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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Captain America (1979)

April 6, 2016 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #352: Captain America (1979)

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that doesn’t own a tricked out van that it uses to fight street crime every night, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number three hundred and fifty-two, the low budget Marvel movie marathon begins with a look at Captain America, which appeared in 1979.

Captain America (1979)

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Captain America, directed by Rod Holcomb, is a TV movie from 1979 that, according to information I read on wikipedia, was a pilot for a possible Captain America TV show for the CBS network. The movie stars Reb Brown as Steve Rogers, a former Marine and motocross aficionado turned sort of hippie artist who likes to travel around California in his cargo van. While hanging out at the beach, Rogers gets a telegram from Simon Mills (Len Birman), a government scientist who used to work with Rogers’ deceased father, also a government scientist. Mills wants to talk to Rogers as soon as possible about something incredibly important that relates to his father’s old work for the government. Rogers is hesitant to meet with Mills at first as all Rogers really wants to do is be left alone to work on his art and drive around in his van (the opening of the movie features a sweet mellow 1970’s driving around theme that makes you want to mimic Rogers and go for a meandering drive to nowhere in particular. Well, that’s what happened to me). But after a weird road accident involving an oil slick deliberately created by a truck full of bad guys, Rogers decides to meet with Mills to find out what the heck he wants.

So Rogers goes to meet Mills and learns that Mills would like to use him, or really his cells, in an experiment that his father had been working on when he died. See, Rogers’ father had created a super serum called FLAG (Full Latent Ability Gain), a serum that could, theoretically, unlock the full potential of humanity. Rogers’ father used it on himself and had become a sort of crime fighter, working against bad guys from all over as Captain America (that was his nickname. That wasn’t Rogers’ name or anything like that). Mills hopes that with Rogers’ participation and Rogers’ cells that he’ll be able to improve on FLAG and make it work as hoped. While Rogers is sympathetic to what Mills wants to do, Rogers isn’t interested. He’d much rather drive around in his van and work as an artist, see the “faces of America.” Since Mills isn’t an asshole he lets Rogers go and do his thing, hopeful that he’ll come around and help him out.

Now, Rogers isn’t just in town to hang out at the beach and be a hippie van artist. Rogers is actually in town to see his old buddy Jeff Haden (Dan Barton). Haden is in some sort of trouble and Rogers hopes that he’ll be able to help him out. Rogers goes to Haden’s home and finds him dead on the floor. Dead on the floor? What the hell kind of trouble was Jeff Haden in? We eventually find out that Haden was a government scientist, working at the same lab as Rogers’ father, and that he, too, was working on a super-secret project for the government. Mills is also involved, too (Mills was Haden’s boss at the lab).

What the hell was Haden working on and who the hell wanted him dead? It seems that Haden was working on something called Project Zeus and that he was involved with a nefarious businessman named Lou Brackett (Steve Forest) that wants to sell the information regarding Project Zeus to the highest bidder. Haden apparently decided that he didn’t want to be involved with Brackett and his main henchman Harley (Lance LeGault, Colonel Decker from The A-Team) anymore and so, in the process of breaking away from Brackett Haden was killed. However, Haden didn’t give up every bit of information he could have regarding Project. There’s a missing film strip with this information on it, and it’s now the one thing that Brackett needs and will do anything to retrieve.

So then some stuff happens, Rogers is run off the road by Harley and is horribly injured. While dying in the hospital, Mills injects the FLAG serum into Rogers and, basically, brings him back from the dead. Pissed that he was forced to take the serum, Rogers insists that he doesn’t want to work for the government in any capacity and would much rather live out the rest of his life on his own terms. So then some more stuff happens, Harley kidnaps Rogers and tries to get him to talk about what he knows, and Rogers ends up beating the crap out of Harley and two fellow henchmen in a meat packing plant. It’s at this point that Rogers starts to warm to the idea of working for the government and decides to take Mills up on his job offer of working as a super crime fighter. With a new tricked out van, a super motorcycle, and a costume resembling a sketch that Rogers did of a superhero, Steve Rogers becomes the real deal Captain America.

