After some delay, the 1992 Captain America movie is now available as a made-on-demand DVD as part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection.
The only extra on the disc is the trailer. It’s under two minutes, and it’s remarkably dark, sometimes so much it’s hard to see what’s going on (a problem the film also demonstrated, at least in my setup). Still, nice to have as an extra, which tend to be rare on MOD projects.
The movie is 97 minutes long and full frame (not widescreen). Since this was originally intended to be released as a theatrical film, it’s a bit more ambitious than the 1970s TV movies, especially in scope and casting, but it’s still going to look outdated to today’s viewer, spoiled by technologically advanced current cinematic achivements. Although there is an opening message about being sourced from the best material available, the video quality is dim and grainy, as though this is a second-generation or later copy, and speckles appear. Also, the special effects are laughable.
We open in 1936 Italy, where the Red Skull is created as an experiment on a kidnapped boy. I found the quote marks around the subtitles in this section a big distracting, but most of the dialogue doesn’t need to be translated (and isn’t), due to the simple plot structure (evil soldiers doing bad things). Cut to 1945 and the creation of Captain America, after a too-lengthy home-and-family section.
I found it interesting to note what changes were made in the source material. Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger) has polio, for instance, which kept him out of the war, and the super-soldier experiment (mostly rays and light effects, instead of injections) was created by Dr. Maria Vaselli (Carla Cassola) instead of a male scientist. Michael Nouri is the officer in charge, while another soldier is played by Bill Mumy (Lost in Space).
There’s an odd cross-company reference, spoken as they’re getting ready to zap Rogers: “He may not be Superman, but he’ll be a living symbol of what this country stands for.” Speaking of the symbol, Matt Salinger appears to have been cast for appearance instead of ability, with his broad nose and jaw; he looks the part acceptably, but his performance is stiff and his dialogue not believable. Still, the action scenes are fun and comic-book-exaggerated, especially with Scott Paulin chewing scenery and wisecracking as the Red Skull.
As expected from the time period in which this was made, pacing is slow and sometimes labored. We also jump right from creating Captain America to sending him on his first mission with a costume and shield, one he fails, resulting in his suspended animation. The main story of the film, featuring the hero and his arch-villain in then-modern day, begins about 28 minutes in. I was glad to see it, since the WWII-era footage didn’t feel authentic to that era.
In the current-day story, President Kimball (Ronny Cox) is being targeted by a group who’s hired the Red Skull to prevent his environmental policies from being put into effect. Darren McGavin is an American general who’s part of the conspiracy and opposed to the president. Ned Beatty is a childhood friend of the president’s, now a reporter.
The Red Skull has a daughter (Francesca Neri), who’s out to kill the Captain, while Steve’s former girlfriend’s child is named Sharon (Kim Gillingham). Gillingham also plays her own mother, in unmoving old age makeup, in an overwrought sequence where Rogers figures out he’s been frozen for 45 years. Still, that’s the kind of scene you have to have in the Captain’s origin, just to establish the “man out of time” characterization that makes the hero so special. And I liked Gillingham better as her mother than herself, surprisingly.
This isn’t something I can recommend you watch because of its content, but it is quite the conversation piece, and I am tickled to be able to include it in my collection of comic-inspired superhero movies. It is easier to sit through than the earlier versions, especially if you stick to the sections where Salinger is in action or in costume, few as they are. Plastic costume ears and flesh-colored Red Skull and all, that’s the truest part of the film. The last 20 minutes or so, particularly, are all you need to watch, and they’re the best part, a lengthy action sequence as Captain America and Sharon break into the Skull’s fortress to rescue the President. (A review copy was provided by the studio.)
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