There’s been a lot of talk recently about Marvel Studios making a Dr. Strange movie. Well, to tell the truth they already have and you can watch it now.
Dr. Strange, unlike may other super heroes or villains, is an actual doctor. He begins as a brilliant if dispassionate and greedy surgeon who is happiest when his patients pay for his extraordinary skill.
Doctor Stephen Strange also supports a sinister (for 1963) pencil thin mustache, which lends to his uncaring air. He gets in a car wreck and his hands are damaged to the point where he can no longer operate. Distraught, he seeks out ancient wisdom held in remote Asian mountains by a mysterious figure known only as The Ancient One, an anagram for TAO (a Chinese philosophy known for its inscrutability, look it up then go fall with a tree alone with one clapping hand or something). The Ancient One tells Strange that he is not worthy as he only cares for himself and continues teaching his best pupil, Baron Mordo.
Naturally, Mordo does not have the Ancient One’s best interests in mind, Strange finds out, comic-booky things happen and lo-and-behold Strange becomes a new disciple of The Ancient One. It’s worth seeking an anthology of these early stories, as they are truly weird and fascinating. Ditko does a fantastic job of creating weird and unknown dimensions and creatures.
As time goes on, Dr. Strange eventually becomes the Sorcerer Supreme of our reality, and spends most of his time defending it from other dimensions’ overlords, all of whom seem to think that our reality has the best nightclubs or something. I’m not really sure, but its the same kind of motivation that all the aliens have. Maybe humanity is delicious like candy, maybe their worlds smell like dog poop. Who knows.
The cheifest and worst of these entities is the Dread Dormammu, whose head is shrouded in flame and is perpetually cranky. In his realm lives a woman named Clea, who over time becomes Dr. Strange’s plucky girl sidekick / apprentice / lover / whatever.
Strange has a cloak of levitation which allows him to fly, and a panacea amulet called the Eye of Agamoto which… just look up panacea if you don’t know what it means. Geebus. He also has a stereotypical Asian servant named Wong. He lives in a mansion in New York, because comics.
I tell you all this before I tell you about the movie, because they have nothing to do with each other. I’ve wasted your time. Although frankly I’m surprised that Wikipedia has so many of these characters as entries.
A bit about the movie too. It dates from 1978, and aired on the same network as Bill Bixby’s Incredible Hulk television show and the old Spider-Man TV show. It was meant to be a pilot for an ongoing series but had the bad luck to air on the same night as Roots, and so was doomed to obscurity. We only had three networks in those days, kids, and no DVRs, VCRs cost something like $4,000. Get off my lawn.
Now, however, thanks to internet machines, our series of Tubes are filled with You. And here we go.
The movie begins promisingly enough, with spooky music and creepy imagery. A mysterious figure speaks from flame and darkness to address Jessica Walters! as Morgan Le Fey (who interestingly was not a Marvel villain at this time). The nameless one speaks and instructs Jessica Walters to seek out revenge for 500 years of failure, revenge against one who appears to be playing tic-tac-toe by himself in a loft somewhere. OK, so the spooky imagery has already been kind of ruined for me by the fact that the “symbol of light” is just a sloppily drawn tic-tac-toe by an older guy named Lindmer who’s about to pass on his power to a successor.
No Ancient One, just some nutter playing games with himself. Maybe they’re mystic symbols. Mystic tic-tac-toe.
The nameless one tells Morgan that she has three days (not five) to get the ring that symbolizes that power has been passed on. I’m getting a Green Lantern vibe here. Ring? What ring?
The spooky music ends and the porn-groove starts. This movie is looking up.
Wong comes home and seeks his master. Wong in this case is played by beloved Japanese-Hawaiian-American “we need an Asian here” character actor Clyde Kusatsu. You may remember him as Admiral Nakamura in Star Trek TNG (at least he was promoted).
Wong gets educated by Lindmer about Morgan. Lindmer knows she’s coming. Wong rather unenthusastically says that he’d give his life to save Lindmer then runs off to find Stephen Strange, who Lindmer has known for years. We learn that Dr. Strange is wearing a ring, and that he’s a ladies man among the nurses. His mustache isn’t so sinister, as porny. Hell, it’s 1978 and all mustaches were porny then. Don’t judge you hipster freaks.
