Captain America (1944)

Captain America (1944)‘Blazing across the screen in a serial of real life adventures!’

Evil Dr Malnor plans to take revenge on his professional colleagues with his criminal gang. Things start coming unstuck when the local District Attorney takes an interest in the wave of murder and mayhem that sweeps across the city. He is Captain America and he rides a motorcycle that is really quite fast.

15 chapter Republic chapter play that would be consigned to a very small footnote in serial history if it were not for two things; the first appearance of the title character and the fact that our villain is played by the wonderful Lionel Atwill. He is really the only reason to spend any time with this; the story is derivative, the action formulaic and Dick Purcell completely forgettable in the leading role.

It’s a testament to the general lack of care and attention on display here that Atwill’s motives, and his objectives, remain deliciously fuzzy throughout. Apparently, he’s been on a very successful Mayan expedition but whilst the other members have achieved fame and fortune as a result, all he’s got out of it is a crummy little museum that no one ever seems to visit. Looks like gainful employment to me but he rebrands himself as arch villain ‘The Scarab’ instead (more Egyptian than Mayan surely?!) His schemes involve the usual gubbins; obtaining one macguffin or another, blackmail, robbery, murder and other general unpleasantness. Lucky for us, the good Captain thwarts him at every turn whilst throwing himself out of various modes of transport at the last minute and enjoying endless fistfights with Atwill’s goons. Luckily, they are all easy to spot because they’re a bit surly and haven’t shaved recently.

Captain America (1944)

Take that, you blackguard!

Ah, but is this really the Captain at all? Fans of the comic book character could be forgiven for being a little confused. There is absolutely no origin story – or any explanation as to why a respectable D.A. would want to wear a silly costume under his suit and tie (and where did he keep his boots?) He has no super strength, colourful frisbee or gadgets. All he has is a motorbike, a run of the mill handgun and his two fists. And boy, does he use them a lot.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of it all when viewed today is the ‘girl Friday’ character played by Lorna Gray. She was more famous as a comedy foil for the Three Stooges and actually changed her name to Adrian Booth shortly after this (no, it wasn’t that, Adrian can be a girl’s name too!) Anyway, there had been serial heroines in the past who got in on the action; driving cars and firing guns. But they never actually hit anyone. God forbid. Well, Gray doesn’t care about that; she not only hit one of the goons, she shoots him stone dead. Yes, it’s in self-defence (he draws first) but afterwards she just gets in the car and drives away. No hysterics, no remorse, no nothing. The incident never gets another mention. I’d love to know if this was a deliberate subversion of stereotypes by the film makers, or something they didn’t even think about. It is almost a throwaway scene and there’s nothing elsewhere to suggest that it’s anything but that, but it is a moment way ahead of its time. It happens in Chapter 3 after about 7 minutes if you want to check it out.

Other than that, unless you’re a fan of serials or Lionel Atwill, there isn’t much for you here. Unless you want to check out the Captain’s first screen appearance…

Buy ‘Captain America: The Serial’ here

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