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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Captain America (1990)

July 12, 2017 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #418: Captain America (1990)

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never been strapped to a rocket that then landed, by accident, in Alaska, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number four hundred and eighteen, I take a look at the unjustly hated low budget Marvel superhero movie Captain America, which first appeared in 1990 but then didn’t appear in the United States until 1992.

Captain America (1990)


Captain America, directed by the great Albert Pyun, is a misunderstood comic book superhero movie, and has been misunderstood since it debuted in the early 1990’s. Much like the Dolph Lundgren led The Punisher, the 1990 Captain America is a low budget affair that manages to do more with less than most action movies. It doesn’t have the sheen or spectacle that the Tim Burton Batman movie had (that movie came out in the summer of 1989), but what it does have is plenty of heart and innovative action scenes that are simply astonishing when you realize that Pyun and company had such a meager budget to work with. In fact, on the Shout! Factory Blu-ray, there’s a documentary with an interview with Pyun where he says that there were times when the movie had zero money in the bank. How the hell do you make a comic book superhero movie with no money?

Now, I’ll admit that Captain America 1990 isn’t as good, production wise, as the Marvel Studios Captain America movies with Chris Evans starring. On that level, there’s just no way for Pyun’s movie to compete. But, as I said, what makes Pyun’s Captain America work as well as it does is its heart. It really believes in the story it’s telling and wants you to cheer on the hero as he faces down the forces of evil. All you have to do is sign up for the ride.

Captain America 1990 stars Matt Salinger as Steve Rogers, a polio survivor in 1943 America, smack dab in the middle of World War II. Rogers volunteers for a super-secret Army project called “Project Rebirth” that, if it works, will turn him into a super soldier of sorts. The project is the brainchild of Dr. Maria Vaselli (Carla Cassola), a Nazi scientist who defected to the American side when a similar project she created for the Axis Powers was used on an Italian child (we see at the beginning of the movie the Italian fascists kidnap a young piano prodigy, massacre his family in front of him, and then take him to a Nazi lab in an Italian castle where the boy is transformed into the Red Skull). Rogers is meant to be the first of many American super-soldiers, and while the super-soldier procedure is a success, Dr. Vaselli is murdered by a Nazi mole, ending the program with only the prototype (Vaselli didn’t leave behind notes or instructions on the Project Rebirth process, it was all in her head, so when she was killed the plans were killed with her). There’s no time to mourn the death of the good doctor, as the Nazis are believed to be targeting the White House with a super rocket and the Allies need Rogers, now known as Captain America, to infiltrate Nazi occupied territory and dismantle the rocket. It’s a tough job as Captain America, despite the name, isn’t a badass soldier with tons of war experience. He’s just a guy with a fireproof suit, a shield, and super strength and endurance.

So the Allies send Captain America to find the rocket, and almost immediately he is attacked by heavily armed Nazi soldiers. Surprisingly, Cap destroys the Nazi soldiers without breaking much of a sweat and finds the rocket quickly. However, before he can destroy the rocket, the Red Skull (Scott Paulin) appears and prevents Cap from completing his mission. The Red Skull ties Captain America to the rocket, hoping to destroy both the White House and his “brother” in one fell swoop. Captain America refuses to give up, though, and grabs the Red Skull before the rocket launches. The Red Skull breaks free before the rocket launches, though, cutting off his own hand in order to get away. As the rocket travels to Washington D.C., Captain America tries to figure out how to keep the rocket from hitting its target. How the hell do you stop a rocket that you’re attached to?

You kick the crap out of its wings. What the hell else are you going to do?

So Captain America kicks in the rocket’s wings, managing to divert the rocket from hitting the White House and just missing a young kid who just so happens to be there taking a picture of the White House in the middle of the night (Garette Ratliffe, playing the child version of the character that eventually becomes the President of the United States, Tom Kimball). The rocket ends up crashing in Alaska and Captain America disappears under the ice. And Captain America stays there for nearly fifty years, stuck under that ice. In the ensuing half century, the world changes quite a bit.

