The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Captain America II: Death Too Soon
The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #353: Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979)
Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never wanted to play golf, even with a celebrity, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number three hundred and fifty-three, the low budget Marvel movie marathon continues with the sequel to the TV movie Captain America from 1979, Captain America II: Death Too Soon, which also came out in 1979.
Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979)
Captain America II: Death Too Soon, directed by Ivan Nagy, picks up a few months after the events of the first Captain America movie (which was reviewed last week) and has Steve Rogers (the returning Reb Brown) working for the government as Captain America. Rogers is still hanging out every chance he gets, though, riding around in his awesome van, painting, and trying to be mellow. After beating the crap out of a bunch of scumbag gang members that like to mercilessly rob old people at the beach, Rogers is summoned by his boss/friend/handler Dr. Simon Mills (the returning Len Birman) to help investigate the suspicious disappearance of Professor Ian Ilson (Christopher Cary), a government scientist involved in some serious, top secret research involving the effects of aging. Mills believes that the international terrorist Miguel (Christopher Lee) may have had something to do with it (Ilson apparently left behind a clue in his trashed lab). But why would an international terrorist kidnap a scientist trying to make it harder to get old? Mills wants Rogers to find out.
So Rogers puts on his Captain America gear, heads down to a local pier that’s expecting a delivery of a special package from Ecuador, completely destroys some random henchmen, and then follows a different set of henchmen to a small town called Belleville. After investigating an abandoned van left just outside of town, Rogers decides to enter Belleville and poke around. What the heck is so special about Belleville? It doesn’t take long for Rogers’ presence in town to make a group of thugs suspicious (Rogers sits in a local park and makes a painting of a cat. The thugs come over and mess up Rogers’ painting and threaten to beat him to death). Who the hell is this gigantic hippie painting a cat?
So then some stuff happens, Rogers meets a local single mother named Helen (Katherine Justice) and her annoying son Peter (John Waldron), dicks around with a veterinarian who really isn’t a veterinarian, and tries to figure out what is really going on. Where is Miguel?
Yes, Miguel is responsible for everything, he’s set himself up in a penitentiary, and he’s threatened to kill thousands, maybe even millions of people unless the United States government gives him a billion dollars. Using a version of Professor Ilson’s aging research Miguel has developed a chemical that, when weaponized, can age people thirty eight days every hour. At first, the President of the United States doesn’t take much stock in Miguel’s threats, but he can’t quite completely dismiss them. Simon tells the President that Captain America is on the case and will figure out what’s real, what isn’t, and what everyone should be afraid of.
Unlike the first Captain America, Death Too Soon doesn’t waste a lot of time with Brown’s Rogers wandering around trying to figure life out. The movie does spend quite a bit of time, though, with Rogers putting the moves on scared local woman Helen, trying to be a father to her annoying son Peter and ferreting out information about the thugs in town. Brown does have chemistry with Justice, but with John Waldron constantly around those “together scenes” are mostly death. I will say that the movie is far more exciting and action packed than the first one. The fight scenes are more elaborate, and there are some pretty cool motorcycle stunts spread throughout the movie’s 87 minute running time. There’s a great scene at a dam that is nothing short of badass. Yes, a good chunk of it is kind of cheesy, but the big fall from the dam is easily one of the greatest things ever put in a low budget TV movie. It actually looks good and kind of scary, even when it’s obvious that what you’re watching is a dummy on a fake motorcycle fall into a bunch of water. Great stuff.
And I also defy anyone not to cheer loudly when Captain America throws his motorcycle onto a high wall and then jumps up onto that wall so he can then drive the motorcycle off of the wall. It’s just not possible to hate that sequence. No way.
Now, there’s a big chase towards the end of the movie where Captain America’s motorcycle transforms into a hang glider in order to help Cap chase down a fleeing Miguel. This sequence will either make you cheer or it will make you groan as it’s kind of ridiculous. I loved it. I’m actually kind of hoping that, one day, Marvel makes an action figure of Brown’s Captain America with the motorcycle that turns into a hang glider. I’d buy one, and I’m pretty sure the sheer awesomeness of the idea of the toy would make everyone else buy one.
While the movie is, again, more action packed and fast paced than the first Captain America, it’s still kind of slow compared to modern superhero and action movies. Your general enjoyment will depend greatly on whether or not you’re willing to sit through the movie’s slow parts. If you can sit through the slow parts I think you’ll like Death Too Soon more than the first Reb Brown adventure. I think you’ll also dig the special make-up effects sequence at the end (some of the best special effects make-up of the late 1970’s) and the sequence where Christopher Lee uses a machine gun. I mean, come on, it’s Christopher Lee using a machine gun. Why isn’t that a poster?
The cast is excellent. Brown does a tremendous job as Rogers/Captain America. He’s a little more assertive in this one, more sure of himself, which is what you need to have when you’re the main character in a superhero movie. Brown also seems a little more comfortable in the costume. While it’s true that Brown isn’t doing anything special here, he’s always watchable and you can’t help but like him. He’s a decent guy, and, really, what’s not to like?
