Gut Reactions: Condorman (1981)
Writer: Marc Stirdivant, based on the novel by The Game of X Robert Sheckley
Cast: Michael Crawford, Oliver Reed, Barbara Carrera, James Hampton, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Dana Elcar, Vernon Dobtcheff, Robert Arden
Plot: Comic book creator Woody Wilkins (Michael Crawford) is about to debut his new superhero: Condorman. Woody insists on authenticity in his character, though, and travels to Paris to test the gadgets he designed for the comic. His friend Harry (Oliver Reed), a CIA file clerk, asks him to carry out a special delivery for which a civilian has been requested. The over-enthusiastic Harry goes too far trying to impress his beautiful contact Natalia (Barbara Carrera), who is actually a KGB operative. Natalia returns to Moscow where her superior and lover Krokov (Oliver Reed) treats her cruelly. She decides to defect, and requests the agent known as “Condorman” be sent to retrieve her. Woody agrees to the mission, provided the CIA fabricate the rest of his comic book designs so he can test them in the field. Woody, Natalia and Harry are soon pursued by Krokov in a race across Europe to bring the beautiful spy to safety.
Thoughts: There is always a danger, when you go back and watch a movie or TV show you loved as a kid, that it simply won’t hold up. We’ve all been disappointed as adults, looking back and realizing things like the old Masters of the Universe TV show really wasn’t very good, or wondering how in the hell we were ever able to sit through Mac and Me more than once. Still, my fiancé Erin managed to secure a copy of this movie after she heard me mention how much I loved it back in the 80s, and I recently managed to find the time to watch it again for the first time in at least 20 years.
Condorman comes from the Disney company during that long stretch in the 70s and 80s when the company simply didn’t know what it was supposed to be anymore. After Walt Disney’s death in 1966, the company coasted on projects he’d already put in the works for a few years, then started to flounder, trying to figure out a direction now that its founder was gone. This film is the perfect example of that. The studio tried to simultaneously capitalize on the popularity of superheroes (thanks to the Christopher Reeve Superman franchise) and James Bond-style spy thrillers, while at the same time creating the sort of family friendly comedy that Disney’s live action properties were expected to be. The result is a film that fails to live up to the standards of any of the three.
That’s not to say the film is terrible. I mean… it kind of is, but at the same time, there’s something about it that still entertains me. Michael Crawford is chewing the scenery so much you expect him to blow a bubble, and James Hampton plays the same sort of big-smiling best buddy he is in most of his work. In fact, if you told me his character in this film retired from the CIA and returned to the states so he could raise his son properly before the family’s werewolf curse made itself known, I wouldn’t think you were that crazy. Just in terms of performance, Barbara Carrera and Oliver Reed are the ones that actually do the most acting. Carrera in particular is fun to watch, putting out a sort of Disney-friendly sensuality that you didn’t get to see often. In essence, she’s a G-rated Bond Girl, which is exactly what the script required her to be. (She would get another chance to be an sort-of Bond girl two years later in the infamous non-canon Sean Connery Bond film Never Say Never Again.)
The concept here is actually perfectly sound – a goofy, good-hearted man leaps at the chance for a little adventure and to test out the toys he’s only, until now, created on paper. It’s the execution that falls flat. The flying scenes are pretty uniformly terrible, with weak bluescreen effects and sometimes even visible cables. The rest of the tech is a bit more acceptable; the “Condormobile” in particular has a cool design and neat gadgets, and I can forgive the 80s-era computer display on the inside. Truth be told, to this day I occasionally fantasize about having a switch in my car that would allow me to blow off the outer shell and reveal a super-sleek high-speed sports car underneath. (These fantasies are usually prompted by sitting in traffic.)
I don’t want you to misunderstand me, guys. This is not a good movie. In fact, if the guys from RiffTrax could somehow get Disney to allow them to do a Video on Demand riff of this, I think it could be one of their greatest productions ever. But despite its cheese, this is one of those rare films from my past that I can look back on and still kind of love, warts and all. I can’t explain it, and I don’t feel the need to defend it. It’s silly, it’s crazy, it’s goofy…. And that’s why I like it.
The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!
Posted on April 30, 2013, in Action, Comedy, Gut Reactions, Superhero and tagged 1981, Barbara Carrera, Charles Jarrott, Cold War, Dana Elcar, Disney, James Hampton, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Marc Stirdivant, Michael Crawford, Oliver Reed, Robert Arden, Robert Sheckley, spy, Vernon Dobtcheff. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.