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Dr. Strange TV-Movie (1978)
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2006

Format: TV
By:   Philip DeGuere (writer, director)
Genre:   Comic-book adaptation
Review Date:   December 06, 2006
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

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

A Doctor Strange cartoon movie is 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, because Stan Lee promised in his "Stan's Soapbox" column in Marvel comics 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. Thanks, Stan.

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 1960s. He was a wizard with a Magnum P.I. moustache, 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. Ahem, or so I'm told.

Now I've seen it for the first time since 1978, and it's the kind of fun I was hoping it would be. The story is about Doc's journey into his destiny in the realm of magic. But it dwells on how he's just a regular dude who casually makes sex with his nurse, and they openly talk about doin' it during office hours. 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, so finally he isn't dressed like 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," that has a tilted tic-tac-toe symbol in one window. I geeked for joy seeing it in full live-action. 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.

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

Doc asks "But what about . . . . love?" Then the Ancient One says "The universe is love. That you shall have." Then Doc thinks "Hot damn! Time for some malt liquor!" And he gets right back to makin' it with Clea, because it was the 1970s.

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. See below.

Anne-Marie Martin (Clea): Dori in the hilarious Sledge Hammer! Wrote Twister, the tornado movie. She's the only person ever in a superhero movie who knows how to write.

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): Story consultant on Bionic Woman. (There were stories?) Still in business as producer of JAG, and Navy NCIS. Produced the fool out of Max Headroom.

Strange Development

When watching the tape, I was struck with joy when I saw the villainess Morgan. It's Jessica Walter, 20-plus 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!"

2, 4, and 7 are from Dr. Strange. Ahem. Or so I'm told.

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