Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby as an answer to Adolph Hitler but has since then grew out of his WWII origins to team-up with modern heroes to eventually end up leading The Avengers, thus we now have Captain America the heroic icon of honor and perseverance. Steve Rogers does not give up whether he’s fighting Nazis or sentient robots, but do you know who else also doesn’t give up? Hollywood, that’s who.
And because of Hollywood’s sticktoitiveness we have had Cap showing up in various incarnations over the years, from the 1944 Captain America serial that even though limited by a low budget it was still the Cap from the comics, now flash forward to 1979 where television gets its grubby hands on the old Red, White, and Blue and that’s a whole other story.
In 1978 CBS had a hit with The Incredible Hulk, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, so it’s not surprising that they’d try and see if lightning would strike twice, it didn’t. In the case of The Incredible Hulk series it pretty much abandoned all elements from the comic book character, aside from the whole “Scientist turns green and large when angry” but then grafted that element to what was basically a rip-off of The Fugitive. This worked mostly because of Bill Bixby’s charm intense likability, that and kids everywhere loving to see a green Lou Ferrigno bashing through walls. Now, a year later CBS gave us a Steve Rogers/Captain America that was just as divorced from the source material as The Incredible Hulk series was but in this case it failed miserably. Let’s see why.
Steve Rogers (Reb Brown) is a former Marine who has left the military to drive around in his van in the hopes of turning into Jack Kerouac. Gone is the physically weak man with the heart of a lion who is willing to be transformed into a Super Soldier so that he could fight evil. This Steve Rogers just wants to hang around at the beach sketching young children.
When Dr. Simon Mills (Len Birman) tells Steve that his father developed a special serum called F.L.A.G. (Full Latent Ability Gain) that would enhance a person’s strength and reflexes, poor Steve is barely interested. Sadly it turns out that Steve’s dad used his own genetic make-up as part of the formula so that if anyone else used F.L.A.G. it would eventually kill them, but as a son, he carries the same genes so it’s possible that it could work on him. Steve wants no part of this because it doesn’t involve his van, sketching or just hanging out at the beach.
A friend of Steve’s father calls for help but Steve is too late and thus finds himself investigating the murder of this scientist/friend, a man who may have been selling state secrets. Evil villain Lou Brackett (Steve Forrest) finds out about Steve’s involvement and wonders if he may have heard the dying man’s last words as to where a certain missing microfilm might be hidden, he’s also worried that Rogers may eventually be given F.L.A.G. and become a threat to his evil plans. In one of their attempts to get Rogers, our poor “hero” is sent flying off a cliff.
Steve is fatally wounded and is dying on the operating table when Dr. Simon Mills steps in and administers the F.L.A.G. serum to save his life. This does, in fact, save his life but of course this pisses Steve Rogers off for some bizarre reason.
He refuses to be tested to see if he’s gained the benefits of the serum because he doesn’t want to know if it’s worked or not, “I’m not unconscious now, the choice is mine. I don’t choose to play.” This is our hero, ladies and gentlemen. Unfortunately, the villains of this piece didn’t get the memo that Steve can’t come out and play and so they try and capture him again, but with his enhanced strength he makes quick work of the thugs.
Later Dr. Mills explains to Steve that his father wasn’t just a scientist but that he also fought crime and corruption in high places, and it was his enemies who mockingly called him “Captain America.” So Rogers finally agrees to help and become a secret government agent. He gives Dr. Mills a sketch, “For your scrapbook.”
Steve Rogers shows up at a top-secret testing ground to find out that Dr. Mills has tricked out Steve’s van so that it now includes a hidden compartment that conceals a super-bike which can be launched out the back via a turbo boost. Steve has a fun time driving his awesome Captain America bike down some dirt trails, and over an Evel Knievel ramp, when suddenly a helicopter loaded with bad guys show up.
Once again these thugs are taken out with a minimum of effort but while all this was going on Steve Brackett had kidnapped two of Steve’s female friends, found the missing microfilm, completed his neutron bomb, and now plans to blow up a major US city. With the use of super hearing (borrowed sound effects from the Bionic Woman) Rogers discovers that the bomb is at Brackett’s oil refinery and so at the one-hour twelve-minute mark of our ninety-seven-minute movie we finally see Steve Rogers suit up as Captain America. To say this was not worth the wait would be a gross understatement.
Before Captain America can go after the truck, and the bomb within, he must rescue the two damsels in distress, which involves him throwing his shitty Plexiglas shield that also serves as his bike’s windscreen, followed by him spraying oil all over the ground to make the security guards slip and slide.
This was not the action pack scene one hoped to see when viewing a Captain America movie, and though he does manage to save the women the bomb had been moved out and is now travelling via truck to the Phoenix Interfacial Gold Depository where it’s a neutron bomb cargo will only kill the people and leave the gold unharmed.
Steve and his bike get a lift via helicopter so they can track down the evil truck, but they have to be careful because Brackett has rigged the bomb’s trigger to his heart so that if his heart stops the bomb goes off. So, of course, the only solution is to get aboard the truck and bend its exhaust pipe so that the truck’s exhaust floods the cargo area so as to asphyxiate those inside.
He then has to quickly perform CPR on Brackett to prevent the bomb from going off. I guess that’s heroic, right? So for those of you who wanted a version of Captain America where he was forced against his will to become a hero, and then asphyxiates the villain to save the day, well then this is the film for you.
Next up: Captain America vs Christopher Lee in Captain America II: Death Too Soon
Captain America (1979)
This was CBS’s attempt to spin-off a new series and catch some of that mad Incredible Hulk money, but saddled with a terrible lead actor and a complete lack of understanding of the character it never stood a chance.