Summer of Movies: Some ’70s Made-For-TV Youtube Fare

A hearty thank-you and a Derek Jeter gift basket for all the movie nerds who digitized old VHS off-the-air recordings of otherwise unavailable 1970s material and uploaded it to youtube.

There’s a ton of the stuff on there. I’ve only begun to fend my way through it. I’m trying to focus on stuff I’ve never seen, while maybe throwing in a repeated viewing of some fond memory here and there, to maintain some balance.

So I won’t be discussing the big 1970s TV movie titles that spring to most minds whenever the genre is mentioned – no Duel, or Trilogy of Terror, or Satan’s Triangle, or Bad Ronald or Killdozer… at least not YET, since a lot of those are on youtube as well. The majority come from the ABC Movie of the Week series, a 90 minute weekly slot filled by various TV production factories of the day – Universal, Aaron Spelling, etc. Here’s a site that lists ’em all, from 1969 to 1975.

Hell, I’m showing Duel for a class next year. It’s still one of Spielberg’s best.

And battling that lil’ cannibal™ doll was certainly Karen Black’s best. But let’s get to a handful of old TV films I screened recently, most of which are worth checking out.

In Broad Daylight (1971) stars Richard Boone as a recently blinded actor who plots to kill his cheatin’ wife (Stella Stevens) and pin the murder on her lover. In order to pull off the plot, he has to work the entire caper after learning how to independently move around Los Angeles now that he’s blind. Susanne Pleshette plays his counselor, John Marley plays the cop. This one plays out like a really good Alfred Hitchcock hour, and it’s set up in a way that makes you root for Boone to get away with it. He’s certainly more sympathetic than Stevens & her squeeze, and just the technical prowess he needs to master in order to pull off the murder caper made me want to see it work. The script is by Larry Cohen, notable for It’s Alive and Black Caesar and Q and literally tons of stuff over decades. This one’s a well-made TV mystery that moves & works throughout.  Don’t mix it up with the 1991 “In Broad Daylight” with Brian Dennehy as the town bully who inspires everyone in the town to kill him, even if that one is based off the same true incident that inspired the genius that is Roadhouse.

The Other Man (1970) is a decent moody-atmospheric piece, sort of a throwback to the “women’s mysteries” inspired by gothic novels that hit the screens back in the 1940s. It drags in several places and doesn’t quite manage to drive home the emotion necessary to sew up the set up in the end. Joan Hackett plays the bored & ignored wife of lawyer Arthur Hill, and she starts up some liaisons with mysterious sports car drivin’ playboy Roy Thinnes. She’s convinced Thinnes is in love with her, though he acts cold, distant, mysterious…. and much like Mr. Darby, she soon learns one of his secrets actually makes him even MORE sensitive in that gothic romance novel way, I guess. The story grows more sinister when murder and revenge get involved and there are some nice twists, but in the end…. it just doesn’t quite work as well as it coulda. I kept thinking how much more I might have forgiven this if it had been Barbara Stanwyck and Cary Grant, but that only reminded me that Hackett’s character is too passive, and Thinnes is too stiff. For this to work, you’d have to really feel emotion between them since so much of the plot & mystery element revolve around whether Thinnes truly loves her or not. I think any mystery plot where people are duplicitous in various ways hinge greatly on the actors themselves – can they make us sympathize with both sides of their character?  More importantly, can they get us to actively root for one side to win out, as we do with the nice-guy-I-love-my-little-sister side of Mr. Darcy, come to think of it. In this one, the stakes just didn’t feel as high.

Murder By Natural Causes (1979) was a repeat viewing, an entry I remembered liking a lot and no memory tricks here, this one is great. In Broad Daylight’s director Robert Day, always a solid TV director, working from a Richard Levenson/William Link (Columbo, Murder She Wrote, etc) script. Hal Holbrook plays a professional mentalist who dazzles audiences with a mind reading act. Katherine Ross is the (again) unfaithful wife, this time schtupping local studly 99-seat actor Barry Bostwick. Holbrook’s got a bad heart, so they plot to induce a heart attack and make it look like the title of the movie. Richard “Oscar Goldman” Anderson plays Holbrook’s lawyer pal who seems to know more than he’s letting on. The second half of this plays absolutely brilliantly, with plot twists and tricks on the audience evoking stuff like Sleuth and Deathtrap, and the performances are great all around. Highly recommended!

