Tag Archives: Steve Ditko

Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge (1979, Don McDougall)

Some of The Dragon’s Challenge’s problems are because it’s a TV two-parter stuck together then packaged as a theatrical. An overseas theatrical, but still a theatrical feature. The action in the first half takes place in New York, with some cuts to villain Richard Erdman making plans. He needs to get a Chinese official out of the way so he can build a steel plant.

When the Chinese official (Benson Fong) heads to New York, Erdman sends touch guy Hagan Beggs after him. Better to assassinate him in New York than Hong Kong.

Except Fong’s in New York with a purpose–get help from Robert F. Simon and the Daily Bugle. Enter Nicholas Hammond and, pretty quickly, Spider-Man. Fong’s got a niece, played by Rosalind Chao, who thinks Hammond’s a coward for running off. Little does she know he’s running off to change into his Spider-Man outfit and save the day.

The second half takes place in Hong Kong. Much of it shot in Hong Kong. When the Spider-Man stuntman is dangling alongside a huge Hong Kong skyscraper, Dragon’s Challenge delivers on something it hadn’t really been serious about. Even though director McDougall is clearly thrilled to be shooting on location in Hong Kong, nothing in Lionel E. Siegel’s teleplay sets anything up for Spider-Man. It doesn’t even set anything up for Nicholas Hammond. The Hong Kong stuff is entirely about the villains hunting Hammond, Chao, and soon-to-be government witness John Milford. Until they get attacked, however, it’s a travelogue with this odd trio.

Hammond and Chao have no chemistry. It’s Hammond’s fault. He ignores Chao in the first half, then condescends in the second. It’s because he’s sweet on her, it turns out. Milford’s fine, but not any fun. The travelogue still can get away with it because it turns out they’re on location.

There’s a car chase in Hong Kong and then a helicopter chase. Oh, and a boat chase. And Spider-Man lets the bad guys get away. For maybe the second time in Dragon’s Challenge. Hammond makes some bad superhero decisions throughout.

Series regulars Chip Fields and Ellen Bry don’t get anything to do and barely make an impression. Particularly Bry. Even though she and Hammond get a very romantic setup–using New York location shots–they don’t have anything going on in Dragon’s Challenge. Mostly because Hammond’s weird subplot about Chao not liking him infests the first half. It’s silly.

Chao’s good. She’s got lousy material and no energy from Hammond but she’s a great guest star. Simon’s got some strong scenes with Fong. Beggs is a fine bad guy, even if he is an idiot who whines about his inability to plot assassinations. It’s more amusing than when Hammond mopes about Chao thinking he’s a coward. Those scenes are just awful.

Hammond’s part in Dragon’s Challenge is thin. His job is to run out and become Spider-Man then have no excuse when Spider-Man gets done so everyone is an idiot for not realizing the obvious.

It’s nice to see Fields, even if it’s only for a few scenes.

Fine editing from Erwin Dumbrille and Fred Roth.

The Dragon’s Challenge has got some decent pieces and it’s far from unbearable; it’s still closer to unbearable than any good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Don McDougall; teleplay by Lionel E. Siegel, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; “The Amazing Spider-Man” created by Alvin Boretz; director of photography, Vincent A. Martinelli; edited by Erwin Dumbrille and Fred Roth; music by Dana Kaproff; produced by Siegel; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Nicholas Hammond (Spider-Man / Peter Parker), Robert F. Simon (J. Jonah Jameson), Chip Fields (Rita Conway), Ellen Bry (Julie Masters), Rosalind Chao (Emily Chan), Hagan Beggs (Evans), Richard Erdman (Mr. Zeider), John Milford (Professor Roderick Dent), and Benson Fong (Min Lo Chan).


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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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Spider-Man (1977, E.W. Swackhamer)

Someone is mindcontrolling upstanding citizens and making them commit daredevil bank robberies in broad daylight. While New York’s finest detectives–cigar-chewing Michael Pataki and his nitwit sidekick Robert Hastings–are on the case, they soon get some valuable assistance from Spider-Man!

This television movie–a pilot for a series–introduces Nicholas Hammond as the hero. He’s a vaguely annoying, wisecracking suck-up graduate student who intrudes, then gets confused when he bothers people. It’s kind of awesome, since Hammond acts obvious to his behavior. He just walks around with a goofy grin imposing on people. He doesn’t get many subplots in the movie–he’s constantly in search for forty-six dollars to get something for his attic science project, the movie never reveals what he’s making. It’s just something to give Hammond some dialogue when he’s not (ostensibly) in his red and blue longjohns climbing skyscrapers.

Alvin Boretz’s teleplay is pretty weak, but it could be a lot worse. It’s clear it could be a lot worse because Boretz’s writing is so much better than Swackhamer’s direction. With the exception of one special effects sequence, saved by Aaron Stell’s editing, Spider-Man is never visually exciting. Even though Hammond’s clearly overjoyed with his superpowers (he has a convientient dream sequence cluing him into their radioactive arachnid origins), none of that enthusiasm carries over to his cavorting around. Instead, it’s just weak composite shots and stuntmen on wires failing to appear to scramble up buildings.