The rest of the movie concerns Rogers testing out his new crime fighting equipment, getting close to Dr. Wendy Day (Heather Menzies), Mills’ assistant, and figuring out how to take out Brackett and stopping him from selling Project Zeus to the bad guys of the world.

Back when I was a kid Captain America and its sequel Captain America II: Death Too Soon (appearing next issue) would show up every so often on Saturday afternoons on WWOR, usually paired with syndicated episodes of The A-Team and Knight Rider. It was always a big deal because, outside of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies and the occasional episode of Super Friends, the 1960’s Batman TV show or The Incredible Hulk TV show, superhero entertainment was scarce on television. When you knew Captain America was on, dammit, you watched it. Now, I knew it wasn’t the greatest movie back then but, again, it was always worth checking out, and to a certain extent it’s still worth checking out. Just be aware that it’s very much an example of its time.

Captain America is pretty slow and isn’t what anyone isn’t a thrill a minute piece of action adventure entertainment. It plays like what it is, a late 1970’s TV movie, and, for the lack of a better phrase, takes its time getting to where it wants to go. The car and motorcycle stunts are fairly decent, but the fighting scenes are slow and don’t flow all that well (it almost seems like the director and the producers only had time to do one or two takes per fight scene and used the best footage from those takes that they had). And the plot, while eventually diabolical, isn’t treated as that big of a deal, despite the fact it eventually involves detonating a neutron bomb in Los Angeles. You’d think that something like that would generate some panic and dread from someone, even in the mellow laid back late 1970’s.

The performances are generally good. Reb Brown is excellent as Steve Rogers and eventually as Captain America. He handles the action scenes well and you get the sense as soon as you see him that he’s a decent guy, something that you absolutely have to have with someone named Captain America. He’s probably a little too soft spoken at times but it fits with the world that he lives in. The Captain America costume is a little too blue at times, and the shield is clear and only bulletproof, but Brown makes it work and he never looks ridiculous decked out in it (although there are times where he seems somewhat uncomfortable wearing it. It actually makes you like him more).

Len Birman is actually more laid back than Brown while playing Dr. Simon Mills. He talks slowly, deliberately, and sounds like a character in a low budget 1970’s sci-fi movie. Mills isn’t a charismatic figure by any stretch of the imagination, but he comes off as a decent guy, too, even when he’s doing something potentially terrible, like injecting Rogers with the FLAG serum without his consent. You like him and you want to see him succeed.

Steve Forest isn’t as effective as he could be as the bad guy Brackett. If he’s going to be low key in terms of his general demeanor it would be nice if he would shoot someone in the head just for kicks, just to show you what kind of an asshole he really is. He isn’t scary, isn’t nasty enough, and just comes off as some guy with an evil scheme. I mean, the guy sits in the back of a tractor trailer reading a book with the bomb just feet away. Why the hell is he doing that? And why does he have that nifty set up back there, with the chair and the reading light and whatnot? Who the hell does that? Now, Lance LeGault would have made a much better villain. He knows how to be a nasty asshole and has the voice to make it work. You can see why the people behind The A-Team wanted him to go after the A-Team.

I’d love to know why Captain America ends up having two different costumes. I get why, in the story, he has two different costumes, but why not just have him in the “typical” costume that Rogers ends up wearing at the end of the movie throughout the whole thing? Did the producers try to pay homage to the way Cap looked in the comics back in the old days with the first costume? If only we could get a special edition DVD of this movie with special features explaining all of this stuff.

Captain America isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s flawed and is kind of slow and meandering, but it’s still a solid piece of entertainment and worth checking out, even if it’s just for nostalgia purposes. It wasn’t as good as it was back in the day when it was on WWOR on some random Saturday afternoon, but then very few things are, are they?
See Captain America. See it, see it, see it.

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So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: One.

Explosions: A few small ones.

Nudity?: None. TV movies in the late 1970’s didn’t have that kind of thing.

