Jump Cuts: “Dr. Strange” (1978)

Dr. Strange (Peter Hooten) battles to free Lindmer (John Mills) from some sticky supernatural trap.

“Jump Cuts” reveals the thoughts that swirl through my head as I watch famous (or infamous) movies. This time it’s Dr. Strange, the 1978 TV movie adaptation of the beloved Marvel Comics character that did not make waves the way it should have. (It did get hit hard in the ratings by a re-airing of the famed mini-series Roots.) I never got the chance to see it when it aired in the Boston area because it was shown late and pre-empted by another program. Back in the days of TV rabbit ears when I had a curfew as a tater tot, I could not stay up to see if the signal came through on the CBS affiliate in Rhode Island. I finally saw the movie on Syfy (then Sci-Fi) in 1998, and Shout! Factory reissued it last fall with a souped up DVD transfer. Watching it again was both fun and nostalgic in an odd way. It may not be a classic for the ages, but my inner child digs it.

1. Peter Hooten was handsome, charming, and had magnetic eyes. He would’ve made a charismatic Dr. Strange had there been a series, which they were clearly trying to set up.

2. Many moons before she made us laugh on Arrested Development, Jessica Walter played super sexy and sinister sorcerer Morgan LeFay. She can cast a spell over me anytime. And she was badass.

3. Anne-Marie Martin (aka Eddie Benton) played Strange’s love interest and damsel in distress Clea. This was years before she co-starred on Sledge Hammer!, a beloved cult comedy series from the ’80s in which appeared as Dori Doreau, the intelligent partner and foil to the irrational, Dirty Harry-like anti-hero portrayed by David Rasche.

Morgan LeFay (Jessica Walter) gets ready to magically subdue one of her enemies.

4. The producers clearly took some artistic liberties with the source material. Rather than portrayed as an arrogant surgeon who becomes humbled, Dr. Stephen Strange is a womanizing psychiatrist who cares deeply for his patients, and he does not seek out The Ancient One for help. There is no Ancient One, and he has had no accident that damages his hands. Instead, a elderly and less imposing sorcerer named Lindmer (Oscar winner John Mills) seeks out Strange to teach him his magical secrets so he may take over in his stead and help defeat Morgan LeFay, who must help The Nameless One invade our world from the Fourth Dimension. Strange already has latent powers inherited from his late father. Well, they only had 90 minutes to cram this origin story in, so what are you gonna do.

5. The carved oak elements in Lindmer’s Greenwich Village Sanctum Sanctorum are cool, but the excess stucco makes me wonder what the building faults are. Is it strong enough to withstand a major demonic infestation?

6. First date scenario. A horny Dr. Strange stepping in from the rain: “I’d like a hot bath.” A judicious Clea: “How about settling for a cold beer?” Touché.

7. Peter Hooten got to kiss Jessica Walters and Anne-Marie Martin. Lucky bastard. Three years later he did a movie called Fantasies with Bo Derek.

8. Paul Chihara composed some typically ‘70s orchestral stuff here, but he also conjured plenty of eerie, Goblin-like synths and electric guitar that made for great accompaniment for the weirder moments. I wish this score was available on CD or Spotify.

9. Chihara has had a long and varied career, composing for film and TV as well as orchestras and small classical ensembles. He also scored the acclaimed TV drama China Beach.

10. Some delicious cleavage on display here. Sorry, I had to go there. My younger self, I mean. Yeah, him.

11. If you watch this on a big screen TV (unlike the smaller, lower res units we had back in the day) you can make out a neon bar sign appropriate for the West Village: “The Gay Caballero”. Someone had a sense of humor. Or wanted to see what they could get away with.

12. Lindmer uses Obi Wan’s Jedi mind tricks on hospital staff. Sneaky!

13. Speaking of which… In this movie, a young man with latent powers has three days to learn from an ancient wizard and untap his hidden potential so he can defeat a great evil. Hey! This was two years before The Empire Strikes Back!

This advertising is more appropriate for “Conan”.

14. Dr. Strange learns how to use his powers too fast. I mean, way too fast. (Once again, 90-minute TV movie from the ’70s.) Did I say too fast?

15. The evil supernatural knight was cool, but he was dispatched way too easily. No fun.

16. They did the best with the visual effects that they could at the time. Actually, those power blasts shooting out of the characters’ hands were pretty good, but they were accompanied with little action or grand gestures. There could’ve been a bit more gravitas, you know?

17. The cape that Morgan gives Dr. Strange when she seduces him is all right, although the chinsy bling is a bit much. However, the outfit that our hero inherits from Lindmer at the end is not worthy of Dr. Strange or Marvel. Maybe DC. Definitely Charlton.

The beguiling beauty of Clea (Anne-Marie Martin).

18. I wish Wong got to kick more ass and not come off as Lindmer’s butler and chef who happens to wield a little power.

19. The scene where Dr. Strange saves Clea in the Fourth Dimension combines the visual style of the “Can You Read My Mind?” sequence from the first Superman movie with the kaleidoscopic credits from the original Doctor Who series. Interesting to note: This aired over three months before Superman was released.

20. Famous Dr. Strange catchphrases like “By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!” and “By the Vapors of the Vishanti!” remained wisely unuttered in this version. It would have been too much for the time and for this particular telling of the story. There is also no mention of the title Sorcerer Supreme.

21. Young people who witnessed the spectacle of the new Dr. Strange movie with Benedict Cumberbatch (which I enjoyed immensely) probably won’t appreciate this version. I still think it was the best Marvel series adaptation of its era; better than the short-lived but well-intentioned Amazing Spider-Man, the long-running and fun Incredible Hulk, and the ridiculous Captain America TV movies.

22. Following Dr. Strange, writer-director Philip DeGuere worked as a writer and producer on series including JAG, Simon & Simon, and the ’80s incarnation of The Twilight Zone. He also created the Air America series in the late ’80s starring Lorenzo Lamas.

One Response

  1. PiercingMetal Ken

    These films while quite hokey by today’s standards were still great to the geeks of the time. Well, I am not too sure about the “Spider-Man” series and those “Captain America” films but “Incredible Hulk” was generally fun and I did enjoy “Doctor Strange”. Nicely done.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.