Continuing our look back at Captain America, the 1944 Republic serial that marked the first on-screen appearance of a Marvel Comics character, sort of. As in past serials, I thought I might try a drinking game this week, but was too busy. Maybe next week. Let’s just jump right into the chapter, shall we?
But first, a note about the theme music. Like the script, the music here seems to be an amalgam of other serial themes, a stirring martial tune that starts to inch toward a segue into the story, when suddenly, it turns bombastic and over-the-top with string arpeggios over the horns, before finally fading out to the sting that introduces the recap.
So as Chapter 6, “Vault of Vengeance,” opens, we’re back to the battle in the paper company with Gail trapped under the guillotine blade. Captain America manages to knock out the thug he’s fighting and stop the blade inches away from bisecting his assistant.
Matson reports to Maldor that Captain America might be Gardner, but the doctor has decided that after five chapters, it’s time to start a new sub-plot. Therefore, he has decided to extort Mr. Henley, the oil magnate, who was also on that ill-fated Mayan expedition. To celebrate his new scheme, Maldor lights his pipe using this cool match-striking gadget on his desk. A villain with style, Maldor is.
Maldor summons Gardner to his office on a flimsy pretext while Matson plants a bug in Gardner’s apartment (and not an inconspicuous one–it’s a radio transmitter the size of an alarm clock that he hides behind some books on the bookshelf). But the plan is foiled when Gail mentions to Gardner that his phone has been busy. Gardner then makes up a fake story about using a rigged case to drop the payoff cash so they can track the Scarab.
Gail makes the drop. While the Scarab’s men are focused on the case, Captain America gets the drop on the overwatching sniper. The stuntman playing the sniper is some kind of acrobat, apparently, because he gets flipped three times and keeps landing on his feet before remembering that he’s supposed fall down.
Finally, Captain America throws the guy off a cliff; he doesn’t land on his feet for that one.
Matson and another thug take the case with the money into a mine, where they take out the money and plan to discard the case down a deep shaft. Captain America attacks, and there’s a furious fight. As has happened a couple times before, Matson kills his own ally, this time by chucking a sledgehammer that hits his buddy in the head; half a point to each side. Captain America ends up getting knocked down a mine shaft and having tons of rocks dropped on him.
In Chapter 7, “Wholesale Destruction,” Cap rolls out of the way at the last moment, surviving the rock. But Matson gets away with the money. The Scarab renews his threats against Henley, while Gardner investigates a used car lot that sold a panel truck to the dead thug. The trail leads to a garage, where Matson and a couple of garage thugs are loading some bottles marked “Nitrogas” onto the truck, now painted to look like a delivery truck for Henley’s company.
This is not Nitrous Oxide, apparently, but supposed to be like nitroglycerin in gas form. Matson and another guy take off in the truck, and moments later, Gardner arrives. The remaining thugs try a half-hearted bluff, but Gardner finds a clue that lets him see right through the ruse. Which is when one of the thugs tries to shoot Gardner in the back, but shoots out a nearby mirror instead. Darn those mirrors! Why must they be so realistic?
There’s a brief gun battle in which we find out that, like The Adventures of Captain Marvel, they’re using pieces of chalk or something to simulate bullet hits.
Gardner kills both guys, then finds the stencil used to paint the oil company name on the truck. He races to the plant where Matson and buddy are pumping Nitrogas into a gas line attached to a furnace that feeds into every building on the plant. When the gas reaches 350 degrees, it will blow up every building in the place.
Captain America enters, and we see something extraordinary. In this adaptation of a WWII hero which has never once mentioned the war, we finally see an acknowledgment of the war in a propaganda poster inside the gas plant.
Captain America attacks! One thing I must say, Republic’s stunt guys are better than Columbia’s. They really seem to try to give each fight a unique flavor. For instance, Matson’s buddy in this fight throws a hard body block, while Matson wings a fire axe at Captain America’s head (managing not to hit his buddy this time).
Cap ends up getting locked in combat with the second thug while Matson once more flees to safety before the building blows up!
So here we are in Chapter 8, “Cremation in the Clouds,” where we see Captain America manage to defeat his foe and turn the valves which shut off the gas to the other buildings before the temperature reaches the critical point and the building blows up. One thing Republic doesn’t do better than Columbia is have more accurate chapter titles. Only one building got blown up. I’d call that “retail destruction,” at best.
