The Ultimate Marvel Film Guide: 1944-1990

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The Ultimate Marvel Film Guide:
1944-1990 | 1998-2004 | 2005-2009 | 2010-2014 | 2015-2019

superherosuperhero comic book companies, DC and Marvel, but also competition between many Marvel characters.

Marvel is one of America's major comic book publishers. Founded as Timely Publications in 1939, it first branched into film in 1944 when it allowed Republic Pictures to make a 15-part Captain America serial.

Captain America (1944)

Captain America (1944) was a film serial rather than a feature-length film:

DirectorsElmer Clifton & John English
StudioRepublic Pictures
Plot

Dr Cyrus Maldor, a resentful archaeologist who feels he has been overlooked all his life, is secretly the villain known as The Scarab. He has a fiendish plan for revenge; he has developed a poison gas called The Purple Death that makes people obey his every command, particularly if he orders them to commit suicide, which he uses to steal superweapon the Dynamic Vibrator, a weapon that can shake a building to pieces and will allow him to steal superweapon the Atomic Electronic Firebolt, which will allow him to easily open any safe and steal various other things.

Can Captain America save Gail Richards from the Dynamic Vibrator? Will Captain America foil the Scarab's plans so often that they'll both be able to start an international business selling tin foil hats? Why isn't Captain America even remotely like how he is in the comic? How come Captain America definitely, definitely dies at the end of each episode, only to miraculously escape at the start of the next?

EpisodesThese were 15-minutes except the first, 25-minute episode
  1. The Purple Death
  2. Mechanical Executioner
  3. The Scarlet Shroud
  4. Preview of Murder
  5. Blade of Wrath
  6. Vault of Vengeance
  7. Wholesale Destruction
  8. Cremation in the Clouds
  9. Triple Tragedy
  10. The Avenging Corpse
  11. The Dead Man Returns
  12. Horror on the Highway
  13. Skyscraper Plunge
  14. The Scarab Strikes
  15. The Toll of Doom
Setting1940s America
Characters
  • Grant Gardner aka Captain America, crime fighting District Attorney (Dick Purcell)
  • Gail Richards, Grant Gardner's secretary and the only woman in the city (Lorna Gray)
  • Dr Cyrus Maldor aka The Scarab, villain with moustache and monocle (Lionel Atwill)
  • Police Commissioner Dryden (Charles Trowbridge)
  • Mayor Randolph (Russell Hicks)
  • Bart Matson, Gruber and Lyman, henchmen (George J Lewis, John Davidson & Frank Reicher
Bechdel TestFail

A silly film serial that in common with the Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers serials of the time shows the hero dying at the end of each episode, and then revealing how he survived at the start of the next. So for instance, Captain America enters a room full of henchmen, shouts 'Hands up or I shoot', is jumped and the gun is dropped, they all fight for a bit until an evil henchman picks up the gun and shoots Captain America at point-blank range, with no possibility of missing, cue end titles. The next episode begins with Captain America unharmed, explaining, 'the first bullet in my gun is always a blank so I can fire a warning shot'1.

The character of Captain America is nothing like the comic character Steve Rogers, the shield-carrying super-soldier created by a secret serum. The serial Captain America works as a District Attorney during the day and has no shield and carries a gun instead, which he constantly clumsily drops in any fight with henchmen, and his helmet is missing the wings on the side. This is because though Republic Pictures were given the rights to use the character from Timely Comics in order to generate publicity for the character, rather than write a new serial from scratch using the character. Despite being the most expensive serial that Republic ever made, they made numerous changes to the Captain America storyline as it is believed that the scripts had been intended for Fawcett Comics' Mr Scarlet who by day is DA Brian Butler. This was hastily re-written when it became apparent that Mr Scarlet wasn't popular, but explains why one episode is called 'The Scarlet Shroud' despite not mentioning the word 'scarlet' or there being anything red of note.

In the late 1970s, Marvel characters appeared in campy CBS television series, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk and feature-length spin-offs, as well as TV Movies featuring Captain America. One film based on a Marvel character had a big budget adaptation, Howard the Duck (1986), yet after this became an expensive flop, Marvel's credibility was dented.

Howard the Duck (1986)

Director
StudioUniversal Studios & Lucasfilm
Plot
Length
Setting
Characters
    • Powers:
Related Films
Bechdel Test
Extended Version
Cameos
Stan Lee Cameo
Post-Credits Scene

The Punisher (1989)

Director
StudioLive Entertainment
Plot
Length
Setting
Characters
    • Powers:
Related Films
Bechdel Test
Extended Version
Cameos
Stan Lee Cameo
Post-Credits Scene

Captain America (1990) (1990)

Director
Studio21st Century Film Corporation
Plot
Length
Setting
Characters
    • Powers:
Related Films
Bechdel Test
Extended Version
Cameos
Stan Lee Cameo
Post-Credits Scene

Into the Future

1In other words, Captain America's entrance shout had actually meant 'hands up or I fire a warning shot!'

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