Review: Captain America (1944) Part 1 – The Purple Death

Studio: Republic Pictures
Running Time: 25 mins

Verdict: A / 5

While Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier is picking up incredible advance reviews, let’s go back in time 70 years and look at Captain America’s first big-screen outing and see if it holds up. This was from an age when Marvel was Timely and Cap was bashing in Nazi skulls… although he doesn’t do that here. In fact there are some serious changes that were made… but we’ll get to those in time.

A series of mysterious suicides are making the news. Scientists and businessmen are driving their cars off cliffs, swan-diving from skyscrapers and playing Russian roulette with fully-loaded revolvers, all following the orders of mysterious villain The Scarab. It seems they’re all poisoned before they take their lives too, with something simply known as the Purple Death. The mayor wants answers, the police commissioner is clueless, and it’s up to District Attorney Grant Gardner to get back to work as Captain America.

Wait… what?! Who is this guy?! Isn’t Steve Rogers really Captain America, and he’s in the army? Well, maybe in the comics but not here. Here Cap is really the DA. Oh, and his secretary Gail Richards knows his secret and is sort of like his sidekick. She’s no Bucky – and certainly no Winter Soldier – but she’s still got better legs and a classic Lois Lane go-getting attitude. Also, it has to be mentioned that Cap doesn’t have a shield. Or super-soldier strength. It’s all okay though, because he’s got, um, a gun instead.

In the meantime, evil scientist Doctor Maldor reveals to all of us that he’s The Scarab and he wants a dynamic vibrator. Uh… I’m serious here, some scientists have been working on a giant vibrator and The Scarab wants to use it as a weapon against the world. When The Scarab sends two henchmen to retrieve the plans, they’re foiled by Cap and leave behind some Purple Death bombs.

The Purple Death seems to be distilled from orchids and Gail visits some florists to learn more. She runs into a couple of henchmen and Gardner rescues her even without his costume. None of that seems important though, because The Scarab has plans to destroy the working vibrator model so he can rather build one of his own. Gail becomes trapped with some scientists as the building they’re in is triggered to be, um, vibrated.

Cap takes on a pair of henchmen (they always seem to come in pairs in this series) and defeats them before rescuing Gail and the scientists. But as he attempts to shut down the vibrator, the building collapses on top of him…

That’s not a bad cliffhanger, actually.

This isn’t the Captain America that the fans may know and love, but it’s not that bad either as superhero serials go. The changes are lousy, and Dick Purcell may be a little on the pudgy side but he’s entertaining and can hold his own in the fight scenes. The story is typical of the old serials, but again that’s not a bad thing if you like a hammy script to go with a cheesy plot. And let’s face it, if you’re watching this then you probably do.

Lorna Gray is solid as Gail, too. As for The Scarab, it’s odd to see the villain’s identity revealed straight away to the audience, but it makes a nice twist. The music is acceptable, and the opening credits of seeing Cap on a motorbike look good, even if you only see him driving a car in the episode.

So far, not a bad start to a pulp serial.

But just try not to giggle when a character asks, “How did you know about my vibrator?”

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Comments 1

  1. sam says:

    A good laugh as usual and a nice read.

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