Captain America (1979)
Your hero, everyone.
In 1979 CBS decided to recruit their best writers and actors to make a TV movie of
The Six Million Dollar Man Captain America. Basically they took the premise of a previous hit show and swapped out the main character for Steve Rogers, except this Steve Rogers has never fought Nazis, been faced with the guilt of losing his partner, or battled the evil Red Skull. So, basically, he’s just this guy and the government is kind of interested in him. They aren’t the only people interested in Rogers. The first five and a half minutes of Captain America are all about dudes wanting to get on Reb Brown’s dick (not that there is anything wrong with that), and this theme persists throughout the movie to encompass every single character, but mostly its dudes because this movie is kind of a sausage fest (and not just because of all that clingy, late-seventies polyester). Surfer dudes, police stakeout dudes, mid-level corporate dudes who might be carrying Steve’s child maybe???? Reb is tender to them all, giving them drawings, telling them he’s always there for them, and not awkwardly staring at the one guy’s weird man tits under his tank top. Toss in a pulsating soft-core porno soundtrack and you’ll want to take a shower. I encourage you to see for yourself, because the strange sexual undercurrents are all there, conveyed to you, the audience, despite the junior-high drama production level of acting going on in these scenes:
Every moment sits on the razor’s edge between just bad costuming and dialogue and soft-core porn.
I mean, Reb does have a cool van and his art abilities would really take off among the van driving crowd, so I guess they’re setting up Reb as this cool, happenin’ dude in a loose mood who gets all the dudes in and around his pants. He’s so close to surfer guy, that surfer guy lets him use his phone, which might be a metaphor for something???? He then drives off into a place called “Thousand Oaks,” which is definitely a metaphor for something. And there’s a car chase, and an oil slick and some giant government conspiracy, but the movie still can’t shake the “about to burst into a saucy porno vibe,” right down to the construction workers sashaying about in orange caution vests.
Reb took shirt ripping lessons from Bill Shatner.
So, this movie is all kinds of 1970’s. Conspiracy theories abound, polyester clings to everything, and shag carpeting coats the inside of Steve’s Econoline van. Steve Rogers just wants to be free, man, to tool around America in his van and “see the faces of America,” but the government (in typical, 70’s government paranoia fashion) seeks to inject him with “the ultimate steroid, synthesized from his own [father's] adrenal gland.” This is the logical thing to do when a guy suffers from spontaneous shirt ripping all the time. The chief scientist, Dr. Simon Mills (played by Len Birman), admits that they only want Steve because they’ve already killed all their lab rats with the serum and a new shipment won’t arrive until next Tuesday. To complicate matters they’ve also run out of unpaid interns.
Reb’s acting career is on its deathbed throughout Captain America.
Steve shows a shocking amount of intelligence and refuses to be injected with FLAG, though he admits that the idea of a super-crazy steroid appeals to him and his pecs. But seeing as Dr. Mills’ explanation of FLAG, why the rodents underwent cell rejection, and how Steve’s dad “passed his cells directly to his son” are completely and hopelessly scientifically wrong, refusal really was the obvious choice. But hey, it sucks to be Steve because he has an unnatural affinity for falling off of rocky cliffs in motor vehicles. The first time is when the van slides in an oil slick trap laid for him (because he’s…his dad’s kid, I guess?) and he careens off the road. Luckily the 3,000 cubic feet of brown, shag carpet tacked to the walls of his van protect him from injuries more extensive than a ripped shirt ala Kirk. The second time is the charm though when he does it on a motorbike and everyone is pretty much certain he’s dead. Dr. Mills sees his chance an injects him with FLAG, which saves Steve’s life, but pisses off Steve because “now for the rest of [his] life [he]‘ll be wondering how much longer [he's] got left to live,” which I’m pretty sure is a moot point since, PRO-TIP: Steve, you were clinically dead before FLAG was administered. Even if you die five minutes after the injection, you’re coming out ahead by five minutes! By all means though, worry about how much EXTRA TIME you have left from CHEATING DEATH AND GAINING SUPER POWERS.
