The Spirit (1987)

The Spirit TV Movie

Here’s a forgotten piece of pop culture for you.  I was going through the Starlog archives looking for stories to run and I stumbled across these promotional photos for a TV pilot based on Will Eisner’s pulp hero, The Spirit.  The pilot was filmed in 1986, but the proposed series wasn’t picked up.  So it eventually aired as a stand-alone movie the following year.  The lead is none other than Flash Gordon star Sam Jones and that’s Nana Visitor of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine clutching his shoulder.  The pilot was written by Steven E. de Souza prior to hitting it big with Die Hard.

Superheroes were dormant in 1987.  The Superman movies had mostly flamed out and the Batman movies hadn’t started.  The Wonder Woman and Hulk TV shows were no longer on the air.  This show was intended to be pitched somewhere between the silliness of the 60’s Batman and a series crime show.  According to de Souza, that tone was altered to fit the lead actor:

The producer, Paul Aratow, our director Michael Schultz, and I originally wanted it to be played so straight that you’d wonder if it was straight. But if you know Sam, Sam has his default. If you’ve seen his other work, he has that master thespian, deadly serious setting, and then that nod and a wink that served him so well in Flash Gordon. Those are his two speeds. The dead serious one didn’t work for this, so Michael had the whole ensemble play to match Sam.

Unfortunately, the show was a victim of a regime change at ABC.  A management shake-up meant that everyone who had approved the pilot left the network.  With no one left to support the show, it sat on a shelf until someone thought to air it as a movie.  It’s a shame.  The mid-eighties could have used a colorful hero like The Spirit.


Posted on July 23, 2016, in Starlog Archives, Super Heroes, TV and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Haphazard Stuff | The Spirit (1987)

    Detective Denny Colt is one of the finest, upstanding, incorruptible cops that has arrived in Central City. Knowing Colt will cause them a lot of headaches when he grows suspicious of some bizarre activities at the city’s museum he’s gunned down and left for dead by a pack of nefarious criminals.

    However, Colt survives the attack and decides to use his supposed death to his advantage. He grabs a fedora, puts on a mask and vows to continue to fight crime. He’s no longer bound by the rules of the law either! The criminals of Central City better watch out for The Spirit!

    Sam J. Jones returns to my superhero series as our lead hero once again. After bringing to life Flash Gordon, Jones steps into the mask of another popular hero from the earliest days of superhero history. Legendary comic artist Will Eisner’s creation was one of the most popular and beloved characters during the 1940’s. The Spirit would be pushed to the side by more colorful, powerful characters through the years, so when ABC aired a proposed pilot film for The Spirit it might have caught audiences a bit off guard.

    The movie was mostly ignored and forgotten by audiences. Eisner himself was said to have been disappointed with the final result. Not surprisingly the television series never happened, but the 74 minute movie remains.

    Trying to balance a campy fun, tongue-in-cheek, adventurous tone on a limited budget, the story moves the character from his 1940’s dark noir setting to a more brightly lit present day 1987. The Spirit must try to stop a series of art thefts and fraud at the city museum with only some help by Commissioner Dolan and a streetwise kid. Oh, and Dolan’s beautiful daughter Ellen might need some saving too.


  2. I didn’t get to see the entire movie when it aired. I was unfortunately at Sears with my parents that night. I don’t remember why. However, I did get to watch some of it on one of the TVs in the electronics department as they shopped and I enjoyed it. I’ve always wanted to see the movie in its entirety. It was certainly better than the theatrically released piece of shit directed by Frank Miller. I’m not sure if any movie has ever pissed me off more than that garbage.


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