The Axis powers, obviously, lose the war, and the United States becomes one of the world’s two main super powers. Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War consume the news and history, along with various political assassinations (John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr.). Tom Kimball grows up and eventually looks like Ronny Cox and becomes President of the United States. Kimball’s best friend in the whole world, Sam Kolawetz (played by Ned Beatty and Thomas Beatty as a child) becomes an award winning newspaper reporter. And the Red Skull, surviving the end of World War II, becomes the leader of an international criminal cartel that is essentially responsible for every major historical event after the end of WWII.

So fifty years pass since the end of WWII and, one day, Captain America is revived by accident by explorers in Alaska. Rogers has no idea that fifty years has passed since the Nazi rocket crashed. Rogers still thinks it’s 1943. He starts running south to California, his home before he became Captain America. Little does Rogers know that his revival from the ice has sparked an international media firestorm that has marshalled the attention of President Kimball, Kolawetz (they’ve been trying to figure out the “man attached to the rocket” mystery since Kimball took a picture of the rocket and ended getting a brief image of Captain America), and the Red Skull’s cartel. The President and Kolawetz want to meet Captain America and find out who he is (Kolawetz actually travels to Canada and manages to track Captain America down) and the Red Skull wants Captain America dead. So the Red Skull tasks his daughter Valentina de Santis (Francesca Neri) and her Eurotrash scumbag assassin friends with finding Captain America.

Rogers, after fighting off Valentina and her friends and ditching Kolawetz, manages to get back to his old California neighborhood and can’t believe that everything really has changed. His old girlfriend, Bernice “Bernie” Stewart (Kim Gillingham), is now in her 70’s, married with a daughter (the husband, Jack, is played by Wayde Preston, and the daughter, Sharon, is also played by Gillingham). What the hell?

So Rogers sort of reconnects with Bernice and starts to learn about how much the world has changed since he was frozen. And while that stuff is going on, the Red Skull concocts a scheme to kidnap President Kimball in order to brainwash him. The Red Skull’s cartel is incensed with President Kimball’s upcoming environmental legislation that will hurt the profit margins of many of the companies that are a part of the Red Skull’s cartel. With the help of scumbag American Army general Fleming (old man Parker hisself Darren McGavin), the cartel decides to capture President Kimball when he travels to Rome for a big hooha international meeting.

So then some stuff happens, the Red Skull’s assassins wreak havoc on Steve Rogers and his friends, and Rogers and Sharon end up travelling to Rome in order to track down who the Red Skull really is and thwart whatever big scheme he has in store for the world. The rest of the movie takes place in “Rome” (it’s actually somewhere in the former Yugoslavia) where Rogers and Sharon manage to escape multiple attacks. They also happen to unravel the Red Skull’s plans for world domination because, well, that’s just something a guy like Captain America is supposed to do, even if he is hopelessly out of place. And that, in essence, is the ultimate theme of Captain America. This guy is hopelessly out of place. How is he going to overcome the troubles in front of him?

The opening sequence, where we see the young Red Skull kidnapped by the Fascists and Nazis is harrowing stuff. It’s brutal, it’s tragic, and terrifying. We all know just how terrible and awful the Fascists and Nazis are, but to actually see them in action just hammers the point home. They’re scum and they need to be dealt with.

The sequences in the 1940’s are well done. The period detail seems to be spot on, especially in the diner that doubles as a secret military lab. One thing you’ll notice throughout the entire movie is that the sets, besides the Rogers house and the newsroom that Kolawetz works in, are sans clutter. Threadbare sets can make a movie look cheap, but for whatever reason here it looks right. The Red Skull’s castle could have used more “stuff” in it, like weird looking technology and a cool throne for him to sit on, but the lack of those things is okay. The Red Skull oozes menace, and menace is all a good villain needs to be a bad guy.

