Captain America: You got a suit?
Hawkeye: Yeah. [he nods]
Captain America: Then suit up.
(The Avengers, 2012)
Let’s talk about tights and boots and gloves – and helmets! – in those Old Glory colors and patterns. Be prepared for strangeness.
Captain America has three recent movie appearances to his credit and another coming in 2015 with The Avengers: Age of Ultron. He’s also been name-checked in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series, more than once. All of the movies brought new clothes for the captain. Never say that Marvel doesn’t know a good merchandising opportunity when it sees one. Masks! Action figures! Cosplayers giving the movie free publicity! As a result, people who’ve never read a comic book know his name, his stars-and-stripes costume, and his matching shield.
The costume designers for the Marvel movies have done a fine job, mostly. But there were 67 years of Captain America movies before Chris Evans put on his first version of the costume, and the wardrobes weren’t all as successful.
Part One: Same Clothes, Different Reasons
1944: “That Mysterious Captain America”
From the current craze for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you might think that Timely/Marvel had exploited the potential of its characters almost since the release of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly in 1939. But the reverse is true; unlike National/DC, which jumped into the movie theater only a few years after introducing Superman, Marvel mostly failed to present its characters to the broader public. The exception came in 1944, when Republic Studios, which released the Fawcett-inspired serials The Adventures of Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher, put Captain America on screen for 15 episodes and four hours of fighting, shooting, chasing, and masked villainy.
Opinions vary about what happened to Cap between Timely selling the rights to the character and the filming of the serial. Some serial historians think that Republic shot an existing script, possibly for Fawcett’s Mr. Scarlet character, changing only a few details . Captain America the serial doesn’t include Steve Rogers, the super-soldier serum, a shield, a sidekick, or a war-oriented setting. There aren’t even German/Japanese spies on-hand for some good ol’ ethnocentricity and racism. Instead, it’s a mad-scientist crime story featuring district attorney Grant Gardner, who moonlights as the mysterious, masked Captain America to help bring down major criminals.
The costume was revised, most likely for simplicity. It was clearly Captain America, but with the edges sanded down. The wings on the cowl disappeared, as did the buccaneer boots, replaced by high-topped shoes. They kept the color scheme (modified for B&W photography) and patterns, for the most part, although the vertical stripes appear only on the front of the shirt. In some shots it looks quite good.
In others, the illusion is less successful. Star Dick Purcell lacked a heroic build; he was not muscular and, in fact, was a bit pudgy. In wide shots, it’s obvious that they’d cinched in his gut with his shield-buckled belt.
The stripes on the shirt rise quite high and the star is larger than in the comics, so that it points into to the hollow of his throat. The cowl is troublesome, too. The “A” is large enough that it curves above Purcell’s forehead. Worse, the eye holes aren’t spaced properly and angle up severely at the outside corners. Between that and the fabric tenting over the bridge of his nose, Purcell couldn’t have been able to see very well.
Although Purcell’s physique was unimpressive, he nevertheless engaged in typically energetic serial excitement — fistfights, running, jumping, and other strenuous activities — during the making of Captain America. This seems to have aggravated a previously unknown heart condition; Purcell died a few weeks after filming was complete, suffering a heart attack following a round of golf. He was only 35.
1973: “My Special Outfit is Bulletproof”
Captain America didn’t appear on the big screen again for 29 years. Until the late ’70s, DC and Marvel were somewhat cowed by the continuing “Biff! Bam! Pow!” influence of the 1966 “Batman” TV show and movie. Old serials (including Captain America), cut down to feature length, were appearing on TV and also hitting the movie theaters in large cities, promoted as silly fun mostly to young-adult, sometimes stoned, audiences. Super heroes seemed like a dead genre at the movies.
Turkey begged to differ with Hollywood’s opinion. For nearly 50 years, the Turks have gladly appropriated popular, copyrighted characters, joyfully stealing other people’s properties to make weird, cheap, and sometimes incomprehensible unauthorized versions. Turkish Superman! Turkish Star Wars! Turkish – yep, Captain America!
But not only Captain America! 3 Dev Adam (variously translated as 3 Mighty Men or 3 Giant Men) not only features Captain America, but he fights side by side with legendary Mexican luchador El Santo – or, at least, someone wearing a mask vaguely like that of the famous wrestler. Once again, Captain America is merely a strong, acrobatic American crime fighter, not a patriotic, super-juiced hero. The third “mighty man” is none other than Spider-Man! Again, kind of. This “Spider,” as he is called, is a crime lord decked out in a green-and-red extreme variation of a Spider-Man costume. It has a spider on it, at least, and a red cowl.
Cap, played by Turkish action star Aytekin Akkaya, wears a costume similar to the one Purcell had donned three decades earlier. Again, it lacks wings on the cowl, buccaneer boots, and the shield. Again, the vertical stripes come to nipple height, causing the chest star to rise quite high. And, again, it features a wide belt with an oversize buckle.
Cap is asked by his Turkish government contact why he wears a mask and costume. “Spider is a child-minded lunatic,” Cap explains. “He always wears a mask. When he sees someone else wearing a mask, he wants to destroy them.” Almost as an afterthought, he adds. “My special outfit is bulletproof.” For ease of movement, and so that Akkaya could quickly show his movie-star face, the cowl is separate from the shirt. This is a fine idea that most superhero film makers would ignore for 35 years. They’d also forget that large eye openings may not look like the comic books, but they help an actor see a lot more clearly!
The separate cowl also let Akkaya quickly show off an incredible head of hair. Look at that mullet mop!
While Akkaya was not a muscle man, he at least looked more fit than poor Dick Purcell, who would only have been 64 when 3 Dev Adam was made.
Next: Super Soldiers