|Directed by||Elmer Clifton|
|Written by||Royal Cole|
|Produced by||William J O'Sullivan|
George J. Lewis
|Edited by||Wallace Grissell|
|Music by||Mort Glickman|
|Distributed by||Republic Pictures|
|15 chapters / 243 minutes|
|Budget||$182,623 (negative cost: $222,906)|
Captain America is a 1944 Republic black-and-white 15-chapter serial film loosely based on the Timely Comics (now Marvel Comics) character Captain America. It was the last Republic serial made about a superhero. It also has the distinction of being the most expensive serial that Republic ever made. It stands as the first theatrical release connected to a Marvel character; the next theatrical release featuring a Marvel hero would not occur for more than 40 years. It was the last live-action rendition of a Marvel character in any medium until Spider-Man appeared in the Spidey Super Stories segment of the children's television series The Electric Company in 1974.
The serial sees Captain America, really District Attorney Grant Gardner, trying to thwart the plans of the Scarab, really museum curator Dr. Cyrus Maldor—especially regarding his attempts to acquire the "Dynamic Vibrator" and "Electronic Firebolt", devices that could be used as super-weapons.
In a rare plot element for Republic, the secret identity of the villain is known to the audience from the beginning, if not to the characters in the serial. The studio's usual approach was the use of a mystery villain who was unmasked as one of the other supporting characters only in the final chapter.
A rash of suspicious suicides among scientists and businessmen, all found holding a small scarab, gets the attention of Mayor Randolph. He demands that Police Commissioner Dryden and District Attorney Grant Gardner get to the bottom of the case, while openly wishing that Captain America, a masked man who has helped defeat crime in the past, were around to solve the mystery. Gail Richards, Grant Gardner's secretary, investigates and realizes someone knows of the "Purple Death", a hypnotic chemical responsible for the suicides. However he then pulls out a gun and takes her into another room. He then orders an associate to tie her up. The D.A. realizes she is there and forces the man to take him to her. He finds her tied up and gagged. He frees her but it is threatened that the purple death will be dropped killing them all. The D.A. shoots him then gets out of the room with Gail.
All of the suicides were members of an expedition to some Mayan ruins. One of the few remaining survivors, Professor Lyman, turns to his friend Dr. Maldor for support. Dr. Maldor, however, reveals that he is the man responsible for the deaths. He wants revenge because he planned and organized the expedition but everyone else claimed the fame and fortune. Lyman has developed the "Dynamic Vibrator" - a device intended for mining operations but one that can be amplified into a devastating weapon. Using his purple death Dr. Maldor forces Lyman to disclose the location of his plans.
Captain America intervenes as the Scarab's heavies attempt to steal the plans and this leads to a sequence of plots by the Scarab to acquire a working version, as well as other devices, while trying to eliminate the interfering Captain before he succeeds in discovering Dr. Maldor's true identity or defeats him.
Captain America was budgeted at $182,623 although the final negative cost was $222,906 (a $40,283, or 22.1%, overspend). It was the most expensive of all Republic serials (as well as the most over budget). It was filmed between October 12 and November 24, 1943. The serial's production number was 1297. Captain America was written by seven of the top serial screenwriters, including Harry Fraser’s only work at Republic.
The Captain America costume was really gray, white and dark blue as these colors photographed better in black and white. The costume also lost the wings on the head, the pirate boots became high shoes and the chainmail became normal cloth. Miniature flags were added to the gloves and the belt buckle became a small shield.
Republic was notorious for making changes in their adaptations. This occurred with Captain America more than most. Timely, the owner of Captain America, was unhappy with the omission of Steve Rogers, the lack of an army setting and his use of a gun. Republic responded in writing that the sample pages provided by Timely did not indicate that Captain America was a soldier called Steve Rogers, nor that he did not carry a revolver. They also noted that the serial was well into production by this point and they could not return to the original concept without expensive retakes and dubbing. Finally they pointed out that Republic was under no contractual obligation to do any of this.
The differences between the comic book and film versions of the title character in this serial are more extreme than with other Republic comic adaptations, such as Adventures of Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher. For example:
The reason for the differences appears not to be arbitrary, but that the script for the serial originally featured an entirely different licensed lead character and it was only decided later to replace the original character with Captain America. Film historians Jim Harmon and Don Glut speculated that the script was originally written as a sequel to 1940's Mysterious Doctor Satan, which featured the masked hero The Copperhead. This character was himself a substitution for DC's Superman, after Republic's bid for that character's film rights lost to Paramount, who had a series of cartoon shorts made by the Fleischer Studios, and would later on acquire Republic, as well as distribute a feature-length Captain America film.
Republic previously had adapted Fawcett Comics characters (Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher). Due to the fact that the lead in Captain America is a crime-fighting district attorney aided by a female secretary who knows his identity, and that the serial includes a chapter entitled "The Scarlet Shroud" in which nothing scarlet appears, film restoration director Eric Stedman suggests that it is more likely that the script was originally developed to feature Fawcett's comic book hero Mr. Scarlet, secretly D.A. Brian Butler, whose comic book appearances had proved unpopular and who had actually disappeared from comic book covers and been relegated to being a backup feature between the time the serial was planned and the final film produced.
Writer Raymond William Stedman believes that the differences between the comic-book and film versions of Captain America were "for the better" as, for example, the hero did not have to sneak out of an army base every time he needed to change identities.
Dale Van Sickel was the "ram rod" of the stunt crew, doubling Dick Purcell as Captain America. Ken Terrell doubled George J. Lewis and Fred Graham doubled Lionel Atwill. Additional stunts were performed by Duke Green and Joe Yrigoyen. Tom Steele only appeared in chapter one as he was busy on The Masked Marvel.
All the special effects in Captain America were created by Republic's in-house team, the Lydecker brothers.
Captain America's official release date is 5 February 1944, although this is actually the date the seventh chapter was made available to film exchanges. The serial was actually filmed in 1943. The serial was re-released on 30 September 1953, under the new title Return of Captain America, between the first runs of Canadian Mounties vs. Atomic Invaders and Trader Tom of the China Seas. All 15 episodes were released on VHS on dual cassettes.
Captain America is regarded as the "apex of the traditional action film fight...[in the] opinion of many cliffhanger enthusiasts". Stedman wrote that this was a "much better serial than either Batman or The Masked Marvel". Dr. Maldor is, in Cline's opinion, Lionel Atwill's best serial role.
In Captain America vol. 1 #219 (March 1978), it is revealed that a Captain America serial also exists in the Marvel Universe. In the serial, Steve Rogers himself stars as the Star-Spangled Man in secret, and the serial also features the shield being replaced by a standard gun, the identity of Grant Gardner, and Bucky is absent.
In 2007, after the Civil War comic event, Rogers is seemingly killed off. News channel CNN produces a special on his death, and while Rogers' death is focused, the serial is shown. In Captain America #27, the poster is seen in the Captain America museum.
Steve Rogers' ex-girlfriend in the Ultimate Marvel continuity is named after Gail Richards, Grant Gardner's secretary. The 2011 Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film Captain America: The First Avenger features the title character starring in a serial early in his career.