Super Movie Monday – Spider-Man 1977

No real screencaps in this one because the only version I could watch was an awful low-rez video upload on Youtube. I’m launching into the Spider-Man films, but first I want to revisit the original Spider-Man production from 1977. This was not the very first live-action appearance of Spider-Man, however; that was the “Spidey Super Stories” segments on The Electric Company starting in 1974 (the link goes to a typical episode featuring, among others, a young Morgan Freeman in the cast).

However, in 1977, Universal and CBS Television debuted the first of four live-action Marvel super-heroes developed for the network. Spider-Man debuted in the fall of 1977, starring Nicholas Hammond (best known as Friedrich, the older Von Trapp boy in The Sound of Music) as college student and aspiring news photographer Peter Parker.

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J. Jonah Jameson was played by David White, best known as Larry Tate, Darren’s boss on the sitcom Bewitched. In the film, Peter tries repeatedly to sell Jonah photos as New York (which looks amazingly like Los Angeles) is being terrorized by an unknown extortionist. ┬áThe extortionist is threatening to kill ten random people via mind-controlled suicide if the city does not pay him $50 million dollars ransom. And just to prove that he is legit, he has ┬ánormally upstanding citizens–doctors, lawyers, judges, college professors–commit robberies and then crash their cars into walls, where his henchmen are waiting to retrieve the money and their mind-controlling lapel pins.

Meanwhile, Peter has a problem of his own: he has been bitten by a spider that has been accidentally exposed to radioactive materials in the college lab. Peter discovers that he can climb walls, is really strong, and has a kind of sixth sense. And after he is accidentally spotted by a purse snatcher during one of his wall-climbing experiments, he becomes front-page material, prompting Peter to make himself a costume so that he can photograph himself for the paper without outing himself as a freak.

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It’s not a horrible costume, as these things go. It’s very true to the comics, with the exception of the metallic eye lenses, the single web shooter worn on the wrist, and the utility belt holding extra web cartridges. Spider-Man’s powers, on the other hand, are not so impressive. Although they pay lip service to Peter’s increased strength, we don’t get the kinds of strength gags that were a mainstay of shows like The Six Million Dollar Man. His spider-sense is depicted simply by quick-cutting between Hammond looking moony and whatever the script wants him to sense (and instead of being a simple danger signal, it function almost like a kind of ESP, helping him figure out the identity of the villain, for instance). The webs are clunky white strings, usually depicted coming out via a reversed film gag. The stunt fighting and acrobatics are really terrible.

Spidey’s signature wall-crawling features both the best and worst effects work in the whole show. There are some really horrible process shots matting Spider-Man’s figure onto a building. But there are some good effects filmed live, with a stuntman being hauled up on an unseen cable while he mimes climbing the wall, and also some shots of him crawling around on a horizontal building facade that would be more convincing if they didn’t spend so much time on them (the shadows are a dead giveaway after a while).

The two storylines collide when Peter hooks up with Judy Tyler, daughter of one of the mind control victims, to clear her father’s name. Peter and Judy stumble almost accidentally onto self-help guru Edward Byron, who is using special technology to hypnotize his clients into following his commands. Soon, Peter, dressed as Spider-Man, follows a special coded microwave signal to Byron’s headquarters, where he encounters three Japanese warriors who attack him (clumsily) with shinai (bamboo training swords). The swords are deliberately designed not to hurt much when they strike, which makes them a curious choice for a villain’s henchmen, but I guess in 1977, they looked exotic. Peter barely escapes with his life twice. In his final encounter with the swordsmen, after he has narrowly managed to avoid killing himself via mind control, he tells the swordsmen he has reversed the microwaves and asks them to just let him in, which they do. Climax averted.

Although the movie was incredibly bland and excitement-free, Spider-Man had enough of a fan following to make it a relative success. The show was picked up as a limited-run summer replacement series, eventually airing 12 more episodes over two seasons. Of the other three Marvel heroes CBS introduced, Doctor Strange and Captain America failed to get picked up as series, while The Incredible Hulk was a hit, running five for five seasons.

If you really must see this film for whatever reason, you can watch it here, although as I said at the top, picture quality is really bad.

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One Response to Super Movie Monday – Spider-Man 1977

  1. Sargon says:

    Man, I remember watching this show when it was on TV. I can remember thinking the web effects were really cool, though they must have sucked. They made this toy suction-cup web-launcher that i really, really wanted. I’m sure it sucked too.

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