The stuff in Italy/Yugoslavia looks great, with the old, narrow streets and old buildings and whatnot. The action scenes here are fun to watch. If only more low budget movies filmed in Eastern Europe looked as good as Captain America 1990. It isn’t murky, it isn’t relentlessly gray. Amazing stuff.

Now, I have often wondered why the American government never tried to find Captain America. You’d think someone in authority, like the President, would have wanted to find out what happened to one of the government’s most important military assets. Sure, the government could have concluded that the rocket he was attached to blew up and that Captain America with it, but why didn’t anyone try to get photographic proof? Of course, there’s a chance that there was no way for the government to track where the rocket ended up, but the government is full of smart people. Surely someone could have figured something out.

And what’s the deal with the rubber ears on the Captain America costume? Why does Captain America need fake ears? I wasn’t bothered by that when the movie came out, and I’m still not bothered by it. I have often wondered, though, why no one ever complained about how the costume wasn’t made bulletproof. The costume is fireproof, and he’s a super soldier Why isn’t his costume like armor?


The heart of Captain America rests with Matt Salinger’s performance as Steve Rogers/Captain America and with the friendship of Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty’s characters. Salinger is just so damn good as Steve Rogers. He’s kind of lame, kind of a nerd, but he has an inherent goodness to him that makes you want to root for him, even if all he drinks is milk. The only time he swears is when he tries to take the Red Skull with him on the rocket. All of his other “curses” are in the vein of “Holy mackerel!” Salinger looks a little weird in the Captain America costume, but then Captain America is supposed to look kind of weird. Again, he’s a man out of time and out of place. He needs to look weird. And Salinger does a fine job in the many action and fight scenes he performs in. I still think it would have been cool if, in the Marvel Captain America movies, Salinger and Reb Brown could have had cameos where they hand Chris Evans’ Captain America his shield or something like that. I know that Marvel wants us to forget Salinger and Brown and every other “old” Marvel property, but it shouldn’t do that. Awesome job, Salinger.

Ronny Cox as President Kimball is an inspired choice, especially since Cox just played the rat bastard Dick Jones in Robocop. Dick Jones is so iconic as a villain, and having him play an inspiring President of the United States is just brilliant. Ned Beatty is a newspaper reporter who just wants to get scoops and figure things out. He, too, is kind of a nerd, but you want him to succeed no matter what. You want him to win. You get sad when he Captain America ditches him in Canada and when he tries to talk with Bernice. Now, Kimball and Kolawetz don’t share any scenes together as adults (we only see them together when they’re kids), but their phone call will make you stand up and cheer. They’re going to figure out the Captain America mystery! Holy smokes! I actually get a tear in my eye when I think about it.

Scott Paulin is a bit of a tragic figure as the Red Skull. He didn’t want to be evil, he was transformed into ultimate evil, so you kind of feel sorry for him. At the same time, he’s done so many bad things since the end of World War II, even if you do feel sorry for him you still want to see him destroyed. Paulin is charismatic as the Skull, both when he has the actual Red Skull makeup on and when he’s just the guy with a scarred up face. The scene where he’s listening to the piano performance of the night he saw his parents killed will make you pause. Look at what this guy went through. Jesus. Paulin deserves more recognition for his work here. He really does.

When I first saw this movie I had no idea that Kim Gillingham plays two parts, both Bernice, Rogers’ girlfriend, and Sharon, Bernice’s daughter. She plays Bernice under heavy makeup and does a great job, and she plays Sharon as a spunky modern woman. She’s smart, she doesn’t take shit from people (she throws cans at Rogers’ head) and she can hold her own when the shit goes down. Great, great stuff.

Darren McGavin is a piece of human garbage as General Fleming. He’s beholden to money and greed and nothing else. His “crapper” speech in front of the Red Skull tells you everything that you need to know about him. Bill Mumy plays the younger version of Fleming, which is something I didn’t notice until I watched the movie again. And how cool is this? Melinda Dillon, Ralphie’s mother in A Christmas Story, shows up at the beginning of the movie in Steve Rogers’ house. Ralphie’s father is in the movie, too. It’s a Christmas Story reunion! Well, sort of. It’s still cool.

