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Captain America TV-Movies (1979)
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2006

Format: TV
By:   Rod Holcomb (director)
Genre:   Groovy Superhero Adaptation
Review Date:   July 03, 2006
RevSF Rating:   4/10 (What Is This?)

"Be Captain America! Ram Captain America down their throats!" -- Dr. Mills

The year 1979 was the height of Marvel Comics' First Age of Live-Action. It consisted of the Incredible Hulk series, a Spider-Man series, one Dr. Strange and two Captain America two-hour movies for TV. Meanwhile, DC had the Warner brothers and sisters and their money to make Superman: The Movie and the Batman and Wonder Woman TV shows, complete with supporting casts, costumes, and villains from the source material.

Marvel, on the other hand, signed off on anything anyone wanted to do with their guys. Change Hulk's name? Sure! Put a utility belt on Spidey? Done! Change every single detail about Captain America and give him a motorcycle helmet instead of a mask? Where do we sign?

In Marvel's Bullpen Bulletins and letter columns, which were the only line of contact in those prehistoric pre-Internet days, we learned that Hollywood didn't want these things to be too "comic-booky." What they meant is they didn't want them to cost money, perhaps because of the gas and polyester shortage.

The outlandish premises from comics must have turned them off, too. At least, compared to the true human drama of Six Million Dollar Man and Supertrain.

The Big Blue Helmet

Captain America was in a government project to make a soldier all super in World War II. He was revived in the 1960s, after a super-villain fight left Cap frozen for decades. He was in a new world, a man with ideals from a purer era to fight in today's dark times.

So they took all that out.

They put in Cap as a Marine just out of the service, who wants to just hang out awhile. He finds out his dad was a scientist who gave himself super abilities with a "super steroid." Of course, hearing that word now is hilarious, because today no one is a scientist.

Exposition guy Dr. Simon Mills says, "Your father was the most patriotic man I ever knew, and not in the corny political sense." So why not do a movie about him?

But Steve wants to be Cap, as we learn here:

"American ideal? It's a little tough to find these days, isn't it?" -- Cap

"Not if you know where to look!" -- Dr. Mills

"Right on!" -- Cap

The movie is very 1970s, which is not surprising since it was made in the 1970s. It's fun in the way that everything in the 1970s was fun. Which is to say, sometimes not very.

Cap's suit is a motorcycle outfit, red and white stripes up his sides, but with a big blue bike helmet instead of a mask. He has the good ol' Cap shield, but it's see-through in the spots where it's supposed to be white. Weirdly, at the end of the movie, he puts on an authentic Cap costume for all of 10 seconds.

Well, except for the filking blue bike helmet.

Len Birman, Dr. Mills, must not have gotten a script. Either they told him to just say whatever he felt like, or he knew the director and was making a resume tape. He's in nearly every frame. He saves the day at the end. He makes impassioned speeches. He gets seven or eight costume changes. He saves the day at the end.

He's just weird. The Mills character is totally nice and kind, but then in one scene, Cap asks him for help:

"You can make things happen, right?"

Mills replies, "Don't make it anything too hard."

What?

I have never seen a more literal script. People dial phones. They unlock doors. They walk down halls. It's like the production was counting down until they had enough on film, and they packed every detail on screen.

"How much time left now?" "47 minutes, 26 seconds!" "Dang! What if I walk down the hall some more?"

Cap II: Death Too Soon

"You shoot him on sight! He's probably gonna try to jump your jeeps!" -- Thug No. 1

When first we see our hero, which aired a few months after the first one, he helps an old lady on a beach get her purse back from thugs, in full costume. The thugs, I mean: They all wear denim vests and bandanas.

Cap gets off his motorbike to chase a dune buggy on foot. If he can run fast enough to catch a vehicle, why does he need the motorcycle?

He sprints down the beach, with his gigantic blue bike helmet still on.

It must have done what bike helmets do: drench Cap's neck, head, and hair with sweat, and thus flop around on his head like he's wearing a bowling ball.

Being chased by a man with a giant blue cranium should make you rethink your crime career.

Cap then gets to the business of every 1970s TV hero: Stay in a small town with a pretty widow woman and her kid, do a heroic thing, then leave. Fill in the blanks with "Captain America" and you're done. I've seen this exact story on A-Team, Hulk, Kung Fu, and Diff'rent Strokes.

Cap really gets to bust up some 1970s TV thugs in this one. A rogues' gallery of often-seen TV hooligans break his paintbrush, so Cap goes Buford Pusser on them with a baseball bat. Take that to Fantasy Island with you, Man With Gun Number 2!

The best part is the villain: Christopher Lee, 25 short years before he would delight us as Saruman in Lord of the Rings. He leads Cap on a 15-minute long helicopter chase. Saruman sends attack dogs after Cap, and Cap runs away from them. Saruman uses a super-aging formula on a whole city, and Cap doesn't reverse it. The insane Dr. Mills says "They only aged a few months."

Where Are Their Giant Blue Heads Now?

Reb Brown (Cap): Bought a "whole can of whoop-ass" from Randall "Tex" Cobb and Gene Hackman in Uncommon Valor. Appears in Sin-Jyn Smith, with a veritable supergroup of performers: lead singer of Korn Jonathan Davis, Jeff Conaway from Taxi and Babylon 5, Jenna Jameson from pornography, and legendary wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. I must see it. I must.

Len Birman (Dr. Mills): Appeared on many a 1970s TV show, but peaked in a coveted role on one of the "Seven Lady Truckers" episodes of BJ and the Bear.

Heather Menzies / Connie Selleca (Wendy Day): Menzies married 1970s and 1980s TV icon Mr. Robert Urich; Selleca was on Greatest American Hero, then married New Age goliath John Tesh.

Rob Holcomb (director):Somehow is still working. Directed Invasion, Lost, and ER.

Alex Hyde-White: Apparently a cadet in Marvel live-action boot camp, At the time a young boy, Hyde-White played a young boy. He would someday become Mr. Fantastic in the disavowed Fantastic Four that does not exist and no one has ever seen.

Saruman: Completely beaten and imprisoned in Orthanc. Talked the Ents into letting him leave Isengard. Went to the Shire, which his men had taken over. Called himself Sharkey and was a thug-lord in Hobbiton until GrĂ­ma Wormtongue stabbed him in the back after the Battle of Bywater. But he was a Maia, so his spirit left his dead body like Sauron's after Numenor. He should have been called to Mandos, but his spirit was left naked and powerless, wandering Middle-earth.

Patriotic Plug: Joe Crowe writes more about Captain America's ears and Cap's 1978 TV-movies in Assembled! Five Decades of Earth's Mightiest. Other folks also wrote stuff in it about the rest of the Avengers. Buy one often!


 
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