The 1944 Captain America, The First Marvel “Movie”


For decades now the world of Marvel has entertained audiences with awesome action, thrilling stories and timeless characters. Many great heroes like Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men and many more.

Among those being Captain America. While many know about the Chris Evans portrayal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe some may remember the 1990 version starring Matt Sailinger and perhaps even fewer recall the 1979 version with Reb Brown. However, the portrayal of Captain American can be traced almost 80 years ago, all the way back to 1944 in the era of black & white film.

Shortly after Marvel (then called Timely Comics) created Captain America, Republic Pictures licensed the character to star in a 15 chapter movie serial where the hero battles a villain called The Scarab. Republic Pictures had previously made a film serial starring Captain Marvel (Then owned by Fawcett Publications).

This Captain America was very different from his comic counterpart. Instead of being Steve Rogers the super solder he is instead Grant Gardner, an attorney by day and a masked avenger by night.

With the popularity of heroes like The Shadow and Batman it was decided to have Captain America fall into the same category. Missing his trademark shield he instead wields a gun and rides on a motorcycle. His sidekick Bucky is also missing and, despite being known as a Nazi fighter, no Nazis appear in the story.

While production ran smoothly when filming a tragedy took place soon afterwards as Captain America’s lead actor, Dick Purcell, passed away when he collapsed at a locker room at the Hollywood Country Club in April of 1944. He died shortly after at the age of 38. According to historian Raymond Stedman it is believed the strain from filming Captain America was too much for his heart and caused heart failure. 

The serial began airing in February of 1944, in 15 separate chapters. With all episodes together the total runtime consists of four hours and three minutes. At the time the serial was met with much praise from critics, some calling it better than other serials like Batman and The Masked Marvel.

Due to Republic Pictures closure in 1967 the Captain America serial, along with many others, have since fallen into the public domain and can be watched in full online without Disney issuing copyright strikes. While Marvel still owns “Captain America” anyone can use “Grant Gardner”.

Since then filming has come a long way. But many of the big budget Marvel films of today owe their respect to this piece of film history. 

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