Birman is solid as Simon Mills, but he has considerably less to do in this one. Most of the “scientist trying to figure stuff out” scenes are given to Mills’ assistant Dr. Wendy Day, this time played by Connie Sellecca. Sellecca takes everything seriously and comes off as the kind of scientist you’d want on your side, in the event that you’d need a scientist to help you figure stuff out. And Katherine Justice is good as Helen. Again, she has actual chemistry with Brown and when she isn’t worried about her annoying shit head son Peter she’s a joy to watch. Why couldn’t Peter have been murdered by the aging chemical?
Christopher Lee is just awesome as Miguel. It seems so weird now that such a distinguished actor would willingly appear in a low budget TV movie like Death Too Soon but if you actually watch Lee in action as Miguel you never get the sense that he thinks he’s just cashing a check. Lee makes Miguel a diabolical piece of shit and you can’t wait to see Captain America take him out. The same can’t be said for the now late but always great Stanley Kamel as Miguel’s main henchman Kramer. Kamel never seems all that engaged in what he’s doing both in his line reading and his acting. I mean, yeah, all Kramer does is operate the machine that allows Miguel to listen in on the FBI, but you can bet that if Lee had played Kramer he would have acted the fuck out of operating that phone tap machine. It’s fun to see a young Kamel, though.
Be on the lookout for William Lucking (Opie’s father and one of the original members of SAMCRO on Sons of Anarchy) as a scumbag henchman, and Ken Swofford as a government agent. And is it me or does the gang member at the beach driving the dune buggy look like a young William Forsythe? Ii know it isn’t him but, man, it sure does look like him.
Captain America II: Death Too Soon is a big improvement over the first Captain America. It’s too bad that it was the last time that Reb Brown put on the shield and the suit and kicked bad guy ass, I know I would have loved to see third movie, or a TV show. Even if it was just one season I’m sure it would have rocked.
See Captain America II: Death Too Soon. See it, see it, see it.
So what do we have here?
Dead bodies: 1
Explosions: A few, but nothing large scale.
Nudity?: None. It’s a late 1970’s TV movie.
Doobage: A beach where people seem to be having fun, Steve Rogers painting, purse snatching, attempted knife fight, shield to the back of the head, super-fast running, dune buggy attack, a trashed lab, exploding door lock, a pier six brawl, attempted crane attack, shield to the face, forklift attack, a plastic bag filled with white powder, garbage bags, more painting in public, diabolical terrorism, henchmen destruction, double baseball bat attack with body throwing, balcony destruction, farm chores, a dead lamb, prison bar bending, an awesome chase sequence that ends with a motorcycle falling into a dam, prison infiltration, riding a motorcycle inside a building, a vicious dog attack, prison door breaking, motorcycle throwing, hang glider attack, a quick fight, some nasty special effects make-up, and a sappy ending.
Kim Richards?: None, although there should have been. That little punk Peter.
Gratuitous: Shirtless people playing Frisbee, roller skating disco black guy listening to music, Reb Brown painting a picture of an old lady, Christopher Lee, Stanley Kamel, henchman ruining a cat painting, an annoying child, a cat named Heathcliff, a snow leopard cub, William Lucking, hydrogen peroxide, farm animal feeding, Portland, Oregon, CB radio, stock footage of Air Force One, groceries, identical twin children used in a science experiment, using a digital watch to time how long a gate remains open, Christopher Lee with a machine gun, Christopher Lee driving a station wagon, and a sappy ending.
Best lines: “Hydrofluoric acid,” “Miguel? The revolutionary?,” “My scientific curiosity does not block out the feeling of hot breath on the back of my neck,” “Let’s check this turkey out,” “What are you doing? Painting. Why here? It’s where the cat is,” “Greenwood’s a dump. Just another big city. This is where you’ll find all of the horse riding trails,” “These people are clams, Simon. If I press too hard their shells are going to close even tighter,” “What’s wrong with this town, Helen? And the people?,” “Hey, please don’t do that,” “You got a classic swing, Rogers, but the ball game is over!,” “How does the leg feel? Like the New York Yankees used it for batting practice,” “You’re very independent. I like that,” “That’s it! He can’t make that stretch!,” “That’s pretty, isn’t it?,” “How’s your memory for numbers, Peter? Better than Duke Williams,” “You move well, General,” “Hold it! You didn’t expect to fool an old jungle fighter with a boomerang trick like that?,” and “Pete, I just paint what I see.”
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Things to Watch Out For This Week: Part 1
–John Carpenter’s Lost Themes II: Carpenter’s first Lost Themes was great stuff, and if we get even half of the awesomeness that we got from that album with this new one, man, we’re in for a major treat. Anyone out there going to one of his live performance concert deals? Hopefully all of this leads to Carpenter getting to make another movie. It’s been way too long since we had a “John Carpenter’s” something.
–Standoff: This low budget action flick did have some sort of theatrical release as I read a review for it in the New York Times. It didn’t play anywhere near me so, obviously, I didn’t see it on the big screen. Thomas Jane and Larry Fishburne are in it, and it looks decent enough, so right there it’s worth renting. Anyone out there see this?
