The Star-Spangled Avenger arrived in 1990 and went straight-to-video in 1992, but while it has some very cheesy moments, it’s clear why this is hailed as a cult classic.
It is the year 1936. Italian child prodigy Tadzio de Santis has been chosen by the Fascist regime to take part in an experiment involving a super soldier serum. However, upon learning a child would be used as the experiment, Dr. Maria Vaselli, who created the serum, escapes and heads to America to perfect the serum. Seven years later, America is ready for their own super soldier and a subject has been chosen. His name is Steve Rogers, who becomes Captain America after the experiment is a success. However, Dr. Vaselli is killed by a Nazi spy and Steve is ready to take on the mission as the only Super Soldier.
Tadzio de Santis has now become the Red Skull and he is too much for Captain America, having defeated him and have him strapped to a rocket aimed at the White House. However, Captain America is able to divert the rocket and ends up frozen for nearly 50 years. Upon his awakening, he discovers that the Red Skull, who underwent surgery, has now become a crime boss who has plans to kidnap the President of the United States, who has come for a summit. When the Red Skull learns of Captain America’s resurgence, he sends his daughter Valentina and goons to find him. Meanwhile, Captain America gets help from the granddaughter of his first love to thwart the kidnapping of the President and stop the Red Skull once and for all.
The backstory for this film is quite an interesting one because it involves the eventual fall of Cannon Films and their attempt to get rights to Marvel characters. When the 1980s had an attempt to bring Marvel’s iconic character Spider-Man to the big screens, it was never made due to some mix-up involving Menahem Golan thinking the character was about a man who becomes a spider, and with attempts to have the likes of Tobe Hooper and Joseph Zito set to direct, the film was never made. In 1990, Cannon Films began to falter, and Golan would go on to form his own company, 21st Century Film Corporation and one of the properties he was given as part of his departure was that of Captain America, which at the time had the script by Stephen Tolkin with Albert Pyun directing.
The film is campy at best, with Tolkin’s script going through some major factors deviating from the original comic. The most notable changes involve the creator of the Super Soldier Serum going from a male German scientist to a female Italian scientist. The other notable change is that of the Red Skull, who is well played by Scott Paulin. However, instead of German Nazi Johann Schmidt, we have Italian fascist Tadzio de Santis, who was a child prodigy whose family was killed with him being kidnapped and forced to become their super soldier. Paulin, even in post-World War II and sporting a Jigsaw-like look a la Punisher, makes the most of the script and can even be seen without any of the make-up in a brief cameo as an Army doctor after Steve Rogers undergoes the experiment.
Playing the titular Captain America is Matt Salinger, who perhaps will be best known for his role as Alpha Beta member Danny Burke in the original Revenge of the Nerds. Salinger plays Steve Rogers as somewhat of a goofy like hero who has his mindset in the 1940s and brings that well into the present day. Not to say when it comes the action, Salinger doesn’t deliver because he does quite well. It’s just that his mannerisms are still well a put-off. While many would expect someone who is tough and will go at all lengths, we do see bits of that in Salinger’s performance when it comes to the action. But when he learns the President was someone he saved during World War II, his reaction is one that really brings that campiness of the 1940s. Gee whiz anyone?
The 1990 version of Captain America definitely lives up to its cult status. While Matt Salinger’s take on the character has that campiness seen in the 40s, his penchant to deliver action does just that and Scott Paulin’s take on the Red Skull is quite fun for a film based on a comic.
WFG RATING: B-
A 21st Century Film Production. Director: Albert Pyun. Producer: Menahem Golan. Writer: Stephen Tolkin; story by Stephen Tolkin and Lawrence J. Block; based on the characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Cinematography: Philip Alan Waters. Editing: Jon Poll.
Cast: Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Kim Gillingham, Ned Beatty, Scott Paulin, Francesca Neri, Michael Nouri, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, Bill Mumy, Carla Cassola, Massimilio Massimi.