Dr. Strange (1978)
I seriously doubt that anyone would contest the statement that the MCU, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the most successful franchise in the history of film. Hailed as some of the best examples of movies from critical and financial perspectives it is the juggernaut that is likely to continue its domination for the foreseeable future. What many fans of the MCU may not realize is back in the seventies the traditional broadcast networks attempted to bring the pages of Marvel Comics to life on television. Considering the budget for these made for television movies was less than what is spent at the craft services table for Danishes and coffee on a typical MCU production, making certain allowances necessary for issues about the quality of the efforts. Since the latest offering for the most recent phase of the MCU is ‘Dr. Strange’, it should come as no surprise that 1978 made for television movie of the same name would achieve a resurrection. The good news here is the distributor responsible for the rerelease is Shout Factor. They have a stellar reputation for sparking feelings of nostalgia with their catalog of DVDs. They are the best source for complete series of beloved vintage TV series submitting them to a rigorous remastering process before offering them to the public. There been other examples of Marvel comics turned into TV movies that include ‘Spiderman,' ‘Captain America ‘and even a version of ‘Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’. There is a consensus among aficionados of the 70s classics that the ‘Dr. Strange’ movie was among the best, at least from production standards common for the time. Anyone who has been a fan of action-oriented television series of the time and immediately realizes an undeniable similarity to the look and feel of this film. Many of the technical crew owes a considerable portion of their resumes to some of the most popular shows at this period. The director, Philip DeGuere Jr. was involved in popular shows that encompassed such favorites as ‘Simon & Simon,' ‘the Twilight Zone’ and ‘JAG.' Heavily influencing the production were the pervading standards in use at that time. This included the blocking of the shots, camera angles, and the general attitude of the actors in portraying their roles.
Understandably, the special effects are extremely primitive especially by today’s standards. In the spirit of full disclosure, I routinely watched these shows during my teens and twenties, and such exposure does allow me to be less critical in my current appraisal of this film especially in the way the film looked. This understanding allowed me to concentrate on how well the construction of the story and whether or not it captures the spirit of the comic book allowing for the contextual differences necessary for television. If your mom and fan of the MCU I do recommend watching this film if nothing else some historical context of what it took to bring the character to a live-action presentation. To thoroughly enjoy this movie by sincerest advice is to deactivate the most critical portions of your mind which are of particular importance for any impulse you might have compared the details of this film to what is considered canon in the modern comics in the MCU. One of the most obvious features will be apparent from the very first time you meet Dr. Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten), is not the self-centered, narcissistic world renowned surgeon used to but a psychiatric resident in New York City public hospital, if anything cares too much about his patients. There was a lot of controversy over the testing of the Caucasian actress to play the old Sorcerer Supreme. In this rendition, the use of that title was avoided, but the abilities inherent in the position are wielded by Mr. Lindmer (John Mills), who is considered old and preparing to pass the mantle of his position to the next generation. Within the context of this story, ‘old’ is a distinguished ran apparently in his late 50s or early 60s, although some mention Is made of magic allowing this most proficient practitioner to extend the lives significantly. This is the case in the most visible antagonist of the story the evil sorceress, Morgan LeFay (Jessica Walter). If you have seen any TV show from the 70s and it called for a character of Asian descent that it was certain that a considerable number of those parts were filled by popular ethnic character actor Clyde Kusatsu. Besides, over 20 years of voice work including many of animated interpretations of comic books, Mr. Kusatsu has made appearances in a significant number of television series and movies. Among his most notable credits is a recurring role on space ‘Magnum, P.I.’. In this film, he plays Wong, friend the disciple of the current sorcerer supreme. Some advocates of political correctness might chafe at his constant use of the term ‘Master’ when addressing the sorcerer.
An unnamed demon in the depths of hell as an assignment for one of the most helpful sorceresses of evil, Morgan LeFay that is necessary for him to retain his power. In three days the Sorcerer Supreme, his powers waning with age must pass the mantle of his abilities to a new chosen one. As he tells Wong, the person can be identified by the ring that he wears, it possesses the same for intersecting lines that are evident in the windows of the sanctum sanctorum. There’s one thing about a TV movie from this period, with the removal of commercial breaks there is building 90 minutes to tell the story of pacing was crucial next position frequently provided at an accelerated rate. Dr. Strange was shown wearing that identifying ring. Dr. Strange was psychiatric resident on call. Once it is established that he is an intrinsically nice guy that is going to get in trouble with his superiors to put the needs of his patients first, the scene ships to the prime motivator for the story. Morgan is determined to kill Lindner while his powers of diminishing and before he can locate his successor. His personal protective wards are too efficient to allow confrontation, so Morgan possesses the body of a young woman, Clea Lake (Eddie Benton), who has the misfortune to be just passing the scene. With the wrong personalities subjugated to Morgan’s young woman approaches Lindner and pushes him off of an overpass to the street below. It manages to survive and heal his injuries as noted by his hand Morgan a natural shade of yellow. And much of this film the use of magic is depicted by the supposition of glowing colors over the actors. Projected bolts of magical origin very striking resemblance to futuristic laser beams used in many science fiction stories of the time.
Lindner is alive and Morgan’s plans have foiled but unfortunately, Ms. Lake has lasting psychological damage. She winds up in the emergency room of the hospital Dr. Strange is on call. Emergency room nurse decides that this is a need for a psychiatric consult, so she calls Dr. Strange. The previous night Strange had a dream in which he witnessed the attempted assassination and saw the faces of Morgan and Clea. Uncertain of the details he realizes that he has some connection to the young woman and besides, the doctor has a bit of a reputation with the ladies and she is a very attractive young woman. She’s afraid of going to sleep because of how terrifying the dreams of been so he orders her to stay overnight for observation and for medication to be withheld. Stranger’s superior is fed up with his refusal to follow administrative protocols over writing his orders and giving the patient a tranquilizer causing her to go to sleep. She winds up in a coma, and Dr. Strange is summoned to the Bleecker Street house of Lindner. Once there he is told that his father was once an associate of the sorcerer and never in Stephen was young they recognized in him great ability in the Mystic Arts. At that early age, his father entrusted the ring to his 18-year-old son. It would serve to identify him this the correct time. Initially, Stephen refuses to accept the idea, but even he finds out that Clea has fallen into a coma return to the home for advice. The only way to save her is to enter a higher plane of consciousness, find her in her dream, and pull her back to reality.
This film is exceptionally thick and exposition with only a relatively brief about a time afforded to the actual supernatural battles. It is not until the very end when Stephen is given some of the familiar accouterments of his comic book persona at the very end is given a jumpsuit with an exploding star emblem on the chest. It was felt that the demonic imagery he is sporting the comics would be too much for the television audience. The acting is on par with any of the popular TV shows of the 70s although modern audiences the performances will come off as a bit contrived. The special effects are understandably primitive you can readily identify the map lines for the imagery was overlaid on the frames of the film. Fortunately, this must’ve come from a 35mm original print since the video was pristine and far better than any copy of it I’ve ever seen. I had a VHS tape made from a rerun of the movie and also obtained a complete video file downloaded from online. Typical of Shout Factory the video and audio have been restored to appointment a far exceed anything you remember on television. Before you watch the current incarnation of the Sorcerer Supreme, try taking a little journey through a temporal portal and watch this variation of the story