You can’t watch ’70s TV movie fare without venturing into the silly horror and scifi variety, there’s just so damn much of it, so once I got my early fill of the crime/mystery stuff, I switched gears and checked out the terribly titled A Cold Night’s Death (1973). It cribs the set-up of The Thing – an isolated polar research station stuck in the frozen wasteland, but then goes in a slightly different direction. Robert Culp and Eli Wallach play two scientists sent to the station to find out what happened to the scientist who was already there doing experiments on would-be space monkeys for NASA. Seems he went nuts. Not sure why you need to do experiments on monkey astronauts in the freezing friggin’ cold, but there we are. Anyway, it’s only those two guys in this whole movie, stuck at the station trying to figure out why the previous scientist went nuts and let himself freeze to death. And then, it seems they are not alone. Are they going crazy themselves or is something else at the station…. and so on. It doesn’t reach the glorious levels of gory paranoia found in Carpenter’s 1982 Thing remake, but it sets up a decent eeriness, and the payoff at the end manages to be a little silly on one level and really clever on another.

Not so clever was Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973) a spooky-old-house-crazy-family entry with a script by Hammer’s Jimmy Sangster, who shoulda known better that anyone watching this would immediately think of Hitchcock’s Psycho, Castle’s Homicidal and even Corman’s Bucket of Blood and then figure the entire plot out.

And I bet YOU just did when I mentioned the 3 films it’s totally derivative of. So I won’t discuss the plot at all!

Sian Barbara Allen is Peggy, the annoyingly intrusive college student who becomes housekeeper for weirdo sculptor Ted Bessel and old drunk scary mom Bette Davis. A lot of the ’70s made-for-tv fare feature casts like this – odd mixes of young actors starting out, TV regulars, and old Hollywood A-list names who could not get work in features in the 1970s “New” Hollywood where it was all about YOUTH, baby! So you’ll see Ray Milland and Walter Pidgeon and Olivia DeHavilland and the like turning up in lots of these things.

And I love seeing them!

Just like I loved the bizarre juxtaposition of Gloria Grahame and Avery Schreiber (unfortunately not a sex tape) in Escape! (1971) an unsold pilot featuring Christopher George as a famous escape artist who, naturally, works as an independent crime solver. And who else to have as his I-can-research-anything-expert-on-everything sidekick but Avery Schreiber? And where else to live but a SUPER SECRET apartment above a bar/club for local psychics tended by Huntz Hall? And who else to battle but evil scientist John Vernon, bent on WORLD DOMINATION once he gets what he needs from William Windom, while pretending to be dead from wife Gloria Grahame, who has remarried to the politically ambitious….William Schallert!

For the cast and pseudo-James Bond-Saul Bass title sequence alone, this one was worth the ride.

But you can see why it would not work as a series. The baddies KNOW Steele is the greatest escape artist in the world, so they imprison him by putting him in a strait jacket and suspending him from the ceiling, since he’d NEVER do that in his act or anything.

Yeah, lots of stuff like that.

Produced by Bruce Lansbury and scripted by Paul Playdon, tho…. they worked on Mission Impossible together, and Playdon was always adept at crazy caper TV, from MI to Banacek to a show that took the premise of this one into more interesting directions, The Magician with Bill Bixby. Come to think of it, the Avery Schreiber character reminded me of Murray Matheson on Banacek, with his private library of research he’d consult before slipping the roofie into some runaway’s drink over his chess game.

Ah, ’70s TV!

I’ll troll youtube for more… in the meantime, there’s some more old noir to go through. Stay tuned!



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