There are a handful of exceptions–that sequence Stell make or when Hammond foils a purse snatching–especially since the reused effects footage does make Spider-Man, always pausing and repeating movement (the same composite at different scales apparently), seem like a spider. Sadly, none of it keeps going in the third act, which is a rough, nonsensical sequence of events, with way too much of Pataki (who has a certain charm, but not enough of it) and of Thayer David’s self-help guru who knows something about the case.

David’s an unlikable creep, which does make the part function all right. Hammond goes to him for help with ostensible love interest Lisa Eilbacher, who doesn’t receprocate Hammond’s interest. Maybe because he’s chatting her up as her father (Ivor Francis) is losing his mind and committing bank robberies.

The first half gets a lot of help from the Spider-Man origin narrative, with Hammond hanging around the Daily Bugle and David White and Hilly Hicks. White’s fun when he’s berating the grinning, obtuse Hammond, with Hicks solid as Hammond’s champion. To some degree. It’s never clear if Hicks likes Hammond or just wants him to stop hanging out at the paper and annoying them.

As Spider-Man goes on, the plot disintegrates, Swackheimer’s direction gets worse, good characters disappear from the screen, replaced with Pataki or, worse, Hastings. There’s occasional character moments, but it’s a TV movie and they barely last half a minute. I suppose the movie does wrap up pretty succiently, even if when Hammond finally gets in the last word with White he inexplicably walks away from his ride. You’d think he’d have more respect for someone getting such a good parking spot in New York.

Some of Spider-Man is shot on location in New York; a lot of it is California. The New York exteriors are solid. The California ones not so much. But, again, it’s Swackheimer’s fault. He really doesn’t have any good ideas for the movie. Especially not showing the bad guys are bad by shooting them from low angles.

Spider-Man is never really offensive, it’s just lukewarm, unambitious, and confused. Is Hammond supposed to be likable because he’s a goof or is likably goofy? If he’s so unreliable, what’s he doing running a lab and getting his Ph.D.? Why does he reference his lack of income when hitting on Eilbacher? All good questions, all ones Boretz’s script ignores.

Still, it could be a lot worse. And goofy or not, Hammond’s a perfectly solid Spider-Man.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by E.W. Swackhamer; teleplay by Alvin Boretz, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Fred Jackman Jr.; edited by Aaron Stell; music by Johnnie Spence; produced by Edward Montagne; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Nicholas Hammond (Peter Parker), Lisa Eilbacher (Judy Tyler), David White (J. Jonah Jameson), Michael Pataki (Captain Barbera), Thayer David (Edward Byron), Hilly Hicks (Robbie Robertson), Robert Hastings (Monahan), Ivor Francis (Professor Noah Tyler), Larry Anderson (Dave), and Jeff Donnell (Aunt May).


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Dr. Strange (1978, Philip DeGuere)

Dr. Strange aired in September, Superman came out in December… and they both have the same flying techniques, at least for couples, though Superman does have a longer flying sequences… Dr. Strange just kind of hints at it.

A number of things put Dr. Strange above the standard seventies television movie. First, it rarely has noticeable commercial breaks. It’s been edited, sure, but the story doesn’t have awkward pauses. Second, Jessica Walter’s the villain. Yes, she has some incredibly goofy moments (and goofier makeup) but she’s great. Third, DeGuere worries about composition with his shots. Dr. Strange is a good-looking movie, with DeGuere coming as close to making me believe a Hollywood backlot is New York City as anyone is going to be able to in a seventies TV movie.

The problems, actually, are minor. Except the flying, special effects are bad–the lasers coming out of people’s hands and so on. I wish they’d come up with something more imaginative, since the cheap effects route doesn’t work.

Then there’s the regular plotting problems with a pilot. There’s an almost hour-long setup here and a relatively hurried resolution. DeGuere even gets too subtle on plot points because he just doesn’t have time.

Peter Hooten’s a good lead (it would have been a fine television show), because he’s basically an altruistic alpha male who becomes a superhero (lame costume though).

And Anne-Marie Martin’s a decent romantic interest. She plays young college student well and their romance is compelling.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Philip DeGuere; screenplay by DeGuere, based on the comic book created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Enzo A. Martinelli; edited by Christopher Nelson; music by Paul Chihara; produced by Alex Beaton; released by Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Peter Hooten (Dr. Stephen Strange), Clyde Kusatsu (Wong), Jessica Walter (Morgan LeFay), Anne-Marie Martin (Clea Lake), Philip Sterling (Dr. Frank Taylor, Chief of Psychiatry), John Mills (Thomas Lindmer) and June Barrett (Sarah).


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