Review: Captain America (1944) – Mechanical Executioner & The Scarlet Shroud

captain america serial

Cast: , , ,
Genre: , ,
Director: ,
Age Restriction:
Studio: Republic Pictures
Running Time: 25 mins

Verdict: A / 5

Chapter 2 – Mechanical Executioner

When last we left him, Captain America was trying to stop the dynamic vibrator…

Well, it’s a cliffhanger. You know that he managed to survive even if it looks bad for our hero. On the plus side, the demonstration model vibrator is destroyed so the evil Scarab can’t play around with it anymore. Not only that but most of the plans for building a new one are gone too. However, he can always build a firebolt, assuming he can decode the plans he does have. But he can’t, because he’s an idiot and so are his henchmen.

Being an inspiration to all supervillains everywhere, The Scarab is no quitter! He uses a diluted dose of Purple Death (Purple Reign, perhaps?) to hypnotise Gail into revealing the location of Professor Dodge, the man who can unscramble the code. He sends in two henchmen to kidnap the old geezer and leaves one behind for, uh, no real reason whatsoever. Grant Gardner (without Cap costume) investigates… and gets shot! Amazingly, that’s not the end and before you know it he tracks down the professor!

Professor Dodge, threatened at tractor-point, has just revealed the decryption code to the plans. Cap swings in (poorly) and fights the two henchmen with some great right hooks and quick left crosses, but gets knocked out. He’s directly in the path of the evil-fuelled tractor that’s going to run him over. Can he survive..?

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Chapter 3 – Scarlet Shroud

Surgeon General’s Warning: tractors can be hazardous to your health. Unless you’re Captain America, that is!

Despite Cap having rescued Professor Dodge, The Scarab uses his now functional firebolt to steal jewels, priceless artworks and rare books. Who says villains have no culture? While the police seem helpless, they’re just waiting for Professor Dodge to build a locator so they can track the firebolt down the next time it’s used. It needs some good ol’ fixin’ though, and it’s up to DA Grant Gardner to drop the parts off.

But wait! The Scarab learns of their plans and has a henchman sabotage Gardner’s car to explode when the engine gets used too much. It’s a bit like the bomb in Speed, actually. Gardner goes racing off, but Gail figures it out and shoots the henchman. Not only that, but she swipes the henchman’s car to chase after our hero and warn him! What a gal!

In a hilarious turn of events, Gardner thinks the bad guys are following him and goes even faster, even calling through to the cops to get her pulled over! With his engine about to blow, he’s lucky to escape and with the parts intact. He plans a cunning ruse to make The Scarab believe the firebolt is now safe to use, and Dodge’s locator tracks down the villains to a robbery in progress.

Grant suits up as Captain America and gatecrashes their platinum-theft party in style, leaping into action and getting into a fight with – you guessed it – two henchmen! As he battles one of them inside a container, the other turns on the firebolt and aims it their way…


It’s been a while since I’ve watched a good old serial but I’ve always had a soft spot for them. Sure, they’re a little on the clunky side and not very demanding on the intellect, but they’re great 15-minute bursts of action and adventure. The cliffhangers always make them worth coming back to, and they manage to throw more into them than most 42-minute TV shows. So far I’d say Captain America is probably even better than the Batman & Robin serial with Robert Lowery that I’ve always loved so much.

Little moments like Grant speeding away from Gail as she tries to save his life, or Grant getting shot by a henchman, really make this work in clever ways that more modern storytellers could learn from. It’s fun seeing Cap get the job done even when he’s not in costume, too. Although the minute he steps on screen in the suit, you know the action’s going to get even better.

I’m not sure I’d rate Cap’s rope-swinging attack though. Remember that cool scene in Star Wars when Luke and Leia swing across the Death Star bridges? Picture that, only being re-enacted with a sack of potatoes that’s split down one side. Professor Dodge doing the tied-to-a-chair cha-cha-cha was possibly the best action in that scene.

The tractor cliffhanger was something unexpected, and actually worked. The laser – uh, I mean firebolt – is a pretty average one though. We’ve seen Cap shoot henchmen, knock them out of skyscraper windows and generally give them a pounding, while the henchmen have used each other as human shields or kill each other by accident. I can get a henchman aiming the firebolt at one of his own guys to get Cap, but his co-worker just keeps on fighting with the hero no matter what. You think he’s notice the flames and smoke around him and… I don’t know, flee?

Both of these were fun episodes, but for different reasons. Mechanical Executioner had the shooting and the better cliffhanger, while Scarlet Shroud had the wonderful car chase that isn’t what out hero thinks it is scene and Gail does more. Also in that one, Cap makes a very athletic (and dangerous) leap that would have put some parkour guys to shame.

I’m just glad it’s not a competition and there are more to enjoy…

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