearance not long after that, in 1944, courtesy of the eponymous Republic Studios movie serial. Republic studios had a reputation for making the best movie serials. They also had a reputation for making what were often very non-faithful adaptations of previously existing radio, pulp and comic characters.

Captain America was no exception.

In the serial version, Captain America's alter ego is no longer Steve Rogers. Cap's dual identity is now that of Grant Gardner. Gardener is not, like Rogers, a rear echelon army private but a stateside district attorney. Gone also is Cap's trademark shield. In it's place, the superhero packs a sidearm.

And, oh yeah, the plot has virtually nothing to do with World War II.

The other changes are puzzling enough but that last one takes the patriotic cake. I cannot fathom why, in an era when everybody from Tarzan to The Bowery Boys were taking on the Axis , the one guy actually tailor made for the war effort is pulled right out of the entire war.

Dick Purcell plays Gardner/Captain America. Based on the gut Cap sports in this serial, Purcell confirms the theory that  beer was a major ingredient in the super soldier serum. I know. I know. That sounds like a  very cruel line given that Purcell died of a heart attack shortly after the Captain America serial wrapped. So let's just take the beer belly as one more oddball tweak for the sentinel of liberty.

The plot sees Captain America go up against the evil villain known as The Scarab.  In the only tangent of the story that could be connect to the war, The Scarab is attempting to develop such super weapons as the Electronic Firebolt and  the Dynamic Vibrator. I'm not exactly sure what nefarious uses he had in mind for the latter.

The Scarab is pretty much a garden variety villain when compared to, say, I dunno, all of Nazi Germany.

Well, at least it's got a lot of that great movie serial fighting.

Captain America's popularity fell off after 1945 and the character eventually disappeared from comic books altogether. He was revised in the 1960's by the legendary Stan Lee.

Cap's first screen appearance during his 60's renaissance was in a series of Saturday morning cartoon versions of Marvel Comics. The animation in these cartoons is so bad that they make Rocket Robin Hood look like Disney's Fantasia.

All the best animation was used in the opening titles....seriously.

The star spangled hero's next foray onto movie screens was definitely the most bizarre. And I don't mean most bizarre Captain American movie, I mean one of the most bizarre movies ever made. Period.

But let's save the best for last.

Instead, let's jump ahead in time to the late 70's.

In the 70's, a TV series version of Marvel's The Incredible Hulk was a big hit.  One of the byproducts of the success of this seminal live action TV comics adaptation would the recurring presence of Lou Ferrigno in male oriented romantic comedies some 30 years later. The second byproduct was other live action TV adaptations of Marvel characters.  First there was the thankfully short lived late 70's Spider-Man TV series.

Second, there were not one but two Captain America pilots in the form of made-for-TV movies. Hard to imagine an old school red, white and blue hero like Captain America playing in the groovy 70's but, as the photo below proves, anything is possible.

Not necessarily good, but possible.

The small screen take on Captain America focuses on the son of Steve Rogers. While Rogers Sr did not seem to be a super soldier as such, he was a government agent who developed something not unlike the super soldier serum. See, Roger Sr., before his unfortunate demise in the line of duty, was mockingly referred to by his enemies as "Captain America". Yep that's the 70's alright.

Rogers Jr. is injected with the serum and reclaims the Captain America mantle (in a non-facetious manner this time, of course). He fights evil with his cool 70's motorcycle that he launches out of his cool 70's van (which for some reason lacks the standard Frank Frazetta van detailing that was de rigeur for the era).

This time around, the famous star spangled shield is back, albeit in a somewhat tacky form. The 1940's sidearm is long gone. A rejected Easy Rider motorcycle helmet replaces Cap's traditional cowl. Motocross goggles complete the look.

Cap also sported a red, white and blue spandex outfit that, as you can see in the photo, more than highlighted the generous side effects of the super soldier serum. If that's the case, I get emails trying to sell me the super soldier serum all the time.

The two pilots never went to series.

Probably for the best.

And, yep, Christopher Lee is the villain of the second movie. That means that the legendary genre actor has seen a career where he has squared off against Dr.Van Helsing, Yoda, James Bond, Gandalf and
Disco Captain America.
Cap made a number of animated appearances in the 90's on such Marvel TV series as Spider-Man and The X Men. The decade was a good one for Mighty Marvel animation domination. In addition to Spider-Man and X Men there were animated versions of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Silver Surfer and The Fantastic Four.