Michael Nouri is interesting as Lt. Colonel Louis, the guy that informs Rogers that he’s the only super soldier the Allies have. He doesn’t even look like Michael Nouri, but it’s him. A damn good actor. And Francesca Neri is excellent as Valentina, the Red Skull’s daughter assassin. You take one look at her and you just know that she’s a terrible person. Her terribleness isn’t her fault, in a way, since her father is the goddamn Red Skull, but, still, she’s a horrible person. Good job in the part, though.

Oh, and be on the lookout for the great Jeff Imada in a small uncredited role as one of the Red Skull’s henchmen. He gives Captain America a run for his money. Great stuff.

I love Captain America 1990. I still think it’s one of the best comic book movies ever made. It’s still exciting, still full of heart, and still fun twenty-seven years later. It deserves a bigger audience and a better reputation than it currently has. I urge all of you to take a look at it again.

See Captain America 1990. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 20.

Explosions: Several.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: Piano playing, kidnapping, off screen machine gun massacre, a rat that’s been turned into a demon lizard, a going away party, a roadside diner that’s actually a secret military lab, the Project Rebirth process, an assassination, electrocution, jumping out an airplane, watchtower destruction, using a giant truck as a movie shield, exploding truck, shield throwing, shield capturing, a brutal beat down, a rocket, off screen hand removal, a rocket trip that ends in Alaska, montage of history since the end of World War II, a terrifying Presidential address on what could happen to the Earth’s environment, a secret history lesson, ice breaking, running, a band of dirt bikers riding through the forest, befuddlement, a cruel truck trick, sleeping in the back of a truck, beer cans to the face, another history lesson, milk drinking, phone surveillance, pencil chewing, an old military file, bullet to the back, an off-screen kidnapping, trying to find an old military lab, a Nazi assassin team, using a garbage can lid as a kind of shield, throwing a guy down an air conditioning duct, torture, off screen homing device removal, another cruel car trick, acid, an attempted apology, Porsche attack, fruit cart destruction, a foot chase through the cobble streets of “Rome,” bike buying, a water landing, purse stealing, a really small car, an old recording, an attempted suicide, rocks to the head, bullet to the arm, chair throwing, fist crushing, an epic fist fight, a detonator for a nuclear device, a high fall, and hope for the future.

Kim Richards?: None.

Gratuitous: Italy 1936, Melinda Dillon, smoking, Bill Mumy, Michael Nouri, a Captain America costume that has fake ears on it, a kid that’s walking around Washington D.C. in the middle of the night, a fake Walter Cronkite, Ronny Cox, Darren McGavin, Ned Beatty, a Captain Midnight keychain, a Molson Light Beer truck, talk of VHS and VCRs, Wheel of Fortune, Jeff Imada, an old recorder, big ass chunky cell phones, an epic fist fight, and a nifty drawing of Captain America over the end credits.

