This is the sixteenth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes. For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.
The following year after “Dr. Strange,” CBS commissioned another pilot for a possible television series, this time starring Marvel’s first son Captain America. This was the first time Captain America had been seen in live action since the Dick Purcell serial in 1944, and this adaptation of the character took just as many liberties with the source material as that one had.
This time, Captain America was Steve Rogers – like in the comics – but he wasn’t a super soldier from WWII who had been in suspended animation. Instead, this version was the son of the “original” Captain America. When the original operated is never discussed, though you could conceivably say that this movie shares continuity with the 1944 serial and it wouldn’t take a whole lot of imagination to make that work.
When we first meet Steve he has just gotten out of the United States Marine Corps and is looking forward to a life of freedom, not having to answer to anyone or address anyone as “sir.” The government has other plans for Steve, however.
Dr. Simon Mills is carrying on the work of Steve’s father, who had given himself super-human abilities with a drug called FLAG – Full Latent Ability Gain – which is a stand-in for the tradition super soldier serum from the comic books. Dr. Mills wants Steve to help to carry on his father’s work by becoming a new Captain America for the government. Steve respectfully declines the offer.
Things don’t go as planned, however, as Steve soon becomes the target of several thugs, who are trying to build a hydrogen bomb. They are after Steve because Steve is a close personal friend of a scientist who developed the bomb, and Steve is given custody of the bomb’s plans. A car accident is soon arranged and Steve finds himself fighting for his life. To assist Steve in his fight for life, Dr. Mills gives Steve the FLAG serum and Steve soon recovers.
Steve eventually does – after doing some soul searching – decide to take up the mantle of Captain America, and the hero is reborn.
While “Captain America” didn’t end up becoming a television series, ratings did warrant a sequel. “Captain America II: Death Too Soon” reunited the cast of the original film, this time joined by Christopher Lee as an international terrorist named Miguel.
While the costume from the first film took several liberties in its design, the costume in the sequel was much more in keeping with the design from the comics. The most notable exception was the addition of a motorcycle helmet instead of the traditional cowl. This carried over from the first film, which also saw the character wearing a motorcycle helmet.
The sequel’s title, “Death Too Soon,” comes from Miguel’s plot to artificially age the population’s of the world’s biggest cities until he is paid a ransom. Miguel tests the artificial aging weapon on a small town, which Steve happens upon by accident. Noticing that something strange is going on in the town, Steve soon decides that this is a job for Captain America and begins to investigate, tracing the situation back to Miguel.
In both films, Steve Rogers is played by Reb Brown. Brown, a relative unknown when he won the part of Captain America, would go on to be best known for the 1983 cult classic “Yor, the Hunter from the Future.”
Dr. Mills’ assistant, Dr. Wendy Day, was played in the first film by Heather Menzies, who had played Jessica 6 in the “Logan’s Run” television series. In the sequel, this character was recast with Connie Sellecca, who wold later be most well known for the role of Pam Davidson, the love interest of William Katt’s Ralph Hinkley on “The Greatest American Hero.”
Unlike the “Dr. Strange” movie, both Captain America films are available on DVD, released on a single disc by Shout! Factory in 2011 to capitalize on the popularity of “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
“MARVEL IN THE 1970S: DR STRANGE AND CAPTAIN AMERICA”. Twitch Film.
Cord Scott, Robert G. Weiner (2009), Captain America and the struggle of the superhero, p. 221