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Subj: Sci-Fi/Superhero Cinema #53 - TRIPLE FEATURE: Spider-Man (1977-1979)
Posted: Sat May 29, 2021 at 06:32:44 pm EDT (Viewed 149 times)
After a decade of animated adaptations, 1977's Spider-Man was the first attempt at a live-action version of a Marvel Comics character since 1944's Captain America serial.
We begin with Peter Parker (Nicolas Hammond) as a college student looking for a job as a photographer at the Daily Bugle with J. Jonah Jameson (David White) and Robbie Robertson (Hilly Hicks). Jonah tells him to get lost. Back at the school science lab, Peter and his classmate accidentally irradiate a spider which bites Peter.
A strange rash of bank robberies is being carried out by normal folks; a lawyer, a doctor. After they rob the bank they tend to drive down a dead-end alley and crash their car. When they come to, the money is gone and they get the blame. One of these cars chases Peter down an alley and when it's about to pin him to the wall, he jumps up and starts climbing the wall. He has a hard time explaining the situation to police Captain Barbera (Michael Pataki).
Pete goes back home where he lives with Aunt May (Jeff Donnell) who will be the last of the comic characters to appear. He tests out his newly discovered spider-powers by climbing over the roof of her house in an old greenscreen effect. He also whips up the costume. He sets a remote camera in an alley to take a picture of himself as Spider-Man climbing a wall and manages to sell it to Jameson. But Jameson wants some pictures related to the bank robbery crime spree instead. Pete shows up at the next crashed-car incident and the police start to suspect he's involved.
The criminal mastermind reveals to the public through a note that he is controlling people's minds and will have 10 people commit suicide unless the city pays him a ransom. Pete figures out that the crook is actually the guru of a self-help clinic (Thayer David) who is brainwashing his clients. He has to fight the guru's posse of samurai warriors and stop the villain.
All the parts regarding Spidey's origin seem pretty spot-on. He eventually creates web-shooters and gets the silver wristbands and utility belt that seems missing from the modern movies (they're mostly just web fluid reloads, right?)
Hammond is okay, as someone said he's pretty earnest and not as smart-alecky as the comic version, but he gets the occasional wisecrack in. Jonah Jameson is a little too nice probably.
According to Wikipedia, the scene where he swings from a web off the side of a building was so expensive and dangerous that they filmed it from multiple angles so they could use the alternate shots for future productions. Pretty smart.
What I find weird is not so much the limitations of the budget, but the way Spidey moves around. Like when a guy is going to suicide himself by jumping from around the 10th floor of a 15 story building, instead of crawling up the building to stop him, Spidey climbs up a different side of the building to the roof, then crawls back down headfirst to the guy. He does stuff like that a lot. Is the production killing time, or showing off the climbing shots? I imagine some are greenscreen shots, but some are probably a stuntman on a wire and maybe closeups are done like Batman '66 with actors on a flat set filmed sideways?
Also whenever Spidey is running around he's all hunched-over in a weird way. Is he trying to move like an animal instead of a human? Just odd.
This pilot movie aired on CBS in 1977 and got great ratings, but the demographics skewed really young. CBS only ordered a 5-episode season for the 1977-78 season and then another 7 for the following year, with changes to make it appeal to an older audience supposedly, completing this adaptation's 13-episode run.
This movie played theatrically outside the U.S.
Spider-Man Strikes Back!
This second movie is just the first two episodes of the series "The Deadly Dust" stitched together.
Peter Parker is attending a college lecture where his professor says he has brought a small amount of plutonium on campus, only 5 kg, and it's not dangerous. Some of Pete's classmates think it could be used to build an atomic bomb. The professor dismisses them so they decide to steal the plutonium and actually build a bomb to prove the danger. This reminds me a lot of one of my favorite movies, The Manhattan Project (1986). The latter movie was inspired by the real life story of "The A-Bomb Kid" John Aristotle Phillips who in 1977 drew up plans for a real atom bomb using publicly available science books for his term paper in college, and drew national attention. I wonder if this Spidey movie was inspired by the same story.
So the kids build the atomic bomb perfectly with the exception of C4 which they can't get their hands on. When an article about the bomb is published, an evil crook decides to steal the bomb from the dumb students and complete it, using it to hold the city to ransom.
The police are looking for the bomber in New York but Jameson and Pete find out the villain has fled to Los Angeles where the President will be attending a conference, and is the likely target. Jameson gets them on a plane to L.A. where Spidey will end up catching the crooks and defusing the bomb.
In one of the bigger stunt sequences, Spidey is thrown off a building but saves himself by shooting a giant web between two buildings.
I see Robbie Robertson disappeared after the pilot, but he's been replaced by another black Jameson assistant, Rita Conway (Chip Fields). I thought she was just a made-up movie replacement for Betty Brandt, but it turns out Jameson already had a black secretary in the comics called Glory Grant who replaced Betty in 1975. I wonder why they renamed this character for TV. Probably something to do with royalties. Jameson was also recast with Robert F. Simon for the ongoing series.
I think this movie/episode also debuted Spidey's spider-tracers, little electronic tracking devices he carries in a belt pouch. Pete looks a little scarier in this version when his Spidey-Sense kicks in, his eyes flash red and blue.
Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge
This is the final two episodes of the series, "The Chinese Web" parts 1 and 2 stitched together.
Jonah Jameson's old friend Min Lo Chan (Benson Fong) has been accused of crimes in China going back to the second World War. Jameson needs Pete to look up three old American soldiers who can clear his name. As soon as he starts poking around, people are trying to kill him and Chan, so Spider-Man must intervene.
In one scene, bad guys are holding Chan, Pete, and Chan's daughter Emily (Rosalind Chao) at gunpoint. Pete sneaks out so he can change into his Spidey togs and although he saves the day, Emily believes Pete to be a coward for running out on them. Ah, the perils of a secret identity.
They fake Chan's death to give them some room to breathe. Pete tracks down Dent (John Milford), the last man who can clear Chan's name, and along with Emily, they travel to Hong Kong to talk to the authorities. There is a long sequence of Dent showing Pete and Emily the sights in Hong Kong and this does start to feel a bit like a travel ad.
It's sort of mentioned offhand that Dent was also Pete's professor in college. That seemed random and unnecessary.
I think with this movie, Spidey is 3 for 3 in fighting martial arts villains, it happened in all 3 movies.
Spider-Man Strikes Back and Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge both ran theatrically in Europe, after The Amazing Spider-Man series had ended.
According to Wikipedia, Nicholas Hammond claims there were attempts to revive Spider-Man as a movie co-starring The Incredible Hulk in 1984, which would make sense considering they eventually made movies with Hulk & Thor, and Hulk & Daredevil, shortly after that. Hammond says they were going to put him in the black Spidey costume. That would have been a neat historical footnote.
Watch Spider-Man (1977)
Watch Spider-Man Strikes Back (1978)
Watch Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge (1979)
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