A lot of times things don't hold up. You remember something being way better than it actually was. That is usually the case but it's kind of a reverse deal with Captain America the 1979 TV pilot episode, it was really better than I remembered it being. Ok, the first one is still pretty weak but the second one that we will review next week was actually kind of good.
I am kind of grading on a curve here. It is good by 1979 standards... and the costume was pretty hokey. But still, this came soon after the Six Million Dollar Man was a big hit on television and was riding on the coat tails of the success of The Incredible Hulk television series that was now in it's second season. All of these 1970s action-adventure shows were pretty formulaic and, aside from the costume, this could have been any episode of the Six Million Dollar Man.
The 1970s loved their iconic cars. Starsky & Hutch's Gran Torino, Burt Reynolds Trans-AM, The Dukes of Hazzard General Lee, and Reb Brown's sweet van.
The 1970s action-adventure formula was pretty simple. I assume that TV writers hated doing superhero properties and thought, "Yuk, comic books." but a job is a job. So, here is what I imagine happens- a television writer gets the project. He puts the superhero in costume inside the first ten minutes of the show. Then, he puts him in at the end of the show. In the middle, they write the action-adventure series they really wanted to write. That's why most of these 1970s made for TV movies are so boring because, to the Hollywood writers, the thing people want to see isn't Captain America riding his motorcycle and smacking people with his shield, what we really want to see is a boring and predictable detective series about a surfer dude and his van riding up and down the west coast solving a mystery.
The plot of Captain America (1979) is as follows: Steve Rogers (Reb Brown) is the son of a 1940s government agent. Steve himself has just gotten out of the military but now is making a living as an artist and traveling the countryside in a sweet conversion van. For some reason that I never really understood, Steve's sweet van is purposely wrecked in an attempt on his life. Steve is saved by an experimental chemical called the FLAG formula; FLAG is an acronym for "Full Latent Ability Gain," a kind of "super-steroid." which Rogers' father had developed.
The formula not only saves his life but gives him super strength, speed, and reflexes. Steve is then recruited to be a government agent by Dr. Simon Mills (Len Birman) who was once a friend of Steve's father, to recruit Steve and give him a costume based on one of his drawings- Captain America, a nick-name his father had back in the 1940s. From this point forward the show is basically Rudy Goldman and Steve Austin from the Six Million Dollar Man.
As Captain America, Steve's sweet conversion van is re-configured so that it can launch a high-tech super motorcycle that features rocket thrust, a jet booster for rapid acceleration, and a stealth setting that reduces engine and road noise. In the last scene of the film, Rogers decides to become the same Captain America as his father had been in including wearing an identical uniform to that which his father had worn, the "classic" Captain America uniform which is shown wearing in the final scene. I figure, that mid-way through the show somebody realized the uniform sucked and had a new one made in the event the show got picked up as a series.
Yeah... not a lot you can do with that.
The television show, as we all now know, was not picked up for a full television series but did get a second television special later in 1979 called Captain America II: Death Too Soon which I will be reviewing next week. It is actually a little bit better than this one. Again, you might hear how awful these 1970s Captain America movies were but truthfully they weren't substantially that much worse than any other 1970s action adventure series and I enjoyed this special more than quite a few episodes of The Incredible Hulk which ran for five seasons.
Steve Rogers, in addition to being a former Marine and the son of a 1940s government agent was also, conveniently enough, also a professional motor-cross rider. The shield doubled for a bullet proof windshield on the motorcycle.
I remember watching both the Captain America television specials when I was a kid and I'm pretty sure they replayed them a few times. As an adult, I also have watched, this movie at least, on VHS which was probably some sort of bootleg copy I bought at a flea market or something. It is now available on DVD where you get both specials on one disk. I would actually recommend picking this up. It really isn't as bad as you might remember. The first special is a little slow but the second special is pretty decent and if you like 1970s action-adventure television shows then you will probably enjoy this again. There are a lot of similarities between this and the Six Million Dollar Man and I was a big fan of that show. If you support us here at When It Was Cool on Patreon you can hear our audio podcast review of this movie (and many more) by clicking- here.
At the end of the film Reb Brown gets a legit Captain America costume.
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