Dr. Strange is not a surgeon in this, though he does work in a hospital. Turns out he’s a psychologist and therapist of some kind. He also pushes sleeping pills on alcoholics.
Jessica Walters then takes a taxi through New York because that’s what ancient evil witches do. Then to the strains of a really bad King Crimson knockoff band, she possesses a young woman who is only interested in books. The young woman then wanders aimlessly for a bit as Lindmer totally checks out Jessica Walters. The young woman walks up to the daydreaming Lindmer and shoves him off a bridge. No magic or whammy or anything, she just shoved the most powerful magician in the world off a bridge. To his credit though he walks it off and applies the Magic Healing Hands of Ben-Gay to the small of his back and feels fine.
The young woman though seems a bit upset and goes home to watch cop dramas on her 12” CRT TV. That’s what we had then. It sucked. The 21st Century is so much better, TV wise.
Lindmer goes home and talks to Wong. Turns out that the young woman is an Innocent and was possessed. Somehow this made her more powerful or something. Lindmer sketches a picture of her and deduces she’s a student.
Dr. Stange wanders through the Psychiatric Ward of the hospital where all the patients are sleeping and turns off their TV. He’s a dick that way. What if the TV was to drown out drugged up alcoholic’s snores or something?
Morgan haunts the young woman’s dreams for a bit, which is actually pretty cool as an idea; that possession screws you up badly. If only the music were better and not so open-stage night at the roadhouse.
She ends up in the Hospital and is checked out by Dr. Strange, who feels up her head for… psychiatric reasons? What kind of Dr. is he? Lindmer is told by Wong (a “student and friend, not a servant” where the woman is. Jessica Walters scopes out Dr. Strange and vanishes.
Later the young woman queues up with other crazy people for drugs at the hospital, but wisely won’t take her dose. Dr. Strange takes her from the queue to the stirring strains of daytime soap opera music, which thankfully is coming from a daytime soap opera.
Lindmer shows up at the hospital and goes all Obi-Wan on the admitting nurses to gain entry.
He approaches Dr. Strange who asks “What can you tell me about her?” We then get into a third grade exchange, “what can you tell ME about her?” “I asked first!” “I asked infinity!”
Strange doesn’t seem to recognize Lindmer, and gets a creepy vibe from him. Turns out Lindmer is the man of his dreams. Strange and Clea (we finally learn her name) have some kind of psychic -bond, which Strange tells us is exactly what it sounds like. He dreamt of her shoving Lindmer off the bridge. SPOOKY! Lindmer hits Strange up for a date and shakes his hand, which gets all glowing to more porn-groove music.
Did… did Lindmer just impregnate Strange with magic?
So a rival doctor at the hospital does up Clea (who doesn’t want to sleep) and Dr. Strange leaves the hospital to be stared at longingly by Morgan Le Fey who uses her magical powers to… try to… make him take a bus? I’m not really sure what happens here. Strange stops in at Lindmer’s house, the interior of which suddenly looks like Fred Flinstone’s home because… you know, I’m done guessing why in this film.
Lindmer pockets Strange’s ring, they talk about his parents for a bit, and then Lindmer does some kind of whammy on the ring.
And thus begins Dr Strange’s journey into the Astral Planes, where he will try to free Clea’s tortured mind from the Dread Dormammu! A beautiful pagent of special effects and wizardry that puts all else to shame!
Well… a bit. Maybe not so much.
From here on out there are magics, and demons, and otherworldly excitement. It’s interspersed with Force-Lightning, an inappropriate relationship (“Can I get you anything?” “I’d love a hot bath.” “How about a cold beer?”) and Jessica Walters going full on Disney Sorceress. Well… a bit.
Look, I’m not going to lie. This movie is far less than what we can do today. It’s low budget, and cheesy, and kinda but not quite a little porny. Jessica Walter’s seduction of Strange is pretty good though, but that’s her not the story.
There are some good bits, and most of them are Jessica Walters talking to demons. It’s worth an evening’s watch.