1979's Captain America Was A 'Devastating' Failure For Director Rod Holcomb

Before Chris Evans grabbed a star-spangled shield and donned the mantle of Captain America, and even before the late, great, B-movie maestro Albert Pyun directed the straight-to-video 1990 "Captain America" movie, there was Universal's failed "Captain America" feature-length television film, which aired in 1979. Now a footnote in the history of superhero cinema, director Rod Holcomb's "Captain America" fits neatly next to the studio's 1978 "Dr. Strange" adaptation as similar attempts at seeing how Marvel's comic book characters could (extremely loosely) translate to low-budget, live-action TV material. Unfortunately for Holcomb, the project was a bit of an embarrassment.

Holcomb had already directed three episodes of Universal Television's "The Six Million Dollar Man" before taking on the task of adapting "Captain America," but the director was frightened that the production ended his career before it barely even began. The film starred Reb Brown, also known in B-movie circles from "Yor, the Hunter from the Future," as Cap himself. In this version, Steve Rogers exists in the then-modern day as an ex-Marine whose grandfather developed a Super Soldier Serum called the FLAG formula (Full Latent Ability Gain, get it?). If any memories of the film have survived, they're most certainly of Cap's rocket-powered, Evel Knievel-like stunt motorcycle and his matching helmet to boot.

I shot it for the network

"Captain America" 1979 is cheap, cheesy, and slow. It never connected with audiences the same way Universal Television's other Marvel venture, "The Incredible Hulk," did, only to become a smash hit for the network. Holcomb laments the project as his mistake for taking a for-hire job that barely ever asked for his genuine creative input:

"I did a very, very bad job on this. It was directed badly, it was written badly, it was shot badly, it was acted badly, it was edited badly, they were talking about trying to fire me and the studio at the time, you know, 'cause I had worked with them, said, 'No, let's not break this kid. Let's you know,' and CBS wanted me off of the show. And oh god, it went on and on and on ... I failed, crying at night. It was devastating, people wanted to fire me, I never, I shot it for the studio, I shot it for the network, I shot it for my friend who gave me the job. I never once shot any one frame for myself. Never one frame for myself."

The director explained that, luckily, networks were more forgiving than to dismiss a filmmaker based on one project, and CBS gave him another chance to work again. Holcomb would move on to have a long and fruitful career directing episodes of series like the original "Battlestar Galactica," "Fantasy Island," "ER," "The West Wing," and "Lost." However, strangely enough and despite the film's failure, Universal released a sequel the same year, "Captain America II: Death Too Soon," this time directed by Ivan Nagy, boyfriend of the infamous Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, and featuring the legendary Christopher Lee as the villain.