Criticism | Captain America (1944)


As an adaptation of Captain America:

As a serial of action:

captain America not only was it the last serial of superheroes from Republic Pictures, but it made history as the first audiovisual adaptation of a character today from Marvel Comics, even though, at the time, the publisher was its predecessor Timely Comics. Whereas Superman only won his first serial 10 years after being released in comics, it is a surprise that Bandeiroso appeared in theaters in a serialized format of 15 chapters a mere three years after its creation by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

However, despite the large budget and the good quality of this serial, it is disappointing to see that what has been done cannot really be called an adaptation. I am the first to defend that adaptations need not be slaves to the source material if the spirit of the original work is maintained. In fact, I even prefer the adaptations to be a healthy distance from their creative influence, especially if it is in other media, to avoid that we only have more of the same. That captain America from Republic is so distant, but so distant from that published by Timely Comics that it is not the use of the superhero’s name and a reasonably similar version of his uniform that make the serial an adaptation that can be called that.

To those who have not yet had contact with this serial, it is worth to list the abysmal differences between the character of the comics and this other that is called Captain America in the serial:

The Captain’s secret identity is that of the middle-aged and somewhat out-of-shape public prosecutor Grant Gardner (Dick Purcell, who would pass away shortly after filming was over); Even though it was produced during the Second World War, the character has no connection with the war, either in terms of origin (which is not explained), or in terms of setting; The only sign of the famous Captain’s shield is on the character’s belt buckle. Your standard weapon, however serial, it’s just a pistol; There is nothing even remotely connected with biological changes like the ones that Steve Rogers underwent to become the Captain.

Even if we ignore these “details”, the very existence of a superhero persona for Grant Gardner does not gain any justification, because everything he does as Captain America he could do as efficiently as as a public prosecutor, without inexplicably putting on a uniform patriotic that never connects with history. Some may be scratching their heads to understand why this is all and, although there is no official explanation for the absurd distance from the source material, the prevailing theory is that Republic Pictures, already in advanced production, had for some reason to change as a superhero and I end up getting a license from Timely Comics in relation to Captain America, then in obvious evidence. In order not to change too much what had already been produced, which would mean spending more money for a serial which was already very expensive, the production company simply “dressed” its protagonist in the Captain’s uniform without worrying about the comic book superhero, even though she never really tried to be faithful in her other adaptations. In any case, the result could not be more different from the Captain America we know.

If, however, we are able to take the unusual out of this situation and put it on a separate mental shelf, it is perfectly possible to appreciate this 15-part feature film that pits Captain America against the Scarab (Lionel Atwill), the villain you want to get all sorts of deadly weapons to make your usual villains, the first of which is a hilariously titled Dynamic Vibrator. Each episode or, in some cases, double episodes, deals with a new potential weapon that Gardner as a prosecutor or as a Captain needs to prevent from falling into the beetle’s clutches.

The classic “case of the week” structure was the absolute rule for serials of the time, even if, if we look at it in a macro way, each of them told a unique story. But the production of Captain America, as I said above, was very neat, with beautiful special effects and many stunt actions of the highest quality. In addition, some other characteristics positively differentiate the work from others of the same period. The first one was extremely unusual for the time: the villain’s identity is revealed to the viewer in the first five minutes of the first episode, even though it is kept hidden from the characters until the end. This allows more freedom for the writers, who manage to insert the villain in various situations without having to juggle to hide it from those who watch. Another element that is very progressive for the time is that Gardner has an assistant, Miss. Gail Richards (Lorna Gray) who at first may seem like the typical lady in distress, but who reveals much more than that, effectively participating in the action with a sidekick of value to the Captain. This choice allows the action to be split often between Gardner / Captain on the one hand and Richards on the other, creating parallel narratives that work very well.

In order to appreciate this, ummm… version of Captain America, the viewer has to make many concessions in relation to the source material, but, if this barrier is overcome (and I admit that it is not easy to do that), the final result is even very solid and well finished. But, for no less than three decades, this series is the only adaptation of a Marvel character for the audiovisual.

Captain America (Captain America, USA – 1944)
Direction: Elmer Clifton, John English
Script: Royal Cole, Harry Fraser, Joseph Poland, Ronald Davidson, Basil Dickey, Jesse Duffy, Grant Nelson (based on a character created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby)
Cast: Dick Purcell, Lorna Gray, Lionel Atwill, Charles Trowbridge, Russell Hicks, George J. Lewis, John Davidson, Frank Reicher, Al Ferguson, Howard C. Hickman, Tom London, Edward Van Sloan
Duration: 243 min. (15 episodes)