Friday, August 31, 2012

When Snowbeast Rocked our World...

What were you doing the night of April 28th, 1977? Well, if you lived in one of these 16.8 million homes, you were probably watching Snowbeast.

According to Nielsen, Snowbeast was numero uno for the week ending May 1st. And who wouldn't want to watch this fun little yarn that riffs on Jaws and Grizzly and just about every other animals-gone-amok-during-an-important-event-sub-genre?

In case you didn't know, the answer is no one.

While it's been some time since I've seen Snowbeast, I recall it fondly and I'd like to direct you to an old review I did for Camp Blood.

I had no idea that the film was so popular during its original run.  Reading the Nielsen ratings for this week in the bygone year of 1977 only made me nostalgic for network tele-films.


I'm always nostalgic for TV movies.

Let's just say more nostalgic, K? And leave out the word obsessed before The Movie of the Week issues a restraining order against me!

Friday, August 24, 2012

She Cried Murder (1973)

Network: CBS
Original Air Date: September 25th, 1973

I am always swooning over Christopher George. I suppose I just can’t get enough of his tan and chiseled charms. But while I’ve been busy mooning over Chris’s darkly handsome looks, I seem to have neglected his lovely wife. I honestly adore Lynda Day George, the striking blonde who often appeared alongside Chris in films and television. What an amazingly gorgeous couple.

OK, enough drooling. This is Lynda's moment!

Shot in Toronto, Canada, She Cried Murder is a thriller featuring Lynda as Sarah, a model and recent widow who sees someone murder a woman by pushing her onto the subway tracks. She calls the police but when they arrive to take her statement, she recognizes Inspector Brody (Telly Savalas) as the murderer. This, of course, sets of a string of events that pits Sarah against a police officer that no one believes could be a killer.

She Cried Murder is essentially one brisk and suspenseful chase scene. Clocking in at a mere 66 minutes - quite shy of the average 74 minute running length of the tele-films from this era - there is no time for subplots, or anything that might look like a distraction. From point A we can clearly see point B coming, but the chase scene maintains interest thanks to the location changes every few minutes.

While there is not much in the way of character development, screenwriters Timothy Bond and Merwin Gerard, along with Lynda's understated performance, create a rather interesting depiction of Sarah. She is originally painted as a vulnerable widow, prone to over emotional moments. When she tells the cops she must be wrong about seeing the killer, the police and her friend shrug it off as grief creating hallucinations (Yellow Wallpaper, anyone). Also, her livelihood is based on her beauty, as if to support a stereotype of women who should be seen but not heard. However, Sarah will prove that she’s much stronger than anyone is willing to give her credit for (and that’s including herself). At one point Sarah’s son is taken hostage by Inspector Brody and her deer caught in the headlights expression led me to believe she'd just limp over to the madman, but instead she works calmly against the odds, turning them in her favor. She manages to stay one step ahead – barely – of the menacing Inspector, while the other police officers (led by Mike Farrell) are always just one step behind.

Mike Farrell is given little to do, but Savalas is fantastic as the dangerous Inspector (as if there was any doubt). He uses his power as a cop to stay close behind our heroine, which keeps her on her feet! We only know a little about why he's a good cop gone bad, but there are many allusions to sordid dealings leading to far darker crimes. It also doesn't hurt that Savalas looks creepy! No offense Telly, but you were one serious looking dude!

Timothy Bond would go on to write the excellent slasher Happy Birthday to Me, which also featured a young heroine crippled by the death of a loved one (although her ending was not so happy). Merwin Gerard worked mostly in TV movies, and he also wrote The Screaming Woman (1972) and The Invasion of Carol Enders (1973), which are, much like She Cried Murder, great examples of lean filmmaking. Director Herschel Daugherty had previously teamed up with Gerard for the excellent 1972 tele-thriller The Victim, which starred Elizabeth Montgomery, and is yet another instance of letting the low budgets work in your favor. The Victim was a little more stringent in its presentation, as it was locked mostly into one location, but the woman-in-peril genre never looked better than in these kinds of films because actresses suited for the small screen knew how to bring just the right amount of soft glamour along with a sense of strength and dignity to their projects. Yes, I have wrongly relegated Lynda to being Mrs. George too often. She certainly holds her own in She Cried Murder.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

William Windom (1923 - 2012)

It seems like I've known William Windom my entire life. He was on my television all the time and I always found him to a personable and attractive presence on screen. So, while I never knew Windom in person, there is one thing I feel I can state as a fact.

