This Philippe Mora directed oddity has finally resurfaced on blu ray allowing me to see it for the first time since it’s release to VHS decades ago. Oscar winner Alan Arkin takes the title role while villain supreme Christopher Lee will be once again out to rule the world just as he was when portraying Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun opposite Roger Moore’s James Bond. This time out Lee’s known as Mr. Midnight who is at odds with his old nemesis Captain Invincible. Aka The Legend in Leotards as the film was briefly known as.
For the unaware this is a superhero movie crossed with a musical with some featured songs written by the team of Richard Hartley and Richard O’Brien, the same songwriters behind The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
To properly set up the “return” of our caped crusader Captain Invincible played by Arkin, the film smartly begins in black and white utilizing newsreel footage of our Superman like crime fighter. We’ll see him smash a bootlegging operation led by Lee during prohibition. Fighting Nazis in the sky with footage of Hitler standing alongside Lee. Inspiring American youth at boyscout camps across America and finally as a victim of the communist witch hunts of the 1950’s. After all, he does wear a “red” cape.
Cue the color photography and the opening credits with a gorgeous shot of a drunken Arkin atop a mountain in the Australian outback. It’s the kind of sequence that reminds one that in today’s movie making world, there’s no way this would have been attempted but rather just prop an actor up in front of a bluescreen and let the computers do the rest. No need for a helicopter and a stuntman standing perilously close to the edge of a very tall cliff.
Also resurfacing is Lee who has stolen the “Hypno Ray” from the U.S. Military and he’s using it to somehow take over NYC in a real estate scheme. I think. All of this is going to prompt the President, Michael Pate, a noted villain in many a 1950’s westerns, to issue an all points bulletin world wide for someone to locate Captain Invincible because “What the world needs right now is a hero” which Pate gets to do in song.
End result is a local Aussie police woman, Kate Fitzpatrick, knows where to find him. He’s the local bum who is usually found drunkenly meandering around the streets of her homeland. Her plea to Arkin allows him the opportunity to sing a very C&W response titled Good Guys and Bad Guys Amazing How They’re Alike. Bravo to Arkin who holds his own in the recording studio. As a matter of fact I’d rather listen to this tune with a country twang than pretty much anything I’m likely to hear on “country” radio nowadays. (Yeah that’s a cheap shot at the state of so called country radio here in the year 2022.)
Once Arkin signs on and sobers up he offers one of the films more amusing lines. “Australia? That’s where I’ve been all these years!”
Time for Lee to get in on the musical aspect of the film. Looking absolutely awesome in his leathery getup he launches into a song, Evil Midnight, surrounded by a number of scantily clad ladies allowing his fans for the first time circa 1983 to get a taste of his baritone voice if we discount his brief solo in The Wickerman. Lee had often pointed out he came very close to a career in opera and though I’m no connoisseur he’s got me sold on the idea. Lee did in fact release various recordings over his career including some heavy metal albums!
This performance serves as a precursor to Lee’s final song, Name Your Poison, when he confronts Arkin at the climax of the film. You can view the film clip on youtube but here’s one better that has recently surfaced with the release of the film on blu ray from Severin. Lee appeared on a German talk show and did the song for the audience with props and a full on acting performance.
Is Captain Invincible worth tracking down? As a Lee fan, absolutely and I’ve come to appreciate Mr. Arkin more and more as the years pass us by. Still, it’s a film that strikes me as a missed opportunity and the humor falls flat far too often. It’s as if it’s struggling to be a laugh out loud comedy in need of Leslie Nielsen with the sight gags to accompany it. It may have been better suited as a vehicle for Jerry Lewis than it did Arkin. Lewis was by this time dabbling in moviemaking once again after a decade of laying low on lesser known titles like Hardly Working (1980)and Slapstick of Another Kind (1982). I did find it surprising that James Coburn was attached to the project in the lead role at one point. While he bowed out this time he would work with director Mora on a project that seemed more suitable to the aging tough guy, Death of a Soldier in 1986.
Lee would also work with Mora once again on the so bad it’s fun, Howling II, in 1985 and I must say I’m intrigued by a documentary that Mora has apparently filmed titled, Dracula Nazi Hunter: How I Learned to Love Christopher Lee and Drink Atomic Bombs that has a release date of 2021 on the IMDB though it appears to have been shelved awaiting a distribution deal if indeed it’s been finished.
How about an obnoxious peace of trivia for the horror fans. Lee’s costar, Michael Pate, played a cowboy vampire in 1959’s Curse of the Undead just one year after Lee’s iconic performance as Count Dracula in 58’s Hammer classic Horror of Dracula. Originally born in Australia, Pate, appeared in a number of Hollywood westerns including Hondo, The Tall Stranger and Major Dundee and TV Shows like The Rifleman, Cheyenne and even Batman. The actor had already worked with Mora on the 1975 Aussie western Mad Dog Morgan starring Dennis Hopper and would again on the Coburn flick, Death of a Soldier as well as Mora’s third entry in the werewolf series, 1987’s Howling III.
Whether you like the film or not it’s nice to see it turn up in an attractive edition from Severin with two cuts of the film, plenty of bonus materials and even a CD with the soundtrack all neatly wrapped in the must have slipcase which collectors prize so highly.
No the original film poster featuring Alan Arkin in tights doesn’t come with the blu ray release and while I have no recollection of this superhero turning up at local theaters back in ’83 it must have played somewhere because I wound up with an original one sheet in my collection.
Kind of felt it was a good idea that they didn’t know how to make work and got stuck between a number of different stones. I felt it was an affectionate mis-hit rather than a flop. Good acting, better than many MCU pix.
It was a good idea agreed and easy to see what they were going for at various points including “the war room” with a Dr. Strangelove type among Pate’s group of generals. Both Lee and Arkin are solid but in the end somehow deserved better. The musical aspect is a nice twist.
I’ve never heard Christopher Lee sing, but he recorded an excellent, scary version of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, with Yehudi Menuhin conducting.
Thanks for the tip, I’ll look that up. Here’s another example of Lee’s opera tinged voice… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSo9wQSHvx0
I went to see a lot of movies back in 1983, and I don’t remember this one being out at all. I think I would’ve remembered that one-sheet poster, so maybe it lasted at my local multiplex for just a week (or less) before being shipped off to video stores. But a superhero musical? Had this ever been done before, or since?
No idea on the superhero musical genre but this film poster proves it played somewhere I guess. An interesting idea in the end but a missed opportunity which would explain why we don’t recall it playing at theaters.
One big, crazy and fun mess. As far as I’m concerned, Lee steals it. His Lex Luthor-like super-villain is a hoot, and his singing voice is quite enjoyable as well.
Agreed, film much better with Lee on screen and that booming voice.