Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


The Scarab (Lionel Atwill) vs Captain America (Dick Purcell)
 CAPTAIN AMERICA (15 chapter Republic serial/1944). Directors: Elmer Clifton; John English.

"A shocking exhibition of barbarism!" -- Cyrus Maldor.

District Attorney Grant Gardner (Dick Purcell) is secretly -- actually, not so secretly -- the famous costumed hero Captain America. His adversary, as we know from the first, is the Scarab, who is -- very secretly, except to the audience -- Cyrus Maldor (Lionel Atwill). Maldor first kills off members of an expedition who know too much via a poison known as the Purple Death. He has his men steal a destructive device that brings down a building; uses a scientist's secret of perpetual life to bring one of his henchmen back from the dead; and employs a "Singari blow-gun" to kill off another of his enemies. Later he tries to get a portion of a map that will lead him to a secret city and its treasures. Highlights of this exciting serial include the aforementioned building collapse in chapter one; a bit with a guillotine in chapter five; and a sequence when our hero is nearly crushed by a mine car hurtling down a shaft in chapter six, Another interesting scene has the Scarab brutally whipping John Hamilton, the "chief" from Adventures of Superman. Purcell [Brides are Like That] is quite suitable as Captain America/Grant Gardner; pretty Lorna Gray makes less impression in this than she did in The Perils of Nyoka; and Atwill [The Devil is a Woman], in his classy, elegant and utterly evil performance as Maldor, positively walks off with the picture; his underplaying makes him that much more effective. Jay Novello also registers in his brief turn as a thug. The fight scenes in this are furious and frenetic and very well-done. In the comic books Captain America was a soldier named Steve Rogers, not a D.A. I find this serial a lot more entertaining than the recent movies about this character such as Captain America The First Avenger.

Verdict: Delightful Republic cliffhanger. ***1/2.


Anonymous said...

This serial could have been a lot better. Granted, there's plenty of action but it's all pretty routine.

When John English was teamed up with William Witney they produced some excellent stuff so I was expecting more from this serial and came away disappointed.

Both Lionel Atwill and Dick Purcell played in some "A" pictures earlier but they both look tired here. Also, Purcell doesn't have the physique to play the good Captain.

The biggest question is why didn't Republic keep Captain America as he was in the comics? After all, World War II was still going on when this serial was produced. They had already done such a great job with Spy Smasher. And since they could provide the Crimson Ghost with such great skull makeup why didn't they make the Red Skull the villain?

And not even attempting to give Cap a shield is just plain wrong.

William said...

The Red Skull -- that would have been interesting and more appropriate. I think they wanted a villain like the one in the Captain Marvel serial, whose identity was at least unknown. I'm a big CAP comics fan but I have to confess I really love this serial, and while your criticisms may be valid, I still it's one of the best. I thought Atwill was in top form.

Different strokes for different folks, eh?