"But what about love?" -- Doctor Strange
Way before Benedict Cumberbatched in a live-action Dr. Strange movie, Doc was in a two-hour movie on CBS, joining Spider-Man, Hulk, and Captain America in Marvel Comics' first age of live-action. I have it on an archaic contraption called a "video tape."
When it came on, one time and never again, in 1978, I thought the movie 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 Stan didn't tell me was that I would have to wait 22 years until X-Men.
The movie was consigned to bootleg tape tables at sci-fi conventions, but now it's on sale for real.
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 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. The way-out cosmic stories by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner will blow your mind.
Now I have seen this movie 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 using dude, but it dwells on how he's just a regular 1970s guy with a Caucasian fro and paintbrush mustache, and he and his nurse casually talk, in public, about making whoopie.
It is more true to the comic book than any of the other Marvel adaptations of the time. That's a very low bar, but it counts.
Strange's swingin' 70s TV costume is not much like the comics, but it is purple and sports a huge gold star. I thought there was no way his costume could be MORE 70s, but this movie proved me incorrect.
Strange is a psychiatrist, not a surgeon.
The Ancient One is a blazer-wearing Englishman, not a robed Japanese restaurant server. Wong gets a suit and tie, too, which is nice.
Clea is here, but she's just some girl, not a princess from another dimension.
But other than that: exactly like the comics.
There are zero keen magical words like Vishanti, Agamotto, and Cytorrak. I have a keen word for that: RIDICULOUS.
The villain is Morgan Le Fay from Arthurian lore. She is played by Jessica Walter, who, many eons later, is Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development and Malory Archer in Archer. In this movie, she is playing those characters 25 years early. So much so that I whipped up a list of
quotes from all three.
The demon lord who is Morgan's supervisor is a talking stop-motion tree stump with glowing eyeballs. He talks like a pro wrestler, and that is excellent.
"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!
It is only proper for those of us who have a place for our stuff to call it a Sanctum Sanctorum. For me, it is an arcane realm that none dare walk, or try to clean. In this movie, Doc has a ring with the funky sanctum symbol on it. I could not handle it.
Then the Ancient One tells Doc he has to give up "ignorance and an easy death."
Strange says sure, not being ignorant is fine. Wait, what was that about death? (He doesn't actually say this.)
What he does say is even better.
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? What about LOOOO-OOOOOVE? Don't let it slip away.
Then the Ancient One says "The universe is love. That you shall have."
Then I wish Doc said, "Awwww yeah! Time for some smooth malt liquor!" 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): She is a national treasure. Behold her on Arrested Development and Archer.
Anne-Marie Martin (Clea): Dori in the hilarious Sledge Hammer! She wrote the novel that the movie Twister was based on, with 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 on Max Headroom, Whiz Kids, Simon and Simon and NCIS. He has done so much for me. I can not thank him enough.