Best lines: “I’ll wait for you. For ever and ever,” “A little scared, Steve? I’m not scared,” “How’s the pot roast today, Roz?,” “He’s gonna be a national hero,” “Colonel Louis, where did you say that launch site was?,” “I won’t let America down, sir,” “Ii love you, Bernie!,” “God bless you, Captain America,” “My American brother has arrived,” “Holy mackerel,” “Where is the pen of my aunt?,” “Tell me, do you think I could be President of the United States?,’ “Wow,” “Did he have a trident?,” “Wow. This would make a swell story for the school paper,” “Cut the crap, cut the crap. All I want to know is when we kill the little sonofabitch,” “What the hell is this thing?,” “No way that just happened,” “Sam, they found the guy on the rocket ship!,” “Who was that shooting at you? Nazis,” “Captain America, you gotta help us,” “You know this guy? Yes, I do,” “This can’t be real. It is,” “You waited for me for sixteen years?,” “You saw him and you let him get away?,” “Call the jet. Captain America is in California,” “They kept asking where Captain America was. She didn’t tell them,” “Sharon, calm down,” “This is for Bernie,” “Where is he? Where is the Red Skull?,” “Are you just psycho, or is there something particular you’re after?,” “This sucks,” “Loose lips sink ships. Will you stop being so paranoid?,” “We have like the worst luck!,” “I’m not going to blow it this time!,” “Please come back, Mr. President,” “You mean, you were the little boy?,” “Sam told me there would be days like this!,” “Are you kidding me? I’m not backing out on Captain America!,” “You care. The come to me, my brother. Let us see if this heart of yours is stronger than my hate,” “You remain a poor choice, my little brother. Stop calling me your little brother!,” “Mr. President! Thanks,” “Just one more second,” and “We are both tragedies. And now I send both our tortured souls to rest. Speak for yourself.”

Rating: 10.0/10.0


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Things to Watch Out For This Week


Species Collector’s Edition: This is the big new hooha collector’s edition from the fine folks at Shout! Factory and its Scream Factory subsidiary. The movie is still pretty good twenty two years later, although I tend to like the second one better (gorier, more ridiculous). Anyway, Species has an all-star cast, with Ben Kingsley, Forest Whitaker, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Marg Helgenberger, and Natasha Henstridge in her star making role as the sexy alien Sil. It’s slickly made, kind of classy in a way, and, again, still pretty damn good twenty two years later. The Scream Factory Blu-ray is two discs and will have two commentary tracks and a disc full of special features. Shout!/Scream always knocks it out of the park when it comes to their collector’s editions, so this is, without question, a must have.


London Heist: This lowish budget British action crime movie exists under two other names, so there’s a chance you may have seen it under one of those titles (for the record, those titles are Gunned Down and A Life of Violence). Craig Fairbrass is the star, and for the most part it looks like a badass ninety minutes. I’m sort of surprised that this isn’t a horror movie, since there have been so many low budget British horror movies lately. So, has anyone out there seen this? Anyone at all?


White Raven: Okay, so this low budget thriller is apparently all about a group of friends who go on a camping trip in the woods, one of them goes insane for some reason, and then the movie is a sort of fight for survival. It almost sounds like it should be a slasher movie but the slasher is one of the people on the camping trip as opposed to an alien or escaped zombie or some shit. I like the mood set in the trailer, and, for the most part, I think this looks okay. Very rentable.


America Has Fallen: This low budget action flick is available on Video On Demand and, I assume, will eventually be available on home video. As far as I can tell, it’s about a badass ex-Marine who has to try and stop a massive terrorist attack from happening in Pittsburgh. Yes, it looks kind of cheap, but that shouldn’t prevent action movie nerds from checking it out. The reviews I’ve read for it have said that, budget issues aside, it’s not bad. I definitely want to check it out.


Alienator: This is another Shout! Factory release, and while it isn’t listed as a special or collector’s edition, there are some cool sounding special features on the release, including a commentary by director Fred Olen Ray and some sort of vintage behind-the-scenes thing. Alienator was at several old video stores I frequented back in the day, but it was always out, so I never got a chance to see it then. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of it since then. Jan-Michael Vincent is in it, as are John Phillip Law and P.J. Soles. Why don’t they make movies like this anymore?


B-Movie News


That Kevin Bacon/Tremors TV show will be on the Sci Fi Channel: Okay, so we now have proof that the Kevin Bacon Tremors TV event this is happening and that the Sci Fi Channel is going to show it. To some extent, I bet that fact is a bummer to the hip and edgy set that hoped that this TV event would end up on a streaming service of some kind, like Netflix or Amazon. The Sci Fi Channel is a good fit for it, though, since the Sci Fi Channel is owned by the same company that owns the Tremors franchise. And the first Tremors TV show, the one with Michael Gross that took place in the world established by the direct-to-video sequels and whatnot, originally aired on the Sci Fi Channel. So, you know, the whole thing really is a good fit.

