Its 9:31 am
When I was doing my “Superman” review,I mentioned how CBS sort of shot themselves in the foot when they decided not to invest in the hero genre after they canceled “The Amazing Spider-Man”. But when “Superman”turned out to be a blockbuster,CBS reversed course and put out “The Incredible Hulk”.
But CBS wasn’t done,they kept looking for another Marvel property they could bring to TV,they tried “Captain America” in a pair of TV movies and they also made a pilot film for “Dr. Strange” as well and I watched all three of these movies when they came out. Neither Cap nor Dr. Strange ever went to series and after a few years of playing on local TV stations,these films faded to obscurity.
When the superhero phase,especially for Marvel,suddenly got huge,these largely forgotten made-for-TV movies suddenly got a chance for new life and Shout! Factory decided to re-release the TV film of “Dr. Strange” around the same time as the MCU version. When I saw this at my local video store last year,I was pretty surprised as I hadn’t seen it since it aired in 1978. I picked up a copy and wondered how well (or not) it held up.
The Ancient One (Sir John Mills) lives in New York City with his pupil Wong (Clyde Kusatsu). He has been the Sorcerer Supreme for hundreds of years but his time is running and he must find someone to take his place.
His time to find that someone is going to be that much harder now that the powerful sorceress Morgan LeFay (Jessica Walter) is also on Earth not only to destroy the Ancient One but also whoever takes his place.
The Ancient One,calling himself “Lindmer” sends Wong to find Stephen Strange while he himself will confront Morgan. The clash doesn’t go very well as Morgan has possessed a young woman (Anne-Marie Martin) which catches Lindmer by surprise and enables Morgan to throw him over a bridge. The possession leaves the young woman in a fragile mental state and drains Lindmer greatly,he is fading.
But Wong has found Stephen Strange who is a psychiatrist at a local hospital. The viewer is introduced to Dr. Strange (Peter Hooten) as he is shown to be a very compassionate doctor as well as a bit of a maverick as he clashes with nurses and his bood,Dr. Taylor.
He is drawn into the fray after he dreams of the young woman and later treats her when she has a mental breakdown due to Morgan’s assault. Lindmer,as it turns out,has hand-picked Stephen years ago when he and Stephen’s father realized his potential in the mystic arts. He introduces himself at the hospital and then teams up with Strange to save the mysterious woman’s life.
This of course leaves Strange confused and unsure as he is his own man and believes solely in science. He tells Lindmer he can’t help him and leaves. When Strange accidentally lets in Morgan into the Sanctum,she is able to overpower both Wong and Lindmer,leaving the world in the hands of a unwillingly novice with one spell at his command…..
First off,I loved this movie….sure its cheesy,low budget and its completely filmed as a TV pilot. Stephen Strange is portrayed as a compassionate shrink where in the comics,he is a arrogant surgeon who craves power and material things.
But you have to consider the time frame,if anyone at that point,had tried to present a true origin story to network TV honchos,they would have shown the door. They had to soften Strange’s character if they wanted the viewers to like him. Hooten made a fine Stephen Strange,he was handsome,roguish and had a nice light touch of humor in playing our hero.
This is also the reasoning behind casting John Mills as The Ancient One but calling him “Lindmer”. But writer-director Philip DeGuere,Jr. must have been a comic book fan for he got a lot right as well. First,he portrayed Wong properly,he was indeed The Ancient One’s friend AND pupil,this relationship was established so much here then in the MCU film where Wong is seen just another monk.
The young woman whose identity isn’t revealed for over half the movie,turns out to be Clea,a very important person in Dr. Strange’s life as shown in the comics,Morgan LeFay is the first true Marvel villain to be featured in any film and Jessica Walter was perfectly cast as Morgan,she never looked more beautiful and while Morgan is a most wicked enemy,I liked how DeGuere allowed her humanity to show through,she WAS evil but maybe there was hope down the line…..
The special effects,while terrible even back in 1978,were still important because they were true to what you would see in the comic book,spells coming from the hand and Dr. Strange’s astral form is also shown in perhaps the best scene of the film.
Now the hidden gem of this film lies with Paul Chihara’s score. Oh my stars,this is one of the strangest (pun intended) scores I have ever heard,a mix of acid rock,disco and just a twinge of the “Phantom of the Paradise” but it WORKS. Chihara must have had a complete blast while composing the score and it must impressed Jerry Goldsmith because he used some of the same techniques when he composed “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” score the following year.
This SHOUT! Factory release is rated “G” and has a run time of 93 minutes. Sadly,there are no special features.
The cheetah and I had a real hoot watching this,it deserves a lot more love then it gets.
We gave “Dr. Strange” two thumbs/3 paws straight up.