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Dr. Strange TV-Movie (1978)
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, @yojoecrowe, © 2015

Format: TV
By:   Philip DeGuere (writer, director)
Genre:   Superhero movie
Review Date:   December 29, 2015

"But what about..,love?" -- Doctor Strange

A Doctor Strange cartoon movie came out in 2007. But in the year mortals call 1978, I was but a mere lad of 8, Doctor Strange was in a CBS two-hour movie, joining Spider-Man, Hulk, and Captain America in Marvel Comics' first age of live-action. I found it recently on an archaic contraption called a "video tape." Now it is mine.

Back in 1978, I thought it was OK, but at that time I didn't dwell on it. That's because Stan Lee promised in his "Stan's Soapbox" column in every Marvel comic there would be many more Marvel live-action movies.

What he didn't tell me is I'd have to wait 22 years until X-Men.

Doctor Strange was my fifth-favorite Defender (I mean, come on. Nighthawk!) But he was always the best-dressed. The character was, in retrospect, so very 1970s, even though he first appeared in the 1962. He was a wizard with a Magnum P.I. mustache, a puffy shirt, a cape with a high collar, and he wore swinging gold medallions. He was big with the college kids because of the way-out cosmic stories and art by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner combined with certain substances that a young person in college in the 1970s might enjoy. Or so my uncle tells me.

Now I've seen it for the first time since 1978. It's exactly the kind of fun I was hoping it would be.

The story is about Doc's journey into his destiny as a magic dude. But it dwells on how he's just a regular dude who casually makes sex with his nurse. They openly talk about doin' it while they're in the office. I love the 70s.

It's way truer to the comic than any of the other Marvel adaptations of the time. Except Strange is a psychiatrist, not a surgeon. The Ancient One is a blazer-wearing Englishman, not a robe-sporting Japanese guy. Wong gets a suit and tie, too, unlike the comics where he's dressed as a Chinese restaurant waiter. Clea is here, but she's just some girl, not a princess from another dimension. The main villain is Morgan Le Fay from Arthurian lore. And there are no keen magical names like "Vishanti," "Agamotto," and "Cytorrak."

But other than that: just like the comics.

The silliest stuff is Morgan's boss. He's a stop-motion animated effect, and appears to be a talking tree stump. Come to laugh at how he looks, but stay for his pro-wrestling rants.

"Pray to me for death! If your screaming pleases me, I may yet take pity on you!"

The hippest thing about Doc is his house, his "sanctum sanctorum. The comics version has a tilted tic-tac-toe symbol in one window, and here it is in live action! I geeked.

Today, I refer to my Man Room, where I keep all my geek stuff, as my sanctum sanctorum. It is a mystical realm that the women-folk fear to walk. Or try to clean. In this movie, Doc has a ring with the funky sanctum symbol on it. I wish I had that ring.

Doc accepts his destiny, but only after the Ancient One tells him he has to give up "ignorance" and "an easy death."

Doc urgently, dreamily asks, "But what about ." ." . love?"

Then I got the Heart song "What About Love?" stuck in my head. "Don't you want someone to care about you?"

Then the Ancient One says "The universe is love. That you shall have."

Then Doc thinks "Hot dang! Time for some malt liquor!" And he gets right back to makin' it with Clea, because it was the 1970s.


Thank you, 1978.

If Your Screaming Pleases Me, Where Are They Now?

Peter Hooten (Dr. Strange): Nothing since 1990, when he was in some Italian movies. I blame Dormammu.

Jessica Walter (Morgan): Voiced Fran in Dinosaurs.

Anne-Marie Martin (Clea): Dori in the hilarious TV series Sledge Hammer! She wrote the novel Twister with her husband Michael Crichton.

John Mills (Lindmer): Oscar-winner who appeared in classics The Thirty-Nine Steps, Gandhi, and Love Boat before passing into the astral realm.

Clyde Kusatsu (Wong): You've seen him. He's been in everything. You've heard him on Batman Beyond and plenty of other things. Leave the man alone, he's trying to work.

Philip DeGuere (writer, director): Story consultant on Bionic Woman. Still in business as producer of JAG, and NCIS. of Max Headroom. He has done so much for me. I can't thank him enough.

Strange Development

When watching the tape, I was struck with joy when I saw the villain Morgan. It's Jessica Walter, years before she played Lucille Bluth on the funny, awesome Arrested Development.! You can easily see venomous, hilarious Lucille in venomous, hilarious Morgan Le Fay. In these quotes, see if you can tell which ones are Morgan Le Fay, and which ones are Lucille Bluth.

1. "She thinks I'm too critical. That's another fault of hers."
2. "I am still a woman, and the man attracted me."
3. "The little Korean is here and I don't know what to do with him. At least I think it's a him. You've got to strip them down to next to nothing before you can tell."
4. "I would feel the warmth of a man's arms again."
5. "Here's some money. Go see a Star War."
6. "I want to cry so bad. But I don't think I can spare the moisture."
7. "I am Kali, goddess of destruction! I am Lilith, queen of demons! I am Ishtar, bloody Ishtar!"


TV Guide knew where it was at.



 
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