Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Amazing Spider-Man (1977) - Escort to Danger

Spider-Man doesn't thwip when he should, but still saves a country.

Directed by Dennis Donnelly from a script by Duke Sandefur, the Escort to Danger episode of the late '70s The Amazing Spider-Man series takes 45 minutes to tell a story that could have been told in under 10 if Peter Parker (Nicholas Hammond) would think to use his full abilities as Spider-Man.

While he's at an airport on assignment for the newspaper the Daily Bugle to take pictures of President Calderon (Alejandro Rey) of Tavilia, "the newest democratic country in South America", and the man's daughter Maria (Madeleine Stowe) as they arrive in the United States so Maria can compete in the Miss Galaxy beauty contest, Peter's "Spidey sense" goes off to alert him to the fact that there's a kidnapping going down. A pair of goons knock a man out, stick him in a car, and by the time the car is driving away from the airport Peter is already in his Spider-Man costume and keeping an eye on the car from a roof.

He could swing into action and stop the kidnapping right there... but then he sees that a woman carrying a baby isn't watching where she's going and is about to step in front of the car at a crosswalk. If Peter were thinking clearly, if Sanderfur had written it that way, this would be a simple situation to deal with. Just throw a webline down to stop the woman from being able to step out onto the road. But instead of using his web, Spider-Man runs across the roof, hops down onto the sidewalk, and grabs the woman to get her safely across the street. While watching this, I was exclaiming, "Just thwip her, man!" "Thwip" being the sound effect used for Spider-Man's webslinging in the comic books.

Since he went through unnecessary steps to keep this woman and her baby safe, Spider-Man loses the kidnappers' car. They get away, and he has to spend the rest of the episode tracking them down (even putting a spider-shaped tracking device to use!) - and attempting to protect their next target, Maria. To do this, he talks his way into becoming her official escort around the city for the evening. That's how the episode earns its title... although Peter isn't Maria's escort for very long at all before she is also kidnapped. Spidey isn't a very capable hero in this one, thus the villains are shown to be some of the most capable he's gone up against yet, as everything goes as it would for them if Spider-Man weren't in this story at all. Up until the end, of course.

Even when Peter catches up with the kidnappers and their car again, the only thing he manages to do is participate in a car chase that ends with him crashing the car he's in. Which means that, yes, the biggest action scene in this Spider-Man adventure involves Peter Parker driving a car.

It's a car Peter borrowed from the Daily Bugle motorpool, thanks to a requisition form that Rita Conway (Chip Fields), secretary to editor J. Jonah Jameson (Robert F. Simon), forged Jameson's signature on. An African American character, Rita was written sort of like she had come over to The Amazing Spider-Man from a blaxploitation movie in this episode, saying she earned a PhD from "the university of the streets" and telling Peter she's able to speak up to Jameson because "there are certainly advantages to being a member of a disadvantaged minority".

Eventually Spider-Man is able to figure out exactly what's going on, infiltrates the villains' hideout... and gives away his presence when he has a sneezing fit. Compared to the incompetence he has displayed earlier in the episode, those sneezes are actually an endearing screw-up. In the last 5 minutes, Spidey finally gets it together - and by thwarting these kidnappers, who are led by BarBara Luna as Lisa Alvarez, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is able to save an entire country for the second time in this show's short run.

Alvarez is the sister of the tyrannical former leader of Tavilia, who was driven out of power by Calderon and died in disgrace. Alvarez wants revenge, and she has kidnapped Maria and a man who backed Calderon when he went against her brother because she wants Calderon to hand Tavilia over to her. If she's in power, democracy will go back out the window, and Tavilia will once again become a haven for terrorists.

Alvarez is assisted by two henchmen, one of them played by Bob Minor of Coffy, Commando, and Action Jackson, and the other played by Harold Sakata - Goldfinger's Oddjob!

Rest assured, Spider-Man does not let Tavilia fall into the wrong hands despite his opponents being so formidable, and the fact that our hero is finally able to save the day at the end of the 45 minutes makes up for the earlier screw-ups, making this a decent but oddly conceived episode.

My advice to Spidey: next time, just thwip 'em! You'll save yourself a lot of trouble.

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