He was an amazing actor.

He appeared in a gazillion things from Star Trek to Night Gallery to A Taste of Evil to Amen to Boy Meets World. He won an Emmy for his performance in the short-lived series My World and Welcome To It, which was based on James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. He was everywhere and it was a surefire bet that when Windom was on the screen you were going to be entertained. I’ve thought of all of this and of course, I’m grateful that such a wonderful actor has graced my life for my entire life, but as I sit here reflecting on his prolific career, all I can think about is his turn as Dr. Seth Hazlitt on Murder, She Wrote.

Seth was a bit of a badass. First Appearing in season two, Seth played a warm curmudgeon who, at the beginning, just might be a potential love interest for J.B. Fletcher (and I’m saddened we never saw them as a couple). He had a rather dark past, was accused of murder, hated Christmas because his parents totally spoiled it for him one year and he was also estranged from his brother. Seth was the recurring character who appeared most – over 50 episodes – and his delightfully crusty persona was always welcome on my screen. I adored the Cabot Cove episodes, especially when Seth and Sheriff Metzger (the fantastic Ron Masak) were in heavy demand.

I just discovered Murder, She Wrote this year on a whim. It’s available on Netflix streaming and I was curious to see the pilot. I was instantly drawn to Jessica Fletcher’s charisma, and Lansbury’s obvious command of the screen. Over the next few days I started watching season one, and before I knew it, I was watching them every night before I went to bed. And that tradition has continued to this day (I’m finally on season 11). Just last week I was spending another crazy weekend marathoning the show (I know, I lived on the edge), and I was purposely picking out the older Cabot Cove episodes for my viewing pleasure. If Seth wasn’t it, I wasn’t interested. I even went back to the pre-Metzger days, because I love how frazzled Seth got whenever he had to deal with Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley). It was these little quirks on the series that made Cabot Cove a very familiar and welcoming town to me. I know it doesn’t exist, but I am retiring there. I still have a couple of decades to make Cabot Cove real so give me time!

At any rate, William Windom has been a very important part of my life this last year. When I started watching the series, I was gearing up for my first semester at a new college and I got the stomach flu two days before classes began. I remember laying on the couch, achy, tired and in pain and there was Murder, She Wrote, removing me from my stressful real world troubles. I will always be grateful for the MSW crew, and I will always love Windom for giving such wonderful life to Dr. Seth Hazlitt.

RIP William, you were a one of a kind.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I'm sure many of you have already heard that Ron Palillo, who played Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter has died. And this just happens months after Robert Hegyes, who played Juan Epstein passed away.

I don't have much say here, except that I am so sad to see some of my favorite funny men from childhood leaving us. I grew up loving to laugh at the silly hijinks on Kotter and it's just so sad that two of the actors would leave us so young and so soon (not to mention Debralee Scott who passed away in 2005).

Aside from Kotter, I knew Ron for a couple of things, but most notably for his stint on One Life to Live in 1994 as Gary Warren. He worked at Asa's casino as a dealer and I remember how much I loved just seeing him on an episode. Funny that he was only on it for a year, because I still remember him behind the blackjack table!

Ron, Robert and the entire Welcome Back, Kotter crew were a highlight of my childhood and then some. I know I'm not the only one who adored these actors and they are not soon to be forgotten.

You can read about Ron's passing here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls (1981)

Original Air Dates: October 19th - 20th, 1981

Although Catherine Hicks proclaimed she didn’t want to do anymore television after her well-received performance as Marilyn Monroe in Marilyn: The Untold Story, the actress returned to the small screen just one year later to take on all the soapy goodness of The Valley of the Dolls. In an interview, Catherine revealed that she modeled her version of Anne Welles (originally played by the gorgeous Barbara Parkins) after Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. You see, Hollywood is a lot like Oz with its color and dreams and drugs… or something like that.

Produced by Jacqueline Susann’s widower, Irving Mansfield, he called this remake a “labor of love,” and it also marked his return as a producer (he’d quit the business to become his wife’s press agent). Mansfield fell under the scrutiny of Reverend Donald Wildmon who ran the Coalition for Better Television and threatened a boycott of the movie. At the time the book had sold more than 27 million copies, and CBS seemed unfazed by dedicating five hours of their time to this objectionable content, er, I mean programming. As far as I know, It aired in its intended form, objectionable content and all.

