The Spirit 1987
To go along with the other cult movies that other bloggers have picked out for me, I thought I’d follow along with some cult films of my own choosing. I have no idea whether or not this really counts as much of a cult film, though I have heard from at least two people who have seen this and thought it was much better than the theatrical Frank Miller version. This was made in the mid-Eighties with Sam J. Jones as the lead, better known as Flash Gordon himself. It also had Nana Visitor as his love interest who I was familiar with as Major Kira on Star Trek: Deep Space 9. But most of all, this pilot movie was extremely 80’s. From the music to the cheap sets to the power suits and cassette walkmen, it was very much steeped in the 80’s and for that reason alone, I had a lot of fun watching this. Most of it is even set up to have much more of a comedy feel than an action/detective vibe. It was as close to Adam West’s Batman with a bit more 80’s sensibilities than you could ever get.
This was ultimately presented as the origin for the Spirit, but they kept out of any of the mystical/scientific immortality brought into the later movie version. Instead, Denny Colt was just a regular police officer who got shot, left for dead, and essentially used his death as a loophole to become a vigilante and strike fear into the hearts of criminals. It even appears to be effective, during a brief montage as he starts his war on crime we get to see a newspaper headline mentioning how crime was down by 21%. But it does ultimately revolve around a single case, one that starts at the very beginning, right after the credits with a death scene and an explosion. It involves a crime fiction writer connected to Denny Colt, a museum curator and his… wife, daughter, coworker, unfortunately don’t remember that detail, and forgeries.
What’s surprising about this film is how much humor is scattered throughout, even if it can be very hit or miss. Early on, when Denny is asking questions around town and flashing his out-of-town badge, at least 3 different people mistake the name of his town as “armpit”. But there’s also some fun physical comedy here and there, like a scene where the Spirit sneaks into the museum but doesn’t realize that he’s in the women’s bathroom until he meets Visitor’s Ellen who he convinces to leave through the window only she can’t get through the window by herself. There’s also plenty of humor surrounding the Spirit’s tiny domino mask that’s supposedly hiding his identity and Ellen has to contain herself from trying to sneak a peek underneath even though he looks and sounds exactly like Denny Colt. There’s even a bit of a stereotypical comic book deathtrap that the Spirit falls into as it very slowly descends to his certain doom while the criminals just leave without making sure the job gets finished. It was a little frustrating how many times the Spirit got knocked out, even though he was supposedly a good fighter, he gets knocked unconscious during the film on at least four different occasions.
Sam J. Jones as Denny Colt/the Spirit was a bit of a mixed bag. Much of the runtime he played Colt or the Spirit fairly flat and serious with only a hint of a wink to the audience. Other times, the comedy was a bit more overt and those were the times that made the film much more entertaining. Nana Visitor was fun to see her in a very different role than the one she played on Deep Space 9 even if she was much more of the damsel in distress style character. She did get a couple moments where she actually saved the Spirit, but even then she had to be guided by the Spirit so that she would pull the right lever. There’s also a sidekick of sorts with a kid named Eubie who Denny initially catches selling stolen walkmen even though we later get a scene where his supplier was the one stealing the goods and passing them off to Eubie as factory defects. He’s a fun little character who doesn’t get nearly as involved with the Spirit’s antics as a Robin might, but he also has a fair bit of mischief about him without being an overly Black stereotype even as he runs a gambling operation on some wheelchair races during a museum fundraiser.
The overall look of the film felt very 80’s when it came down to much of the obvious sets and most of the wardrobe. But there were some high points, the color scheme felt very much about the primary colors, something that Dick Tracy would do to a much more extreme effect a few years later. There were several very comic book inspired visuals, especially with some of the stark shadows during the climax’s torture scene. But many of the sets looked incredibly cheap, especially the cemetery full of fake trees and a set dressing that didn’t quite match the scale of the actors. The Spirit’s eventual crypt hideout felt like another fun throwback to the Adam West’s Batcave, although without any of the helpful labels. It wasn’t a complete success, the beginning felt very drab and even at a run time just over an hour it took too long to get started. But once they kicked in with a clear sense of the fun they should have been having in a comic book based TV movie, I had a lot of fun right along with it. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.
Posted on June 12, 2016, in 80's movies and tagged film, movies, review, television, tv. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.
Sounds like a better film than the Frank Miller version, that’s for sure. The Spirit, as written by Eisner, did have a bit of camp in it — there’s a certain tongue-in-cheek approach to a lot of it. And the Spirit’s origin was completely mundane originally, so it sounds like this was truer to the story as well.
Yes, what little extra reading I did about this – including a great interview writer Steven E. DeSouza did a few years back about it – noted how closely they tried to stick to the style of the original comics, even recreating a few moments as closely as they could long before Sin City made it cool.