Following a series of gruesome murders, District Attorney Grant Gardner is called into action to investigate the crimes, all being attributed to a mysterious criminal known only as “The Scarab”. Unbeknownst to all, however, Gardner is secretly the crime-fighting dynamo, Captain America! With help of his secretary, Gail Richards, Gardner must uncover the secret behind The Scarab and put an end to his evil plots once and for all!
Now I know what you’re thinking- “What the hell did I just read?!?” Ok, let me do some explaining.
Republic Pictures, the movie studio responsible for cinematic serials such as “The Lone Ranger” and “Dick Tracey”, was notorious for making seemingly random changes when adapting things from source materials. None of its productions suffered from this more than Captain America, the last of the studio’s superhero-themed serials. Aside from the name and the basics of the costume, Republic’s Captain America serial bares NO similarities to its namesake, changing the main character’s name, occupation, origin, abilities, and story, as well as disregarding all the supporting characters from the comic such as Bucky and the Red Skull. Cap was no longer Pvt. Steve Rogers of the US Army, but instead was District Attorney Grant Gardner, and his signature weapon, Cap’s famous shield, was replaced with a normal revolver. Another interesting change was the exclusion of Nazis anywhere in the story, despite the fact that the serial was made in 1943 and released in 1944, when the US was heavily involved in WW2.
Timely Comics, owner of Captain America and predecessor to Marvel Comics, was unhappy with the alterations, and made a request to Republic to make the necessary changes to tie the movies more closely to the comics. Republic responded to the request in writing, stating that the sample pages Timely had provided them with did not make any indication of Steve Rogers or any of the story elements that Timely considered to be “essential”. They also noted that the serial was well into production at the time the request was made, and that in order to make the changes, extensive reshoots and dubbing would be needed- things that would cost the studio more money. In addition, they pointed out that they were under no contractual obligation to make any such changes. Seeing as the original budget for the serial was $182,623 and the studio had already spent $40,283 beyond that (a total of $222,906 for those without a calculator) it was clear they had no intentions of spending the additional money to make any changes, and the serial wrapped up production as it was. It’s worth noting, however, that the story changes may not have been as random as it may appear.
The Captain America serial was filmed between October 12th and November 27th in 1943, a time when there were many different comic properties in consideration for feature films. One such character was Fawcett Comic’s “Mr. Crimson”. First appearing in Wow Comics #1 (1940), Mr. Crimson’s story was remarkably similar to Republic’s Captain America- his secret identity was District Attorney Brian Butler, a man with no super powers who relied on his gadgets and agility to fight crime. Butler also relied on the aid of his secretary, Cherry Wade- a woman who knew his dual-identity and was more than willing to help him take the law into his own hands.
Wow Comics #1- The 1st Appearance of Mr. Crimson
It’s theorized by film historians that Fawcett’s Mr. Crimson was intended to be the central character of Republic’s newest serial, but by the time 1943 came around, the character had fallen out of popularity. Seeing as Republic had already adapted Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher, two of Fawcett’s other superheroes, it would seem likely that film studio would pursue another outing with the comic company, so it’s possible that the scripts had already been written for a Mr. Crimson serial when the decision was made to cancel the project. If that was the case, it wouldn’t be unusual for Republic to want to repurpose them to save money on a future project, such as the recently acquired Timely property.
However the changes came about, it’s clear that Republic’s Captain America went into production with a very different vision from the one audiences were used to and this wouldn’t be the Sentinel of Liberty which graced newsstands every month. But different doesn’t always mean bad, and Grant Gardner was ready to show the world that there was room for more than one Captain America.