A Captain America series was in development but never sold. This clip is one of the few remnants.

Hmmm...looks like there was somekind of Cobra cross-over thing going on there.

This clip highlights one of the rare on-screen appearances of Captain America's WWII sidekick, Bucky Barnes. Since the massively successful introduction of  Batman's sidekick, Robin The Boy Wonder, in 1940, virtually every superhero of that era had a domino-masked adolescent biting at his heels. Captain America was no exception. The character (as he was retroconned by Stan Lee in the 60's) was killed off at the end of WWII.

Bucky's movie appearances have been totally non-existent. Given the popular never-ending and -let's face it- childish snickering regarding Batman and Robin's purported sexual preferences, Bucky's cinematic absence is probably for the best.

Also in the 90's was the direct-to-video Captain America movie. Though, the film was not originally intended as such.

The costume looks good but...

When the Tim Burton Batman movie hit it big in '89,  a Captain America big screen outing soon went into production. The movie was shot in '89 but did not see the light of day until 1992. In North America, it went straight to video. In some international markets, it saw a limited theatrical release.

There's good reasons for that.

Okay, first of all, on the plus side, the costume is much closer to the comics. Plus Captain America is actually Steve Rogers. Best of all, the World War II origin story and hero transplanted into the present day storyline is fully intact.

On the minus side, nothing else in the film works.

Captain America's arch nemesis is the super villain Nazi known as The Red Skull. In this movie, for some reason, The Red Skull is not German but Italian. "For some reason" is probably he best way to describe a lot of things in this ill-fated adaptation.

The actor playing Captain America is Matt Salinger, son of reclusive Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger. No wonder the man stayed in hiding for so long.

Now let's get to that "save the best for last" part. As I mentioned earlier, by far the most oddball of all of Cap's big screen forays is, winged ears down, Turkish Captain America

I know. Right off the bat, something is wrong with that the name: Turkish Captain America.

I'm talking about a Turkish movie released in 1973. Three Giant Men is the rough English translation of the title.

In this completely non-Marvel authorized movie, special agents Captain America and Mexican wrestler turned superhero, El Santos, are brought to Istanbul to help the Turks take out the evil villain known as Spider-Man.

Yep. Don't tell any six year old boys this but Spider-Man is evil. Very evil. So much so that, before the opening credits, Spidey kills a woman by burying her neck down in the sand and then shoves the spinning propeller of an outboard boat motor right into her face.

I am not making that up. I don't do those kinds of drugs.

The many questions this movie brings up are probaly better left unanswered. Why is Spider-Man the villian? What is the Mexican wrestler/superhero El Santos even doing in this movie? How is it that Captain America speaks perfect fluent Turkish without (I'm told) an accent?  Why did Cap bring his girlfriend along on the assignment? How is it  that everybody just seems to know Cap's secret identity?

Discussing why Captain America does not have his shield in this version is, well, quite superfluous.

If you're a fan of superhero fights in extremely bizarre contexts then you'll love this Captain America-Spider-Man chase/rumble...

Anyone else notice that the evil Turkish Spider-Man's costume is slightly off?

The fight scenes in 3 Giant Men are like a combination of the old Republic Studios serials fights and those seen in very early Bruce Lee movies, minus the skill of either.

The killer moment of the whole movie for me is the climatic fight scene between shield-less Turkish Captain America and Evil Turkish Spider-Man.

Cap finally catches up to Spidey. They have a great knock-down drag 'em out fight. It's actually quite exciting except for one truly strange element that is almost Coen brothers-like in its bizarre audacity.

Captain America is not in costume for any part of the fight.

He remains "Steve Rogers" (if that's even his identity in this version), wearing his civilian clothes, right till the final blow. He never even so much as attempts to don the mask. At one point, you can see a bit of the Captain America costume poking out from under his clothes.  Sure. Of course. That kind of thing will happen in a fight.

After the fight, the movie ends with a very short epilogue where everybody laughs just like the end of any good episode of The Flintstones. It turns out that the last time we see Turkish Captain America is like 30 minutes before the end of the movie.

One can only hope that the makers of the new Captain America blockbuster have studied Cap's Turkish counterpart and all of the other oddball Captain America movie adaptations. Let's hope they have learned something from these strange mutations of the character.

We can only hope that they now know how to avoid all the seemingly powerful temptations to go really bat shit insane with the character of Captain America.

I'm gonna stay frozen in suspended animation his till the next post, K?


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