Doobage: A meandering drive on a highway somewhere in California, a big bridge, the beach, a road construction trap, a deliberate oil slick, a spectacular slow motion “van-driving-off-the-road” stunt, a bunch of exposition, a police interrogation, a murky nigh time car chase with a second van stunt and an exploding motorcycle, multiple beat downs, a hilarious fight in a meat packing plant with flying slabs of meat, a henchman is crushed by a giant slab of meat, walking on the beach, a super badass van with a hidden motorcycle inside, some sweet motorcycle riding in the desert for no apparent reason, attempted helicopter attack with chase, a nifty ramp stunt, infiltration, multiple Bionic Man style jumps, cabinet destruction, metal door removal, a gigantic dot matrix computer printer, motorcycle launch out of a helicopter, truck attack, truck exhaust used as a weapon, and an uplifting ending.

Kim Richards?: None, although it would have happened if that neutron bomb destroyed Los Angeles.

Gratuitous: Mellow late 1970’s TV movie vibe, a guy in a van riding around for no apparent reason, surfboard sanding, a late 1970’s TV movie zoom in on the face, test mice, coffee, groovy/funky 1970’s TV movie music, cell animation, a silencer, bad guys building a neutron bomb, and an uplifting ending.

Best lines: “Hey, Steve-O, how ya doing, buddy?,” “What do we do? I don’t know,” “Hey, Jeff! It’s Steve!,” “Sooner or later Rogers is going to be given that FLAG serum and I want him out of my hair before that happens!,” “Why, Steve? Why?,” “Simon, if he was photographing classified material there’s got to be another explanation. Jeff Haden is no traitor,” “Who are you guys? What have you got to tell me?,” “Simon, I’m afraid it’s very bad,” “Simon! There’s no cell rejection!,” “Get dressed, Mr. Rogers, we’re going to take a little trip. It won’t make a sound but it will make a very big hole,” “Well, Mr. Rogers?,” “Not bad! You’ve got talent,” “If I’m not thinking about what I’m doing I could hurt someone,” “Ii hope I’m interrupting,” “She really is something, isn’t she?,” “Hey, does this scramble eggs on Sunday, too? It also whistles Dixie,” “Be Captain America, Steve! Jam Captain America down their throats!,” “Come on, little man,” “He’s gonna make it? That means we’re all going to make it, right?,” Captain America did a pretty good job, didn’t he?,” and “How do you like it, Simon? Magnificent!”

Rating: 6.0/10.0

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A low budget Marvel movie marathon? What?

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Back before Iron Man came out, there was no such thing as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the only “successful” Marvel movies (movies based on comics from Marvel) were the first two Blade movies, the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies (yes, even the third one), and the X-Men movies that Bryan Singer did. There were other, less successful Marvel movies (the 2004 The Punisher with Thomas Jane, Ang Lee’s Hulk, the two Fantastic Four movies with Jessica Alba) but those movies had a budget and a slick sheen that made them look like “real” movies. But before that first Blade movie, Marvel movies tended to be low budget affairs made for TV or home video. And, with the third MCU Captain America movie, Captain America: Civil War set for wide release in a few short weeks, this column will take a look at some of those low budget affairs, to see where Marvel’s comic book heroes sort of started out.

I’ll be doing five movies, and the tentative schedule is as follows:

-This week: Captain America (obviously. You just read the review)
-Week 2: Captain America II: Death Too Soon
-Week 3: Fantastic Four (the officially unreleased movie produced by Roger Corman)
-Week 4: The Trial of the Incredible Hulk
-Week 5: The Punisher (the Dolph Lundgren one)

Again, this is a tentative schedule that could change. If it works out, I may try doing something similar in the wake of the release of the other MCU movie for 2016, Doctor Strange, although I’m not sure if I’d do it as a run up to the movie (Doctor Strange is set to come out on November 4th, and it may be more appropriate to focus on horror movies in the weeks before November 4, it being October and all). We’ll see how it all works out.

Hope you enjoy it.

