With Joaquin Phoenix in and out of final talks for the role of the Sorcerer Supreme, I thought it might be a great time to look back on another incarnation of this magical superhero story (found in the 'oh please, do not tell anyone we made these' vault at Marvel) to give you a little insight on how these movies worked back in the day. If you haven't caught this particular made-for-tv movie, you might just be able to find it shoved in the corner of your local library's VHS section, though it's otherwise not highly publicized. It was originally meant to spin off into a TV series, but the sell wasn't hard enough for network execs to bite.
The film originally starred Peter Hooten (coincidentally, he also starred in the 1978 incarnation of [The] Inglorious Basterds, then did practically nothing else) and was concocted by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. Below, you'll find some of the weirder highlights of the film. (NOTE: I got my hands on a pretty bad copy, so screencaps and gifs may be a little faulty. Apologies!)
Strange gets an Occupational Change
In comics canon, Stephen Strange is a neurosurgeon. But for this movie, the powers that be decided to mild-manner him down to a reluctant psychiatrist who takes on the strange case of a girl named Clea Lake. It's a little understandable given the movie's context: Clea starts out the movie under the possession of a sorceress who is hell-bent on destroying the current Sorcerer Supreme before Stephen even meets the guy. Speaking of...
Archer's Mom is a Sorceress
One of the more interesting characters in the film is Jessica Walter's Morgan LeFay, described as a "sinister and seductive sorceress(sssss)" who is sent out by The Nameless One to destroy the current Sorcerer Supreme. This particular Sorcerer is Thomas Lindmer, a powerful magic master who can see the future and predicts her coming. You may know Jessica Walter as Mallory from Archer, or as the precocious Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development, among other great credits to her resume.
Strange's Jedi Mentor
Let's focus a tad more on Thomas and the fact that he was radically changed for what seems to be the purpose of becoming an Obi-Wan Kenobi clone. Older, british, and chock full of mystical powers, Thomas practically pulls a Jedi mind trick just a few minutes into his introduction. This makes just a little bit of sense, since the first Star Wars flick had come out just a year before. A familiar and popular style of mentor might have helped sell the show, but it didn't seem to help this time around.
The Nameless One
Primarily an enemy of The Defenders in the comics, The Nameless One takes on the role of Strange's primary enemy in this movie, lording over Morgan LeFay thanks to the fact that his powers keep her young and healthy. He bears something of a resemblance to Dormammu as far as powers go, which makes sense, as Dormammu is one of Strange's primary foes. Mostly, The Nameless One is a few flashlights and smoke, and his voice is pretty hard to understand on the VHS copy. Boring villains certainly don't help already campy superhero films.
It Was Too 70's for the 70's
There's a certain line that you simply don't cross when it comes to moviemaking, and Dr. Strange crossed every single one of those. For people like me, that's great: I LOVE campy, cheesy movies that make you cringe. The soundtrack sounds like a prog rock lover's drunken night out after a break-up, which isn't necessarily terrible, but focusing on the fashion and the leftover office supplies from 1961 sort of clues you in to where the budget went on this film: the special effects. A smart decision on team's part, given that we are talking about the Sorcerer Supreme, and all. Check out these crazy special effects:
Unfortunately, t'was the script that killed it in the end. Boring character interactions and dull dialogue kept the story moving at a snail's pace, which is far from the speed at which Doctor Strange's mind travels. In the end, the movie was just not up to par and far too dated to make it beyond it's time.