Dr. Strange, 1978.
Directed by Philip DeGuere
Starring Peter Hooten, Jessica Walter, Clyde Kusatsu and John Mills.
When evil being The Ancient One sends sinister sorceress Morgan LeFay to Earth to destroy the Sorcerer Supreme, the long held sorcerer must train brilliant surgeon Stephen Strange as his successor to fight the darkness…
Almost as if they planned it this way, by some cosmic fate from the astral plane, the first Dr. Strange movie has at long last arrived on DVD, after being released briefly on VHS in the 80’s and 90’s. What’s that? You didn’t even know there *was* an original adaptation of Marvel’s strangest comic? Honestly, that’s not a surprise; it’s only really thanks to the recent Benedict Cumberbatch-starring MCU movie, much like many of Marvel’s less famous heroes, that the Sorcerer Supreme is being put on the map, but remember – Marvel have form for adapting their heroes for TV during the 70’s especially. You’ve all seen Bill Bixby’s The Incredible Hulk, right? Dr. Strange here was an attempt for which lightning didn’t strike twice.
And you know what? That’s a shame, on the evidence of this, because for a 70’s superhero take, its not half bad. The extremely good DVD restoration absolutely helps, for sure; gone is the grainy, made for TV movie look you’d have found on the VHS, replaced with a sheen which belies the dated effects and strong whiff of ham which radiates from the whole thing. Philip DeGuere’s script and direction are just about as 70’s as you could possibly imagine, but there’s now a serious retro charm to the whole thing which makes it’s low-budget preposterousness enjoyable. That and a young Jessica “Lucille Bluth” Walter vamping it up as truly hapless supervillainess Morgan LeFay (one of her main power demonstrations is making a cat walk into a force field) and none other than British acting legend Sir John Mills as the typical old sorcerer sage – even he has a certainly 70’s ‘fly’ about him at times!
Speaking of fly, Peter Hooten… oh boy. If ever you think (as I have) that Cumberbatch has been miscast in the most recent Marvel film, you just need to watch Hooten’s hilariously Motown-era performance as Stephen Strange. Replete with porn star tache and disco-era light afro, he at times quite literally struts through the movie, saying lines as if someone is telepathically making him say them, always with a slight glint in the eye and smile on the lips. He’s objectively terrible, unable to get across an ounce of Strange’s arrogance, but he’s so fun, and he’s clearly *having fun*. As you will be, even with some laughable set pieces (Walter pushing Mills off a bridge is hilarious) or dodgy effects (though Strange’s tumble through the astral plane is pretty decent), you’ve got a suitably silly story and some funky 70’s soundtrack music from Paul Chihara to carry you though.
Reputedly, Dr. Strange is one Stan Lee’s most pleasant comic to film translations of the pre-MCU dark ages, and you can see why. While it’s not remotely a good adaptation of the source material, with DeGuere’s codswallop script more interested in occult sorcery than holding true to the character, and it’s absolutely a one-hour story stretched to 90 minutes, it’s got some swing. Camp and retro, over the top, and painfully of its day, nonetheless it’s a lark worth checking out if you’ve any interest in obscure films or older comic-book movie adaptations, especially given it looks surprisingly good restored on DVD.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★