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Things to Watch Out For This Week

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Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens: I didn’t like this latest Star Wars episode as much as most people apparently did (I consider it the least of the seven Star Wars movies made so far) but I thought, in general, it was decent enough. Maybe I’ll like it more if I watch it a few times? I’ll have the chance now with the flick on DVD. Oh, and check out my somewhat extensive thoughts on the flick by reading this.

TheHoarder

The Hoarder: This is one messed up low budget horror flick. Expect to see a full DVD review from me for this flick soon. Definitely worth tracking down and seeing.

CountdownWWE

Countdown: This is yet another low budget action flick from the fine folks at WWE Studios. Dolph Ziggler and Kane are the pro wrestlers in the cast and, for the most part, it looks pretty good. Ziggler has been getting rave reviews for his performance. Could end up as part of the WWE Studios movie marathon that I plan on doing at some point.

Riot

Riot: Dolph Lundgren and Chuck Liddell are both in this low budget action flick set inside a prison, so based on that description it has to be worth a rental, right? It doesn’t look terrible, which is what you want when it comes to low budget action flicks set inside a prison. So few modern ones work now because you need money to have a decent looking prison set. Hopefully Riot works because, heck, the world doesn’t need another bad low budget action movie set inside a prison. It just doesn’t.

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Exit 14: Tom Sizemore and John Schneider star in this low budget suspense thriller horror flick. Sizemore comes off as incredibly sleazy in the trailer, and I’m curious to see if he’s actually like that in the movie or if that’s just what the trailer maker wants us to think. Very rentable.

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B-Movie News

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Sharknado 4 title and release date announced: The fourth Sharknado will be called The 4th Awakens and will debut on the Sci Fi Channel on July 31st, which is a Sunday. The first three Sharknado movies debuted during the week, although with the lackluster rating the last one received I’m going to assume that Sci Fi and The Asylum figure that a Sunday debut has a better chance of being seen by a large audience that debuting again on a Thursday. I’m not a fan of that subtitle, but I’ll watch the movie anyway. I’m curious to see what happened to Tara Reid’s character.

AvEDSeason2

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season 2 debuts on Starz Friday, September 23rd, 2016!: While the last episode of season 1 ended on a rather anti-climactic note, Ash vs. Evil Dead was, without question, the best show on TV for 2015, and I can’t wait for the second season to begin. Just what the heck did Ash do to the world at the end of the first season? And what’s the deal with the kegger party he’s apparently at in the pic above? And what the heck is Lee Majors going to be like on the show (Majors is going to be playing Ash’s father)? And Ted Raimi! What the heck is he going to do? Oh, man, I can’t wait! Who’s with me on this? Anyone?

TheToxicAvenger

The Toxic Avenger 1-4 set to air on El Rey this month!: The Toxic Avenger movies have appeared on regular cable before, on USA back in the day and on the old G4 channel, but they always appeared in edited form. If you wanted to see them uncut, or as close to uncut as possible, you had to watch them on premium channels like Cinemax and the Epix channels. El Rey has been known to show various hard horror flicks uncut, but will we see these movies uncut, even late at night? I’m curious to find out. I have no idea when any of them will first air, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they all debuted as part of the Friday night Creature Feature block. Anyone else jazzed about this? Anyone at all?

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Who is this week’s Douchebag of the Week? Go here and find out!

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Next Issue: The low budget Marvel movie marathon continues with Captain America II: Death Too Soon!

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Follow me on Twitter!

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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.

Captain America

Reb Brown– Captain America/Steve Rogers
Len Birman– Dr. Simon Mills
Heather Menzies– Dr. Wendy Day
Steve Forrest– Lou Brackett
Lance Le Gault– Harley
Robin Mattson– Tina Haden
Frank Marth– Charles Barber
Joseph Ruskin– Rudy Sandrini
Dan Barton– Jeff Haden

Directed by Rod Holcomb
Screenplay by Don Ingalls, based on a story by Chester Krumholz and Don Ingalls, based on characters created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon

Distributed by CBS and Shout! Factory

Not Rated
Runtime– 90 minutes

Buy it here