Find out through this collection of articles which movies Marvel would rather wipe from the screens. And to start the series, here is Captain America version 1979!
There are movies using the Marvel characters and universe that some would rather forget. In this series of articles, we will explore these “Marvels of shame”, productions so failed that they never manage to rise to the height of the license they exploit. Is there however nothing to save there? We will see that with the first films of our selection: the Captain America TV movies from 1979.
Captain America is played by Reb Brown, a former American football player turned actor. After filming in an episode of Happy Days (S05E12), Reb is approached by a producer asking him if he knows how to act. He answers yes, and he is offered the role of Steve Rogers. This is probably the simplest casting in the history of TV!
The screenplay for the TV movie is written by Don Ingalls, the future producer of Fantasy Island based on a story by Chester Krumholz who had worked on Kojak or Mannix. The pitch presents Steve Rogers, motocross pilot in full questioning. He discovers that his father has created a “super hormone” called FLAG, Latent Force of Growing Agility.
Steve’s father had injected his serum and become a crime fighter. Steve refuses to take up the torch. Much later, when he has been the victim of a fatal incident, he is finally injected with the serum to cure him. He is convinced to use these abilities against a millionaire terrorist wishing to take over California. To go unnoticed, he puts on his father’s uniform, and becomes Captain America.
The same year, another story of the superhero saw the light of day, Captain America II: Death Too Soon, again with Red Brown. In this new adventure, General Miguel (Christopher Lee) kidnaps a professor who studies gerontology and asks him to work on a product that accelerates aging. Obviously, Steve Rogers gets in his way.
We can note that in the first TV movie, Dr. Wendy Day was played by Connie Sellecca but in the sequel by another actress, Heather Menzies-Urich.
To say that the two feature films are failures is an understatement since the origin story of the character is not respected, his helmet decorated with fins was imposed by the authorities for security reasons, the villains do not come from the comics and intrigues are pretexts.
The glaring lack of means on the screen (the majority of the budget going to motorbike stunts and images of the hang-glider motorbike), the very relative involvement of the cast and a cut-price production make these two films failures which dishonor the original work. Vehicle scenes from the first are even reused in the second.
If we look back from a historical point of view, these TV movies are against New Hollywood, a cinematographic movement protesting the American dream born in the middle of the hippie wave in 1968-69 and featuring lost and leave behind.
We are ten years later, in 1979, and if at the start of the first TV movie, Steve Rogers is also lost in his life, and living in a van while looking for meaning in his life, everything changes very quickly. In “Death Too Soon”, Steve Rogers is even already an installed hero, ensuring everyone’s safety, shown as the friend of the elderly characters, animals and children.
Where the directors of New Hollywood then showed a decline of the American ideal, these two Captain America choose to show that he still exists provided that we believe in him and that we are willing to defend his country. A patriotic speech that foreshadows the arrival of the Reagan presidency two years later and its conservative turn.
Their poor quality will be worth to these telefilms never to become the pilots of a series. If the success had been there, two crossovers were planned: the first with the Spider-Man played by Nicholas Hammond in the series The Spider-Man (1977-1979), the second with the Incredible Hulk interpreted by Lou Ferrigno in the eponymous series (1977-1982). They will never see the light of day.
In France, surprisingly, Death Too Soon was released in theaters in 1979 under the title Captain America and was the general public’s first contact with the superhero. After another disastrous version in 1990, the Marvel character will only become cult in its version embodied by Chris Evans, within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Today, the role is held by Anthony Mackie.
Can you recognize superheroes by their logos?