Spider-Man Strikes Back (1978, Ron Satlof)

Spider-Man Strikes Back is the international theatrical release of a two-part “Amazing Spider-Man” episode. It’s unclear if any significant changes were made (or insignificant ones). Though I really hope the frequent sequences without much sound are the result of editing and not composer Stu Phillips dropping the ball. Phillips does a Morricone-lite version of his “Spider-Man” theme at one point in Strikes Back (when Spidey’s in an Old West backlot). It earns Phillips some cred.

In fact, the strangest thing about Strikes Back is how comfortable it gets making fun of itself so quick. In the second half (i.e. second episode), Spider-Man Nicholas Hammond, boss Robert F. Simon, and intreprid tabloid reporter and pretty face JoAnna Cameron head to L.A. There’s a long, goofy car chase, with some solid jokes at Simon’s expense, not to mention an international arms dealer who also manages Country Western singers. It’s strange, almost like teleplay writer Robert Janes couldn’t figure out what to do with Spider-Man in L.A.

The Old West backlot fight is in the second half too. Just before Simon shows up in a dune buggy-looking thing. He had to get in on the chase scene too. It’s silly. It amuses.

The first half has Cameron going to New York (from Miami) to get an interview with Spider-Man, which brings her to Simon and Hammond. Hammond’s got his “Spider-Man Revealed” subplot (he’s just been on photographed for the evening news) and then his “my professor is bringing plutonium onto the campus” subplot. They eventually intersect.

Strikes Back has some very “TV” programs, like series regular Chip Fields getting an introduction before guest star Cameron even though it’s a throwaway for Fields. She’s Simon’s suffering assistant and Parker’s confidant. Fields just gets the “hip, urban but demure, Black lady” role. Hammond’s always calming her down from going off on Simon. It’s not a great part, but Fields is still awesome. She can handle the clunky exposition a lot better than anyone else.

Hammond takes a while to get comfortable; he’s got a big “Woe is Spider-Man” monologue–apparently when I’m discussing the “Amazing Spider-Man” TV show, I’ve got to use a lot of quotation marks for descriptive statements–and he doesn’t do great, but he’s earnest enough to become likable. He just can’t do exposition. And writer Janes loves exposition.

Cameron’s always likable, sometimes good. Her part’s way too thin. She also gets the “professional woman” (did it again) subplot only to be in a bikini for the finale. Sure, it’s because international arms dealer Robert Alda is a big creep, but it’s a bad excuse. Cameron is reduced to damsel for the third act, then down to flirtation for the finale. It’s a bad arc.

The second half–the L.A. half–with Hammond and company trying to find Alda and his stolen nuclear bomb falls apart once it runs through novelties. There’s a big special effects finish with Spider-Man skydiving and it’s such a bad composite a laugh track wouldn’t have been inappropriate. Director Satlof is never good but he does appear to care. That care is gone for the action-packed finale.

Steven Anderson, Anna Bloom, and Randy Bowell have a first half subplot–they’re Hammond’s classmates who build the bomb to prove plutonium doesn’t belong on college campuses; they’re all fine. They too do better with exposition than Hammond.

There’s some bad cutting from David Newhouse and Erwin Dumbrille, but it’s hard to imagine it’s their fault. Strikes Back has some big stunts and they’re not ambitiously presented. More enthusiasm in the big stunts might’ve helped things, actually.

Thanks to competent television production, Strikes Back doesn’t entirely strike out. Hammond gets to be likable enough to carry the show (and movie). Simon’s a fun windbag. Cameron’s a good guest star. Alda’s not a great villain, but Strikes Back is so committed to his silly character–with his henchmen, who offer him frequent, unsolicited council (democratic Mr. Bigging)–he doesn’t drag it down too much. It’s hard to imagine anyone else could be better. Just like it’s hard to imagine Strikes Back could be any better. But it could be a lot worse.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Satlof; teleplay by Robert Janes, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; “The Amazing Spider-Man” created by Alvin Boretz; director of photography, Jack Whitman; edited by David Newhouse and Erwin Dumbrille; music by Stu Phillips; produced by Satlof and Janes; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Nicholas Hammond (Spider-Man / Peter Parker), JoAnna Cameron (Gale Hoffman), Robert Alda (Mr. White), Robert F. Simon (J. Jonah Jameson), Chip Fields (Rita Conway), Michael Pataki (Captain Barbera), Randy Powell (Craig), Anne Bloom (Carla), Steven Anderson (Ted), Simon Scott (Dr. Baylor), Sidney Clute (Inspector DeCarlo), and Lawrence P. Casey (Angel).


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