–Boost: The great Danny Trejo appears in this low budget crime thriller that actually looks okay. Although if you look at the DVD cover it sure seems as though the distributor wants you to believe that Trejo is out for revenge or to kick someone’s ass. The trailer shows Trejo, basically, as the movie’s villain (or just a bad guy). The guy smoking the cigarette at the end of the trailer looks like a real asshole, doesn’t he?
–Where the Devil Dwells: This low budget horror thriller looks like one of those “twist” movies where your enjoyment of it rests completely on how much you’re willing to accept the big twist. That’s what I get out of the trailer anyway. I do have to say, though, that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where a character is under house arrest and the authorities make that character stay in what amounts to a haunted house. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t happen very often.
–The Forest: I missed this horror flick when it was in theatres back in January. I’ve never been a big fan of malevolent ghosts in the forest stories but this one looks like it could be better than the norm. Anyone out there see this? Is it, at least, watchable?
The Big Question: Should Reb Brown get a cameo in an MCU Captain America movie?
Of course he should, and I don’t understand why it hasn’t happened yet. He didn’t appear in The First Avenger (he could have handed the shield to Chris Evans or something while fighting the Nazis or Hydra or something), he didn’t appear in The Winter Soldier (he could have appeared as an old SHIELD agent or something and handed Evans his shield), and it doesn’t look like he’s going to appear in the next one, Civil War. And that’s just a damn shame.
Lou Ferrigno has had cameos in both the Ang Lee Hulk movie and The Incredible Hulk movie with Ed Norton. If Bill Bixby was still alive he, no doubt, would have been in at least one Hulk movie. And Stan Lee gets to cameo in just about every movie related to Marvel comics. So there’s no excuse for Reb Brown not getting his moment in the spotlight in a Captain America movie.
The pop culture media actually covered this story back in 2011 but, as far as I can tell, it never went anywhere beyond TMZ. It’s sad.
Reb Brown should be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He just should.
The Big Question 2: Should we have a Special Edition DVD of the two Reb Brown Captain America movies?
Absolutely. We should have a two-disc set with behind-the-scenes documentaries, featurettes, vintage commercials and behind-the-scenes whatever (CBS must have something hanging around somewhere) and commentaries. The one-disc set from Shout! Factory that came out five years ago is fine since it preserves the movies and makes them available to everyone, but it has no special features at all. I know I’m not the only one curious about how the two Captain America TV movies came to be. And why didn’t we get a Captain America TV show? You know, what was the official reason? Again, I know I’m not the only one who wants to know these things.
Things to Watch Out For This Week: Part 2
–The Man Movie Encyclopedia: The great Caliber Winfield is the man behind this weekly journey into the world of the action movie and other assorted cinematic badassery (he calls it the Hall of Burly, which may be the greatest phrase not yet on a T-shirt). It typically runs on Sundays, and this week he takes a look at the brilliant sequel Lethal Weapon 2. Awesome stuff indeed.
–411 Movies Fact or Fiction: My old friend, the tremendous Ben Piper, is the man responsible for this weekly question and answer session on all things movie and TV pop culture related. It’s always worth checking out, just to see what two different people think about whatever the heck is going on. It typically runs on Fridays, and this past week the always badass Mathew Sforcina and the Rob Faint participated. If you didn’t check it out last Friday, go here and check it out and be on the lookout for this week’s edition on Friday.
–A Bloody Good Time: This is the home of all things horror at 411 and is put together week in and week out by the immortal Joseph Lee. It usually runs on Thursdays. Joseph just did a big hooha “Face Off” thing between American and Japanese big ass monsters, and this Thursday he’ll be listing the ten best horror flicks from a specific year. What year? We’ll know on Thursday.
–Really Awful Movies Podcast: This is a truly nifty weekly podcast that celebrates the world of B-movies that will likely become a part of your week as soon as you listen to one episode. That’s what happened to me when one of the masterminds behind the podcast, Jeff Kirschner, made me aware of the episode he did, along with Christopher Lombardo, featuring Captain America II: Death Too Soon. Thanks, Jeff, and be sure to check out the Really Awful Movies website for everything Really Awful Movie related (they have a book!).
Who is this week’s Douchebag of the Week? Go here and find out!
Next Issue: The low budget Marvel movie marathon continues with the officially unreleased The Fantastic Four produced by Roger Corman!
B-movies rule. Always remember that.
Captain America II: Death Too Soon
Reb Brown– Steve Rogers/Captain America
Connie Sellecca– Dr. Wendy Day
Len Birman– Dr. Simon Mills
Christopher Lee– Miguel
Katherine Justice– Helen Moore
Christopher Cary– Professor Ian Ilson
William “Bill” Lucking– Stader
Stanley Kamel– Kramer
Ken Swofford– Everett Bliss
John Waldron– Peter Moore
Directed by Ivan Nagy
Screenplay by Wilton Schiller and Patricia Payne, based on characters created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon
Distributed by CBS and Shout! Factory
Runtime– 87 minutes
Buy it here