42 years old and still better than Marvel Studios’ version.
Yes, we’re talking about 1978’s Doctor Strange, a stronger than usual occult tinged TV movie of the era, complete with all the trappings (the Ancient One and Wong’s cavernously stucco-walled, book and tchotchke-bedecked NYC sanctum Sanctorum is particularly well apportioned and evocative for a low budget and small set).
Peter Hooten’s Strange skips the whole origin story by making him an orphan with predestiny (his father and the Ancient One were cohorts, his folks died in an accident intended for him, etc.) and an altruistic bent (rather than a high priced neurosurgeon, he’s a community service minded psych ward resident physician).
He’s also loveably oversexed in that swingin’ 70’s manner (my favorite line was from a horny head nurse who asks why Strange hasn’t gotten together with her. When he notes the hospital policy against doctors and nurses “falling in love”, she quickly corrects him “who said anything about FALLING in love? I’m talking about MAKING love!”)…and all of this WORKS.
When an overaged but attractive college student named Clea gets sucked in to a longstanding war between Umar stand-in Jessica (Supergirl the movie) Harper as “Morgan Le Fay), her Edge of Hell puppet boss stand-in for Dormammu and the middle aged businessmanlike Ancient One, she finds herself a Jane Doe terrified of sleep in Strange’s care…and then the fun begins.
A silly puppet and a bad final moments costume choice (which leaves Strange looking like Brother Sun and Sister Moon from contemporaneous issues of Spectacular Spiderman) aside, this is suprisingly effective stuff, particularly for aficionados of the satanic peril oriented TV movie horror of the era, to which it closest appends.
It’s far less gimmicky and fake in spirit than anything Marvel Studios could ever produce because it’s characters, setting and motivations are recognizably human. The characters, however outre they may seem at casual glance, feel REAL, with the leads tending to be likeable and if flawed, than at least well intentioned and with a sense of humor.
Released on a no-frills, no extras standard definition DVD (well, it’s a 70’s made for TV movie, what did you expect?) from Shout Factory, this one’s pretty essential so far as I’m concerned.
Again, well worth another look, particularly to those tired of the corporate boardroom movie machine we’re subjected to nowadays.