Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Amazing Spider-Man (1977)

Directed by E. W. Swackhamer.
1977. Not Rated, 90 minutes.
Nicholas Hammond
David White
Michael Pataki
Hilly Hicks
Lisa Eilbacher
Jeff Donnell
Robert Hastings
Thayer David

When a child is into something, any representation of that thing is the best thing ever. Like lots of six-year-olds, I was into superheroes. The old Batman series from the nineteen sixties, starring Adam West, ran in syndication. I watched it religiously every weekday at four. When Spider-Man got a brand new, weekly primetime series, I mad sure to be on my best behavior so Mama Dell would let me stay up and watch it. She did and I loved it. The pilot episode was this movie. Forty years later all I really remember is the costume I though was silly even then. I figured it was time for a revisit.

Peter Parker (Hammond) is a grad school student studying sciency stuff. To pay the bills, he works as a photographer for The Daily Bugle, a New York newspaper, but doesn’t get very many assignments. While working in the lab, Peter is bitten by radioactive spider and can suddenly scale walls like one. After a good deed and quickly whipping up a costume, no mention of Uncle Ben and a barely there Aunt May (Donnell), the newly minted Spider-Man puts himself in the middle of the biggest story in the Big Apple. A mysterious character calling himself Guru (David) apparently has the ability to control the minds of others and has already made two of the city’s most upstanding citizens commit bank robberies. He threatens to have ten New Yorkers commit suicide on his command unless he is paid fifty million dollars.

There are tons of problems to discuss. I’ll start with the narrative. Everything about it is rushed. There are valid reasons it was done this way. For starters, it had to fit into a two-hour network television slot. When you factor in commercials, we’re left with a ninety-minute movie. Binge-watching didn’t exist and pilot episodes were risky things. The powers that be had no clue whether audiences would want a second episode. Therefore, they couldn’t chance not giving us a full-fledged Spidey in a self-contained story right out of the box. Peter’s learning curve for becoming a superhero is practically non-existent. He makes his costume perfectly on his very first try and does the same with his webbing.

Next on the hitlist is acting. Nicholas Hammond isn’t a terrible Peter Parker. I appreciate that the movie focuses on the young adult, barely able to make ends meet Peter. Hammond mostly pulls this off. He’s just a tad too bland about everything. Conversely, he’s an awful Spider-Man. Part of it is due to the production values, which we’ll discuss shortly. The other part is his lack of athletic ability at a time before cgi did all the heavy lifting. Once he dons the suit everything is laughable. Perhaps I’m jaded by all the actors who undertook all sorts of training regimens and earning their spandex, but Hammond is not believable in the least when doing Spidey stuff.

On to those production values. This is where things completely break down. It was the seventies. I get it. It’s only a TV movie. I get it. I cut it some slack for those things. I do. But still. The easiest thing to fix is the fight choreography. The very best of it is mediocre. Honestly, I can live with bad fight scenes if the other Spidey stuff works. It doesn’t. Not even close. When climbing walls, our hero is obviously just making wall-crawling motions while someone pulls him up by a wire. That’s when it’s good. Most of the time, it’s his image poorly superimposed onto that of some structure. The emphasis is on poorly. And then there’s the web. Oh my. When he shoots it you can easily tell that it’s not coming from any part of his body or costume. When he’s swinging on it, it looks like a jump rope. When he uses it to trap bad guys it looks like that stuff you buy from Party City to decorate for Halloween. Don’t believe me? Just watch the trailer and pay close attention at about the 57 second mark.

Again, I get that technology in the seventies wasn’t what it is now, or even what it was in 2002 when Sam Raimi released his first Spider-Man, but yeesh! My best friend and I, in 1977, could probably have done just as well. The silver lining is that it’s so bad you can’t help but burst into laughter when you see it.

This proved to be an interesting journey into the past. It certainly fed me all the cheese I could handle. The halfway decent plot is rushed and sank by everything around it. That it did spawn a television series proves that even then there was a serious appetite for superhero content. From the vantage point of a person who’s watched forty-plus years of superheroes on the big screen and small, this ranks near the bottom of it all. However, copious amounts of unintentional hilarity keep it from being a total loss. In fact, it makes 1977 Spider-Man so bad it’s awesome!


  1. Is this available on YouTube or something? I would like to check it out in the future in case I want to do an anniversary thing on Spider-Man though I am planning to do something much later in the year as it relates to the MCU!!!!!!

    1. As of right now, it is available on YouTube. Looking forward to what you have planned.

  2. Good to know this is on youtube, I'm curious about it as I've never seen it.

    1. It's ok. Most people born after the time it originally aired haven't seen it.

  3. Larry Tate is in this! Sorry but he is one of my favourites from Bewitched. Ahh the 1970's with that music and goofy style. Poor Sound of Music boy could quite be active enough. Ever seen Bowfinger? The end of the movie, the 2 play spies or something that must fight all these ninjas...the fight scene reminds me of that....hilarious!!

    1. I have seen Bowfinger! Very underrated movie, but I forgot about that fight scene.

  4. "The silver lining is that it’s so bad you can’t help but burst into laughter when you see it."

    Never realised this even existed, now I'm half curious