Worthy of Q Branch, Cap’s gadgets are not.
Anyway, the film’s approach to the plot is to tell the audience as little as possible about what’s going on at any given moment, and heaven forbid they indicate the motivations of the film’s central villain
Red Skull some drab corporate accountant played by the younger brother of Dana Andrews(????) before the concluding twenty minutes of the movie. This is despite the fact that about 99.9% of this movie is cheerless banter about FLAG, government agencies, some sort of nuclear(?) bomb, Steve’s dad being made fun of for being a patriotic guy (seriously?), and motorcross. It would’ve killed them to use all of that boring talking to advance a plot, apparently. Instead they use the first 73 minutes of a 97 minute film for lots of talking about everything other than the central villain’s intentions or motives (we eventually learn its gold and that this whole scheme is plagarized verbatum from the film Goldfinger). Similarly, no effort is made to explain why Lou Brackett (the mid-level corporate guy who is insultingly passed off as a villain for Cap) should be taken seriously as a villain, or, better yet, how an unremarkable, fifty-something man is in any way a threat to Cap. Brackett doesn’t even have some secret serum or anti-Cap weapon going for him, let alone some technology-created supervillain powers of his own. He’s just this guy who wear suits with brass buttons and probably has erectile dysfuction.
This is textbook “looking like a dork.”
Steve Forrest has no leading villain gravitas whatsoever, so he can’t even talk the talk of supervillain, let alone physically pass himself off as one. You’re telling me Jack Palance was too busy in 1979 to play the part of a sneering corporate executive, so you had to hire the younger brother of Dana Andrews instead? Because you can’t claim it was pride that kept him from being in this movie, since he was making Angel’s Brigade that same year. And if he’s working alongside the likes of Peter Lawford, Alan Hale Jr., Jim Backus, Arthur Godfrey, and Pat Buttram, he clearly isn’t demanding much in the way of salary. In fact, he was probably literally working for peanuts and the silent dignity that comes from appearing alongside former cast members of Gilligan’s Island was merely a bonus.
The thrilling final showdown!
I digress. The point is that Captain America is a movie that is about a super hero in name only. There’s no worthy villain to match wits, strenght, or even technology with. The only thing “super” about Cap is that he can kind of jump high and some of the things he does are accompanied by sound effects from the prestigeous Scooby-Doo wing of the Hanna-Barbera vaults. There’s barely any action and the culminating fight between Cap and the villain (something that one would think is a requirement of the superhero genre) doesn’t actually happen. Instead, Cap has to prevent the villain from having a coronary and asphixyating. No punches are thrown, but we do get to see Cap use some First Aid skills. Hell, he doesn’t even disarm the bomb someone does it off screen. It’s like whoever wrote this film was determined that there not be a single moment of tension in it(though I did find the eight minute, silent helicopter flight over California scrub land to be making me tense, but for the wrong reasons). I can’t even bring myself to give Reb Brown a hard time for his performance since he, and the rest of the cast, were given absolutely sweet-fuck-all to work with here. The dialogue is godawful and delivered with zombie-like emotionlessness. Some of the line readings are downright cringe-worthy (such as random silent beats between words, almost as if the actor momentarily forgot the second half of the line) and at least offer up a few laughs. But all told this movie has nothing going for it. The real villains are the suits, but not Brackett and his cronies, but those at CBS who basically grafted Captain America and some red, white, and blue polyester onto the existing (and previously successful) formula used in The Six Million Dollar Man. I suspect they chose Captain America as their subject matter precisely because he was the superhero they felt would be easiest to drop in the middle of a prexisting formula they had already lined up in the hope that audiences would be similarly enthralled and not notice how cheap and demeaning such a move ultimately is, nor the blatant contempt they showed for their audience in doing so. Worse yet, they made a sequel.
Bad, bad, bad. I’m going to need a rubber monster suit, or at least something Corman-esque to recover from this.