Written by Stephen Tolkin and directed by Albert Pyun — who interned on a Toshiro Mifune TV series under Akira Kurosawa’s Director of Photography before making movies like Cyborg, Alien from L.A., Radioactive Dreams, The Sword and the Sorcerer and so many more — this film started at Universal, who got the rights after the CBS TV movies.
The rights were then sold to The Cannon Group with the idea of Michael Winner directing a script by James Silke (Ninja 3: The Domination) and supposedly starring Michael Dudikoff as Cap and Steve James as the Falcon, the sheer idea of which makes my brain delirious. The Variety ad that announced this movie initiated Jack Kirby’s lawsuit against Marvel, as it claimed that Stan Lee created the character and not he and Joe Simon, who invented Cap all the way back in 1941 and Lee didn’t bring the character back until 1964.
After two years of development, Golan left Cannon in 1989 — stay tuned for August on this site for a sequel to Cannon Month — and as part of the settlement, he was given control of 21st Century Film Corporation and the film rights to Captain America.
Then, comic book fans waited. And waited.
It premiered in 1991 in the Phillipines as Bloodmatch as part of a double feature with Snoopy, featuring an ad that trumpeted Golan as the producer of Superman, which is not as true as saying he was the producer of a Superman, the best not mentioned Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Also, Jean Claude Van Damme is not in this movie, no matter what that ad claims.
So that’s how we got a Captain America played by Matt Salinger, the son of the writer of The Catcher In the Rye, and fighting Scott Paulin as the Red Skull, who was a child prodigy that the Axis experimented on, sending Dr. Maria Vaselli (Carla Cassola, Demonia) to America where she creates the Super Soldier Syrum.
There’s some good casting here, and by that, I mean character actors that get me a -typing. those would be Ned Beatty, Darren McGavin (the younger version of his General Fleming character is played by Billy Mumy while his A Christmas Story wife Melinda Dillon is in the cast as Steve Roger’s mom ), Ronny Cox as the President and Michael Nouri.
The one thing I do like about this film is that in the years after World War II, the Skull has built a conspiracy crime family with his daughter Valentina De Santis (the character Sin in the comic books, she’s played by Valentina De Santis) that has assassinated everyone from the Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King to Elvis, which he claims was the one time they did the wrong thing. Now, they want to brainwash the President and Cap, along with Sharon Carter (Kim Gillingham, playing that role and Bernice, the 1940s girlfriend of our hero), must stop him.
So how weird is it that the son of J.D. Salinger, whose book was often in the hands of programmed assassins, is battle the man who programmed said assassins, at least in this movie?
Ronnie Cox once said that the script to this movie “remains to this day the finest script I have ever read… how those guys messed that film up, I will never know.” And Stan Lee, ever the PR man, said that the reason for the reshoots was because “Pyun did it so well and so excitingly that everyone in the audience [at the screening] kept clamoring for more.”
Sure, True Believer.
As for Jack Kirby, everything you know in comic book movies is the result of his creativity. Even after his death, his family has attempted to gain the money and recognition that that creation deserves. When most comics these days struggle to be released once a month, Kirby was at one point — according to Mark Evanier — drawing twenty pages of comics a week, up to five pages a day, which is about a full issue of a comic every week. All for no real ownership, no insurance and no promises. For just one month’s example, in November 1963, Kirby drew 139 pages of comics and seven covers. His Fourth World era contract was for 15 pages a week, so Kirby gave then twenty.
Think about that the next time you watch everyone make money from his work.