Looking Back at Captain America — and Marvel’s — first film from way back in 1944

July's Captain America: The First Avenger is being trumpeted as the feature film debut for Steve Rogers, the Red Skull and associated characters, but Marvel's Super Soldier has a secret history in the movie biz going back decades… and I'm not talking the direct-to-video dud from the early 1990s.

Way back in 1944 in the final months of World War 2, the film company known as Republic made a serial film based on Marvel's patriotic powerhouse — the first Marvel comics character ever to make it to film. Although introduced just three years before, the character was at its height — with each issue of his self-titled series selling over a million copies. Republic's serial took on the star-spangled soldier and took more than a few liberties with the character himself.

In Republic's film, Captain America is in real life a District Attorney named Grant Gardner — no Steve Rogers here — and is fighting a rogue museum curator who goes under the moniker of the Scarab. Captain America came onto the case after NYC Mayor Randolph pettioned D.A. Gardner to do something about it. The Scarab is threatening the Big Apple with some inventive super-weapons such as the Electronic Firebolt, the Purple Death and — get this — the Dynamic Vibrator. In addition to no Steve Rogers in this film adaptation, also missing are any military connections with the hero, the famous shield, any Super-Soldier Serum, and no Bucky even.

Although Republic had adapted other comic heroes such as Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher in the past, Captain America was one of the most extreme translations from comic-to-film seen before or since. It was later discovered that the film's script was originally intended to feature another character, but when talks fell through, Republic bought the rights to Captain America and simply cut-and-pasted the character's name in the film script before shooting.

For years, Marvel — and the movie world at large — swept this film under the rug, but Marvel eventually came full circle and stated that the film exists in Marvel continuty — with Steve Rogers secretly playing the role in order to stop a Nazi spy ring. Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting carried it further by including the Republic serial's poster in the Captain America museum seen in Captain America #27 following the apparent death of Steve Rogers.

For those of you wanting to see this bygone movie gem, don't dust off your DeLorean — a fan has put up this now-public domain film online for everyone to view.

Here's the trailer:

I’d die for a Special Edition film podcast on this one.


  1. Cap shoots to kill

  2. I just looked up Dick Purcell (who plays Captain America) and learned that he died the same year this serial came out. How sad.

  3. I am very surprised that Cap’s star is red on that poster. I guess communism wasn’t something to be feared quite yet.

  4. No love for the Reb Brown Captain America, huh?  I can’t imagine why…

  5. Lionel Atwill had some good parts in the classic Univeral Frankenstein movies. 

  6. I think I saw part of this on the internet archive or itunes, it’s crazy that this was made way back.

  7. I used to listen to 1940s Superman radio shows on a local station in LA that would play them at night. Good fun.

  8. I love how they couldn’t find a fit man to play cap at all. Why couldnt he suck it up.

  9. @WeaklyRoll  given that the Soviets were our allies in WW2, that’s correct. 

  10. Ol’ Cap has a little bit of the pot belly going on….

  11. If you don’t like this you’re a nazi

  12. @conor yeah he actually died shortly after he completed shooting. apparently the physical stress from the fight scenes was enough to give him a heart attack.

  13. My father had a vhs of this. It was a 2 taper. Hey Amazon has a dvd of it http://www.amazon.com/Captain-America-Classic-Serial-Purcell/dp/B001RKTMN8

  14. oops different Capt serial but still good.

  15. Hey watch it! Some of us love that “straight-to-video dud.”

  16. i gotta say the fight in the trailer is awesome. it looks like a real scramble, knocking him over the table and hitting him with the chair. it really looks like they’re trying to kill each other

  17. Monocle= awesome bad guy

  18. Now I remember where I first saw footage from this – it was used in J-Men Forever! I used to love seeing that on late-night TV back in the olden days…