Tag Archives: Joe Simon

Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979, Ivan Nagy)

Captain America II: Death Too Soon, although it actually doesn’t have an onscreen subtitle, could just as well be called Captain America II: The Show No One Wants to See. I don’t even mean the eventual show (Death Too Soon is the second, Reb Brown-fronted CBS pilot), I mean this pilot movie, which retains executive producer Allan Balter and a lot of the crew from the initial attempt. It’s a complete wreck.

First example: Len Birman. Awesome co-star of the previous pilot movie. Given nothing to do outside some exposition, which he handles admirably. Except perving on Connie Sellecca, who does not give a good performance as a trouble-shooting super-scientist. She doesn’t. But she does start an actual subplot with her boss, Birman, sniffing her hair. It’s weird. What’s weirder is it doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t exactly get dropped, there just isn’t anymore character development for the characters. At first, I thought it was star Reb Brown sniffing her hair, but he’s actually got an entirely separate love interest.

Brown, or Captain America, is in love with his painting. Writers Wilton Schiller and Patricia Payne can’t stop having people talk about Brown and his stupid painting. He paints portraits of old people, cats, women on horses. He just loves painting. And maybe he should, but Death Too Soon doesn’t develop Brown’s protagonist either. Instead, it runs him around in a dumb costume for desperate action sequences. There’s obviously some significant spending on this second attempt, but Balter doesn’t use it well. It’s too cheap on the character stuff, too focused on motorcycle stunts and awful fight scenes; Death Too Soon amps up the previous pilot’s “Wonder Wonder”-wannabe syndrome. Everything good in the previous pilot gets flushed for everything bad in it.

There’s one good segment in Death Too Soon. Otherwise, director Nagy alternates between atrocious and incompetent. He’s never even pedestrian. It’s a poorly directed pilot. Except one chase sequence where Captain America’s motorcycling on a dam. It doesn’t even end well. But it’s really well done before it goes bad. It’s incredibly out of place.

Christopher Lee and Stanley Kamel play the villains, along with Lana Wood (who’s awful). Lee and Kamel are fun together, with Lee turning in a mostly awesome performance. He doesn’t class it up though, he just excels in his own role. It’s kind of cool, actually. He protects his brand.

Okay supporting turn from Katherine Justice as Brown’s human love interest. John Waldron’s obnoxious as her kid though. And Ken Swofford’s awful as a government stooge.

Death Too Soon also has this really weird “pro-gadget, anti-science” thing going on, which should–combined with being a failed “‘Wonder Woman’ for boys” TV pilot, Lee, Brown’s desperately lighted blond hair, experimenting on babies, Birman’s perving, Justice’s too tight jeans–make it a lot of bad camp fun. But it doesn’t, instead it’s just awful. It’s a poorly produced television pilot. It fails.

Except the dam. And, at some point in the production, someone did come up with some all right ideas. Mostly involving Lee’s character. Nagy just couldn’t execute any of them.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ivan Nagy; teleplay by Wilton Schiller and Patricia Payne, based on characters created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon; director of photography, Vincent A. Martinelli; edited by Michael S. Murphy; music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter; executive producer, Allan Balter; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Reb Brown (Captain America / Steve Rogers), Katherine Justice (Helen Moore), John Waldron (Peter Moore), Christopher Lee (Miguel), Stanley Kamel (Kramer), Connie Sellecca (Dr. Wendy Day), Len Birman (Dr. Simon Mills), Ken Swofford (Everett Bliss), Christopher Cary (Professor Ian Ilson), William Lucking (Stader) and Lana Wood (Yolanda).


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Captain America (1979, Rod Holcomb)

Captain America is almost loveably dumb. It’s never good, it doesn’t even have a good performance–at least, any good performances have caveats attached–but it’s so painfully obvious it ought to be lovable. It even has a lovable oaf of a lead–Reb Brown–who just happens to be really smart. Brown’s ability to recite all his dumb expository dialogue is one of the most lovable things about him. He’s trying. You appreciate him trying to hard.

But that trying–and Len Birman’s strangely strong but not performance as his mentor–occasionally gets Captain America the passes it so desperately needs. After some decent (for an action TV show pilot aimed at eight year old boys) character development, it turns into a pedestrian action show. The girls get kidnapped, the boys have to rescue them. There’s no more inventiveness in Don Ingalls’s script. He’s gotten to the action and he’s done.

Oddly, Captain America does have inventive moments before its second half. There’s this weird bit about Steve Forrest’s villain–a California oil man who wants to play Goldfinger–being scared of disappointing his mad scientist (James Ingersoll) who’s making a neutron bomb. Captain America acknowledges itself a bit. Even when director Holcomb goes on and on with the helicopters and motorcycles. It’s an acknowledged excess.

The problem is there’s nothing else. Holcomb has no other tricks up his sleeve. Once Brown suits up as Captain America, it becomes a strange “Wonder Woman” knock-off. Brown’s barely allowed a presence, which is dumb because Captain America letting Brown have such a presence is the only thing to make it engaging. Watching Captain America is about watching Brown stay above water. You root for him. You root for him to pull-off maybe Vietnam vet (definitely ex-Marine), vaguely genius, motocross enthusiast, California square hippie guy thing. With some kind of folksy accent. And he does.

It just isn’t enough. The third act is an incredible letdown. Holcomb’s got no sense of action pacing and the supporting cast wrap-up (setting up for a series order) flops. The cast–Brown, Birman, Forrest–deserved better.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rod Holcomb; teleplay by Don Ingalls, based on a story by Ingalls and Chester Krumholz and characters created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon; director of photography, Ronald W. Browne; edited by Michael S. Murphy; music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter; executive producer, Allan Balter; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Reb Brown (Steve Rogers), Len Birman (Dr. Simon Mills), Heather Menzies-Urich (Dr. Wendy Day), Robin Mattson (Tina Haden), Dan Barton (Jeff Haden), Joseph Ruskin (Rudy), Lance DeGault (Harley), James Ingersoll (Lester) and Steve Forrest (Lou Blackett).


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