In the 1970s, television networks brought us several superpowered characters via series and movies. They were often corny and weren’t taken seriously. We had Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, the Bionic Duo (Six-Million-Dollar-Man and the Bionic Woman), and several others. Additionally, and all the “superhero” shows in the 70s suffered greatly for this, no matter how super powered the heroes were, all they would ever fight is standard criminals and gangs. There were a few exceptions such as the Fembots, Bigfoot and a couple of “aliens” that Steve Austin and Jamie Sommers battled. But nearly any of these stories could be swapped with standard police procedurals. It is often said that superheroes are only as good as the villains they fight. One of NBC’s initial attempts at a super powered crime fighter was the made for television movie that was intended as a series pilot called Exo-Man. The movie premiered on June 18, 1977, but was not picked up for series due to lack of merchandising potential, even though the initial viewership was quite high.
Dr. Nicholas Conrad (David Ackroyd), a professor who, in addition to teaching, is attempting to build a compact power source that would effortlessly move heavy objects. While attempting to help a student, Dr. Conrad becomes involved in a foiled bank robbery which leads to him being the only eyewitness that could put the nephew of a Chicago crime boss in prison. Kermit Haas, head of the local mafia organization is instructed to kill the professor, but instead, they only cripple him, making him permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Conrad becomes distraught and reclusive pulling away from everyone, including his girlfriend Emily (Anne Schedeen–Alf). He eventually pours himself back into his work and with some luck, he is finally able to create the power cell he needs. Seeing a suit of armor at an art exhibit, he gets the idea to create a suit that will allow him to walk again and more importantly, to get his revenge on those that took away his life. Obtaining the required materials from his colleagues, Dr. Conrad completes his exoskeleton and begins to seek justice. Can Nicholas Conrad get the revenge he seeks without becoming a villain himself? Watch and find out!
I remember watching this when I was a kid and loving the story, but even at that age, I saw the issue that I believe prevented it from going to series. To start off with, this is basically Marvel’s Iron Man. Disabled man builds power source and an exo-suit that not only saves his life, but also gives him great strength and abilities. The difference is, even the original Iron Man suit had a certain grace and agility, in Exo-Man, the suit is nearly laughable being extremely slow and clunky! The thing can barely move and in doing so, holds no true danger or fear to evil doers in the movie. In addition or possibly because of this, Exo-man is barely in the production, with the good doctor donning the suit only twice and in the last 10 minutes of the film. This is unfortunate, as the acting, script, story and all other aspects of the movie were really quite good. David Ackroyd did a great job as the uber-good guy, who does the right thing and gets punished for it. He displays some great depth of emotion to his character even in scenes with little dialogue. There was good chemistry between him and Anne Schedeen. Their scenes together had a comfortable authenticity to them making the characters likeable and relatable. A redesign of the suit giving the actor more agility and control, would have done wonders for its marketability…In my humble opinion!
Movie of the Week: Exo-Man (1977)
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