blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Spider-Man: Night of the Clones and Escort to Danger (1978, Fernando Lamas and Dennis Donnelly)

Night of the Clones and Escort to Danger is a strange way to watch a couple episodes of “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Without anywhere near enough episodes for syndication, the show’s producers packaged a couple episodes together so they would have TV movies for syndication. Well, TV movie length, anyway. Some of these duets would come with newly shot footage to tie the episodes together; not so for Clones and Escort. One episode ends, the next begins. Seemingly the next day?

Night ends at a costume ball for the not-Nobel Prize committee; Danger begins with Robert F. Simon chastising Nicholas Hammond for spending the whole night at a party with a glamorous movie star and not getting any pictures. The unseen and in the compilation seems potentially more interesting than the rest of it. In addition to no connective tissue between the first and second halves of Clones and Escort, there’s also no character development. In the first half, Simon is mentoring Hammond. In the second half, Simon is pissed at Hammond (presumably about the movie star thing, but there’s lots more as the episode—sorry, half—progresses). Cop Michael Pataki is down on Hammond the first half, then turns around and defends him twice in the second. But it also ends up being a not-bad way to watch “Spider-Man,” if only because you can see things improving.

In particular, whiny know-it-all Hammond becomes far more likable in the second half. The first half has him puppy-dogging around mad scientist Lloyd Bochner, who’s perfected cloning and gets to play two parts. Bochner’s evil clone taking over happens pretty early on, so it’s hard to know how Bochner would be as the “good” guy. He’s occasionally camping as the villain, but he’s got his moments. He’s particularly terrifying when the Mr. Hyde version targets Morgan Fairchild, who grew up with Bochner Prime as a surrogate father.

Fairchild’s atrocious. Almost comically. She gets through the part—and the writing (script credit to John W. Bloch is terrible)—but she’s really bad. It’s a complicated bad too. First, she’s playing Karl Swenson’s granddaughter and the de facto event coordinator for the not-Nobel Committee. They’ve looked Bochner over for five years because they thought his cloning experiments would end with him cloning an evil version of himself. The evil Bochner is going to kill them all in retribution, including Fairchild. It’s unclear. Once Bochner attacks her and locks her and Spider-Man in an abandoned building’s still-working bank vault, we get much less of his perspective.

At least until he clones himself another Hammond, who hates regular Hammond, which is hilarious, and makes Hammond more sympathetic, carrying over to the second episode. But Hammond’s also sympathetic because Fairchild—after being saved by Spider-Man—capes for Bochner, even as the police investigate. She’s sure it’s all a misunderstanding, and Spider-Man… chased her into the vault. It’s a nonsensical part with lousy writing. There’s nothing Fairchild could do. But she’s still pretty bad.

In fact, her dialogue seems to be written for someone with a Swedish accent. It’s so strange.

Or maybe it’s just worse than it seems.

Danger is all about Hammond getting involved with a South American dissident BarBara Luna’s attempt to avenge herself (and her recently deceased displaced despot brother) on the new democratic president, played by Alejandro Rey. Rey’s in New York because his Stanford coed daughter (Madeleine Stowe) wants to be the next Miss Galaxy. Luna wants their country—Tavilia—to return to a dictatorship under her rule and has hired infamous international assassin Oddjob (no, really, it’s Harold Sakata, and he’s got a hat thing going) to kidnap Stowe to force Rey to abdicate. Not sure it’s how transfers of power work, but it does turn out no one really knows how those work.

“Spider-Man” aged well thanks to the world being so much stupider than anyone thought back in the late seventies.


Can Hammond save Stowe in time? It makes for a decent enough episode—with a phenomenal car chase (the stunt drivers)–primarily thanks to the cast. Rey’s not good, but he’s earnest and sympathetic. Ditto Stowe (who somehow gets even less to do than Fairchild). And Pataki’s fun. Sakata and sidekick assassin Bob Minor aren’t great (Minor’s better than Sakata), but it’s fine. It’s a “Spider-Man” show; it’s fine. And Hammond’s likable. After seeing him get shit for trying to save Fairchild’s life (and never getting thanked), having him get positive reinforcement ain’t bad.

Plus, Chip Fields gets more to do in the second half. She’s in the first episode a little—sort of taking over Fairchild’s screen time for the conclusion (Fairchild seems miserable in the episode, and her negative chemistry with Hammond is awkward to watch)—but then in the second, she and Hammond get to do hijinks. She’s Simon’s assistant, and outside some “I get to give him sass because affirmative action” framing, she’s a delight. And she’s fun with Hammond.

I’m curious to see how these compilations work when the second episode isn’t such a noticeable improvement, making for a bullish viewing experience, but Clones and Escort is way more successful than it ought to be. Especially since the show reused footage between the episodes (the not-Nobel hotel is the same as Rey’s hotel, with no one remembering they’d been there yesterday for another episode). Lots of reused Spider-Man stunt footage too. Lots. And editors John A. Barton and Thomas Fries—despite that fantastic car chase—are lost with fight scenes. They misapply good ideas. It’s very frustrating.

But, by the end of a very eventful week for Hammond, it’s not bad.

Oh, also—Irene Tedrow as Aunt May (there was an Uncle Max in CBS’s Marvel Television Universe, but no mention of Uncle Ben, foreshadowing the MCU, no doubt). Tedrow’s replacing Jeff Donnell from the pilot movie, and, well, imagining growing up with Tedrow… Hammond’s whiny, know-it-all persona makes sense. So, bad, but only from a particular point of view.

Kind of like the rest of it.

2 responses to “Spider-Man: Night of the Clones and Escort to Danger (1978, Fernando Lamas and Dennis Donnelly)”

  1. I wish these early Spider-man series/movies was more readily available everywhere. Same with the 70’s Doctor Strange movie.
    This screen absence is kinda weird given how the MCU has exploded in recent years, which leaves me wondering if Marvel is ashamed of its past somehow.

    1. There’s no good answer on the Spider-Man, but Dr. Strange has a Blu-ray from Shout! and the Captain America duet were/are on Tubi and other places like that. I think (without any evidence) the Spider-Man is tied up with Sony somehow because they disappeared right before the first Raimi movie. Right before that (late 90s) they were on Sci-Fi and had home video releases… Marvel’s so indifferent to protecting the copyright there are multiple copies up on, some in relatively good quality.

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