Maldor is not happy about this turn of events at all. Not only did Matson fail to accomplish his mission (and score another half-kill of his own man in the process), but Henley has remained unpunished for defying the Scarab. So Maldor orders a Mayan-style hit. They post an assassin with a “Singari blow-gun” on the roof of Gardner’s apartment building (where Henley is being held for safe-keeping).
Henley insists on being allowed to go to his office, so Gardner accompanies him to his car, where the assassin shoots at him. Gardner barely manages to shove Henley out of the way of the dart, then he draws his pistol and shoots the guy on the roof like, 10 stories up. That’s a hell of a shot, especially for the blank Gardner said (back in chapter 2) that he always keeps in the first chamber of his pistol.
Gardner finds the blowgun and takes it to the Drummond Museum to see if Maldor can identify it. He does, but says that Professor Grayson is the real expert. Too bad he’s dead.
But then Grayson’s grandson offers to help if Gail will fly the blowgun out to him. Maldor sends his men to plant a bomb on the plane. Unfortunately for them, the mechanic they’ve tied up manages to break a window and get Gardner’s attention right after Gail has flown away. Gardner gets into a fight with the two mechanics in the hangar. Meanwhile, Gail’s plane blows up.
Until Chapter 9, “Triple Tragedy,” where we see Cap beat the two thugs (amazingly without killing them), then free the mechanic. The mechanic warns Cap about the bomb, and he jumps on the radio to warn Gail. She bails out at the last second and parachutes to safety.
The blowgun is destroyed. But Gardner spreads the rumor that the police have a practice of making exact plaster casts of important pieces of physical evidence, so they still have an exact replica. This makes Maldor nervous enough that he tries stealing it.
He has Matson and some Australian dude plant a gas booby-trap in Gardner’s apartment, activated by the doorbell. The gas knocks Gardner out long enough for Matson to steal the blowgun and take off, but not before ordering the Australian to off the D.A. Luckily, Gardner was faking, having avoided the gas by breathing from the (hopefully not running) floor furnace. He throws the Australian out the window to his death.
Meanwhile, Gail was staking out Matson’s car and follows him to an old barn. She radios the location to Gardner, but then disobeys his orders by trying to arrest Matson herself. She remembers to pull her pistol out of her purse before confronting Matson, but that doesn’t help when she falls into a pit trap. Matson and friend plan to blow up a bunch of gunpowder to destroy all evidence, but before they can light the powder trail fuse, Cap catches them and attacks.
There’s another furious fight, in which Matson accidentally kicks a dropped blowtorch onto the powder fuse and then runs away while Cap is busy with his random barn thug. Meanwhile, under the floor, Gail watches the smoke as the fuse burns right over the spot where she’s trapped.
The barn explodes. But of course, in Chapter 10, “The Avenging Corpse,” Cap rescues Gail from the trapdoor and they escape together, leaving another unconscious thug to die in the explosion.
Now the story takes another wild turn that feels like it was assembled from pieces of another serial. Turns out Professor Lyman had a brother, who is an inventor. He has invented a device which can resuscitate the dead (though he doesn’t use it on any of the guys the Scarab has killed, including his brother).
Lyman demonstrates his machine to a group of interested parties, including Gardner, Gail and Maldor. Gardner and Maldor eye each other suspiciously).
Lyman uses the device to bring a dead dog back to life. Once it has been successfully demonstrated, Maldor’s men enter to steal the device. Trapped at gunpoint, Gail looks like she’s practicing some sort of mental kill-beam.
Gardner interrupts the men and kills one thug, but the other gets away with the device after a brief car chase in which the guy foils Gardner’s pursuit with hand grenades. Gardner then follows up on a key carried by the dead thug, which leads to a gravel pit that Matson sometimes used as a headquarters. He buries dynamite under the guard’s shack to destroy all evidence, and decides to destroy Cap, too.
But Gail is the one who actually shows up at the shack, while Cap sneaks up on Matson and accomplice with the dynamite plunger. Cap and Matson have a dramatic fight atop some kind of platform at either dusk or dawn, so the fight is all long shadows and silhouettes.
And just when you’re getting the hang of how this works–Cap kills Matson’s assistant thug, Matson runs away–Cap throws Matson off the platform to his death, then uses Matson’s gun to kill the other thug. The dying thug falls forward onto the plunger, and the shack, with Gail inside, is destroyed.
Join us next week for the thrilling conclusion!
Oh yeah, and final body count for this week:
Team America: 9.5
Team Scarab: 1.5 (all half-kills by Matson or by buildings blowing up with unconscious thugs inside)
Captain America is RUTHLESS!