So now that we know that the event is happening maybe we’ll find out soon enough what, precisely, the event is going to be about. It sounds like it won’t feature anything that we’ve seen in the four, soon to be five direct-to-video sequels. It sounds like the event will be a direct sequel to the first movie. Fred Ward won’t be in it. Michael Gross won’t be in it. Reba won’t be in it. Or will they? If Bacon’s Valentine McKee is in it, why wouldn’t the other survivors from the first movie appear, too? Shouldn’t that happen?

I think it should. I also think the Michael Gross sequels should be mentioned, too. There’s nothing wrong with those movies. Even part 5.


The Poughkeepsie Tapes coming to Blu-ray: This “found footage” serial killer movie has been out there for around ten years, playing at festivals and whatnot, but it hasn’t received an official home video release until now. I have no idea why it’s taken so long for it to show up on home video. The reviews I’ve read for it say the movie is awful and mean-spirited, and from the clips I’ve seen for it that description sounds right. I mean, how else are you going to describe a found footage movie about a serial killer recording his crimes? The fine folks at Shout!/Scream Factory are going to be doing this release, so you know that, at least, the DVD/Blu-ray is going to be awesome. Maybe we’ll get a documentary featurette or something that explains where the hell the movie has been.

Anyone out there seen this? It was available on DirecTV for a short period of time. And I think it was available on youtube as a bootleg at one point. So who has seen this? Does it suck?


Land of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead remake getting new Blu-rays from Scream Factory!: What the heck is going on with the Shout!/Scream Factory news? George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead is set to get a new hooha special edition from the company, with new special features. I don’t think anything specific has been released yet, but I’d imagine all of the special features from the Universal DVD will be on the new one, along with, maybe, that Roy Frumkes documentary that aired on IFC in the run-up to Land’s theatrical release? That would be cool as hell. I’d assume that the Dawn reboot release will also feature the old stuff and some new stuff, too.

So who else is surprised/excited about this news? Is anyone out there a Land of the Dead fan?


Coming soon?


Who is the Douchebag of the Week? Go here and find out!


Next Issue: The Gracefield Incident!


Check out my interview with david j. moore here!

Check out my interview with the great Jino Kang here!

Check out my interview with character actor Vladimir Kulich here!

Check out my interview with martial artist and actor Paul Mormando here!

Check out my interview with writer/actor/director Shahin Sean Solimon here!

Check out my interview with director Michael Matteo Rossi here!

Check out my interview with actor Tyrone Magnus here!

Check out my interview with Hector Barron here!

Check out my interview with Jeffrey Orgill here!

Check out my interview with director Michael Baumgarten here!

Check out my interview with actor and stuntman R. Marcos Taylor here!

Check out my interview with action movie legend Don “The Dragon” Wilson here!

Check out my interview with Paul Kyriazi, the director of Ninja Busters and Death Machines, here!

Check out my interview with martial artist and actor Eric Jacobus here!

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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 (1990)

Matt Salinger– Steve Rogers/Captain America
Ronny Cox– Tom Kimball
Ned Beatty– Sam Kolawetz
Darren McGavin– General Fleming
Michael Nouri– Lt. Colonel Louis
Scott Paulin– Red Skull
Kim Gillingham-Bernice/Sharon
Melina Dillon– Mrs. Rogers
Bill Mumy– Young General Fleming
Francesca Neri– Valentina de Santis
Carla Cassola– Dr. Maria Vaselli
Wayde Preston– Jack

Directed by Albert Pyun
Screenplay by Stephen Tolkin, based on a story by Stephen Tolkin and Lawrence J. Block and characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

Distributed by Columbia Tri-Star Home Video, MGM Home Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Curnan Motion Picture Services, and Shout! Factory

Rated PG-13 for violence and language
Runtime– 97 minutes

Buy it here