blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Spider-Man: Photo Finish and Matter of State (1979, Tony Ganz and Larry Stewart)

I’d love to know the logic behind the episode arrangement in Photo Finish and Matter of State. Another “Amazing Spider-Man” compilation movie again puts the later episode first; while the series presumably didn’t have much in the way of season-long character arcs, it’s peculiar to see Nicholas Hammond and Ellen Bry’s relationship rewind in the second half. The movie has one an adjoining scene to tie the two together—they got Hammond and Chip Fields back, though not the sets—but the actual adjoining scene would be one explaining why Hammond and Bry went from near onscreen canoodling to asking their friends if the other one likes them in the second half. Well, practically.

The two episodes do share some similar themes. They’re about Peter Parker, News Man, which is how he describes himself throughout Photo Finish. It gets so gendered Robert F. Simon makes sure to explain—in 1979, mind—he supports “newspaper people,” not just news men. Hammond is covering a boring rare coin purchasing story—Geoffrey Lewis is apparently friends with Simon, which is funny on its own—when someone robs Lewis. Besides being about the freedom of the press, Finish and Matter are about how Hammond—despite his very obvious super-strength and accelerated healing powers—can be knocked unconscious like everyone else. Each episode’s plot depends on it. In the first half, I initially thought he was faking. By the second, I realized he gets the invulnerability from the suit.

Speaking of the suit… Hammond spends much of Finish in jail for contempt of court, yet he’s always changing into Spider-Man to bend the bars and go do adventures. Should we be asking where he keeps the suit?

It turns out Hammond’s passively participating in a frame-up—someone took a picture with his camera when he was unconscious, framing Lewis’s ex-wife Jennifer Billingsley for the robbery. The known villains are Kenneth O'Brien and Milt Kogan, playing a TV version of the Enforcers (Kogan’s the Ox, and I suppose O’Brien’s Fancy Dan, but they’d want to change it to make it more Irish). O’Brien plays his part like he’s auditioning for Lucky the Leprechaun’s evil brother.

Can Hammond unravel the mystery while staying ahead of the bad guys—who learn his secret identity (don’t worry, it goes nowhere)—and copper Charles Haid?

Obviously; there’s a whole other episode after the first one.

The second half has Bry in trouble; she snaps a picture of international bad guy Nicolas Coster while he’s doing espionage at the airport. He sends his goons, Michael Santiago and James Lemp, after her to get the camera. Then the film, then the negatives, then they’ve got to go kill her. Coster has to explain things multiple times, but it also pads out the runtime to a full episode.

Otherwise, it’s mostly just Hammond trying to get Simon (and Fields) to agree Bry deserves not to be murdered even if she does work at the rival newspaper. It’s also another episode where Fields and Hammond have much more potential romantic energy than Hammond and Bry, only for Fields to get dumped for the second half. And, given the events of the first episode, it introduces a strange, almost jealous vibe?

There are some great stunts—the finale has Hammond’s stunt man climbing the Empire State Building for an action scene (based on reused stock footage, both episodes also take place mostly around Times Square, Los Angeles County)—and Ganz’s direction of Photo Finish is downright good. Not so for Stewart’s direction on the second half, which struggles towards middling for a late seventies action show.

Lewis is a good guest star in the first half, something the second is sorely missing. The target demographic can’t pay attention long enough for Coster to explain all his international espionage stuff, so instead, it’s Hammond and Bry charmlessly bickering, which you’d also think the target demographic wouldn’t be interested in. Yet. Though trying to imagine what went so wrong between the two episodes for Hammond and Bry to be so awkward after seeing each other naked does keep the neurons firing while the movie’s not encouraging them.

The first half isn’t good but is fine. The second half isn’t fine. They really needed to finish with the better episodes.

But, again, Ganz. Ganz’s direction is excellent. Oh, and Billingsley is often quite good. Something’s very wrong with the editing on her scenes, or maybe they had to do a lot of takes, but she’s better than the show needs. Well, you’d think, but then the second half shows what happens when the show’s in need.


Ship Fields and Hammond. Always.

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