Youtube Film Club: Dr. Strange (1978)


After our experience with the original 1979 “Captain America” movie a few weeks ago, none of us could bear the thought of watching the sequel. Too slow, too boring, too much like a bad episode of “Quincy”. But luckily, Marvel tried a number of times in the late 70s to bring their franchises to the screen, so we’ve got options. “The Incredible Hulk” and “Spider-Man” both had their feature-length pilots picked up for series, but sad sad failures were both Captain America and this, and failure is what we like here!

Fellow ISCFC reviewer and Marvel more-expert-than-me @kilran informed us that Morgayne, or Morgana Le Fay, isn’t really a Dr Strange villain in the comics, and I was keeping my fingers crossed that was the worst crime this movie committed. But I didn’t mind when I realised that playing Morgana is the great Jessica Walter, star of “Arrested Development” and “Archer” and one of the great comic actresses of the last decade or so. She was 37 when she made “Dr. Strange” and it was weird seeing the demented matriarch of the Bluth family as a beautiful younger woman, but she’s absolutely brilliant in this, scheming and doing magic and so on.

The basic gist is, Morgana is working for a demon, who tells her he’s a bit annoyed she failed to kill the Sorceror Supreme 500 years ago (presumably, a reference to the Knights of Camelot, even if the timeline’s a bit off). But he’s now old and weak and will need to transfer the power to a successor, so she needs to swoop in and kill one or the other, so demons can rule the earth, probably. I never pay attention to the world-conquering plots in movies like this, because it’s not like they ever happen.


The Sorceror Supreme is Earth’s primary defender against magical attacks, and is played by John Mills, who must have been bored that week, or had a kid who was a huge Marvel fan or something. He’s a pro, though, so his bits have a weird gravitas; his assistant is one of the great “That Guy” actors, Clyde Kusatsu. It’s Dr Steven Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme’s chosen replacement, who’s the odd casting, though. Peter Hooten is his name, and largely disappearing from the movies since the 80s is his game. He’s okay, I guess? Just a bit bland.

I made a similar criticism of the Captain America movie, but I just can’t imagine being a fan of the comic, full of demons and magic and excitement, and enjoying this. Strange is a psychiatric doctor (which makes his surname even more inappropriate), and a fairly hefty portion of the movie is based around hospital politics. Now, in the comics, Thor’s day job is doctor as well. Could you imagine Marvel making a Thor movie where he has to argue about what medication to give to a patient? There’s an argument to be made that it was a money-saving procedure by the studio at the time, but there has to be something more exciting they could have done – for instance, the 2001-style psychedelic tunnel effect was great, a bit more of that sort of thing please.

There’s a normal human woman roped into this too, of course, Strange’s love interest from the comics. There’s reference to a “psychic bond” between her and Morgana which is never really explained; and, towards the end, Strange almost walks away from it all because he just doesn’t believe in magic, despite having been sent to the Astral Plane and battling demons. What? Add this lack of explanation to the almost funereal pace of the rest of the movie and it’s a really unsatisfying experience.


Morgana’s plan fails, in part, because she’s attracted to Dr Strange. Thinking about it, that’s normally a male failing, so it’s quite refreshing to see. Personally, I’d have picked Morgana’s offer of excitement, adventure and really wild things over being a doctor and hanging out with my boring human girlfriend and John Mills, but that would have been a rather different movie, and is a good reason for never offering me magic powers. I would definitely use them for evil.

If I didn’t know better, I’d suggest that CBS hated Marvel and was on a mission to make all their most exciting comic characters look as boring as possible in order to ruin them. This is 15 minutes or so of moderate excitement surrounded by 75 minutes of tedium. For those of you keeping track, it also fulfills all the “pilot that crashed” criteria.

Rating: thumbs down