Todd Gault's Movie Serial Experience

Todd Gault's Film Serial Experience: Movie serials, cliffhangers and reviews. A gallery of movie serial stars.
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"Captain America"; Republic, 1944

When Hollywood needed a two fisted hero for a low budget action, mystery, or western film Dick Purcell was your go to guy. His rugged good looks brought him to the attention of Warner Brothers, who put him under contract with their B unit. He would spend four years there appearing in such programmers as the Perry Mason mystery “The Case of the Velvet Claws” (1936). Purcell eventually went on to star in such low budget efforts as “Alcatraz Island” (1937) and “Daredevil Drivers” (1938).

Though popular, Purcell’s contract was not renewed and he went off on his own, where he began his tenure as a star of poverty row films. Though he occasionally would appear in a major studio production, like W. C. Field’s “The Bank Dick” (1940) for Universal, his home seemed to be Monogram. While there he appeared in the first of a short lived Mantan Moreland/ Frankie Darro comedy/thriller series, “Irish Luck” (1939) before once again moving up to starring status. Purcell was the second lead in “King of the Zombies” (1941). He played the hero in “Phantom Killer” (1942), a remake of Lionel Atwill’s “The Sphinx” (1933), and in “Mystery of the 13th Guest” (1943), a remake of the Lyle Talbot/ Ginger Rogers film “The Thirteenth Guest” (1932).

The following year would give Purcell his most famous, and unfortunately final film role. Going to Republic he was cast as the punch throwing, fast shooting District Attorney who also fought crime as the punch throwing, fast shooting “Captain America” (1943). Battling Purcell was the great thespian Lionel Atwill, who was waging a war of revenge against his supposed friends for some imagined slight that only Atwill seemed to be aware of.

Sadly, after this action triumph, Purcell died of a heart attack in a locker room, having just finished a game of golf with friends. He was only 36.

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