In the remake, Anne is now an entertainment lawyer, young, hungry and well on her way to success. Her roommate is the spunky Neely O’Hara (Lisa Hartman) who’s got the pipes for a singing career but lacks confidence unless it comes out of a bottle of alcohol or pills. And there’s Jennifer North (Veronica Hamel) who was 37 at the time of filming. I only mention this because Sharon Tate, who played Jennifer in the original, was just 25 and much closer to a realistic modeling age. That said, Hamel is amazing in the role, and the best part of the movie. She has a lot of problems, and has to deal with several hefty issues such as abortion and breast cancer.

The trio are varied in their connections to each other. Jennifer is more on the outskirts and seems to form her own movie (the part in France is ridiculously awesome), but Neely and Anne are extremely close. And then there’s Lyon Burke (David Birney) who is a successful director and a major seducer. He’s also pretentious as all get out, but since I think Birney is sex-on-a-stick, I let my few quibbles go. I should mention that Bert Convy has a smaller role, but the idea of him and Birney in the same room was enough to make me squeal in delight. Convy is fantastic as Tony Polar the famous crooner who doesn’t know he has a degenerative mental disease. And hunky Gary Collins shows up for awhile as well. However, the true stud of Dolls is James Coburn who plays Henry Bellamy, a big time attorney whom Anne works for. He’s wonderful, charismatic and definitely the best catch in the movie (he would have been second best if Tony didn’t have dementia).

Someone on IMDb called this movie “Valley of the Dulls,” and unfortunately, I would have to agree. While I enjoyed the movie – of course I’d enjoy it, look at the cast – it definitely lacks the camp appeal that made the first film so damn fabulous. Of course, it’s been eons since I’ve seen the original movie, so maybe I’m remembering it wrong, but I recall O’Hara’s big catfight with Helen Lawson as being much more fun (the gorgeous Jean Simmons plays Helen in the remake - with perhaps too much dignity). In the remake that scene just sort of is. Why don’t you watch ‘em and compare for yourself by clicking on this link.

The film is most appealing for its costumes and the game cast who do their best to keep things realistically dramatic. And as I mentioned, Hamel is a knockout as Jennifer. Her story is nothing short of tragic, and the actress did a wonderful job making her ride seem so very painful. She also shares a short scene with the late, great David Hess who plays a French artist. I had to sigh when I saw him, since he passed away just a few months ago. Looking back, my general reaction was to sigh at the loss of so many wonderful actors (Coburn, Convy, Simmons), while also lamenting the missed potential of some grand absurdities. It should also be mentioned that the dolls in the title are a little lacking here as well. Neely indulges big time, but in the just-shy-of-a-four-hour-running-length, it’s simply not enough.

Although Dolls aired it’s second night’s episode against the World Series’ opening game, the mini-series did alright in the ratings, scoring a spot at #6 for the first part (tying with Dukes of Hazzard!) and falling to #20 on the next night. Yes, that’s a big drop, but it did still make the top twenty. And yes, that’s me making excuses.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Judith Crist (1922 - 2012)

I have such bad timing. I mentioned Judith today to my husband, with regards to her movie reviews in the TV Guide and how badly I wanted to start a database on her made for TV movie reviews so I could access them more easily when I’m writing. And then I come home and find out she’s passed away at the age of 90.

While Judith has no doubt been a well-known film critic for as long as I can remember, I really started to take notice of her when I received a bunch of TV Guides last year (a gift from my awesome hubby). Her reviews are mostly short capsules with little more than a synopsis and a few words in favor of or against the film. However, while these tidbits often fell by the wayside as many threw out their Guides (how could you!), they have come to mean a lot to me. I use her reviews for research or sometimes to simply give me some background or idea of what I’m heading into.

Scan courtesy of TV Guide Time Machine

I am still learning about the world of retro TV, but she seems to have been one of the few consistent voices talking about these movies during its golden era of the 70s and into the 80s. The only other people I can think of are Arvin Marill and Richard Levinson and his writing/producing partner William Link. With the help of these people I have been able to eke out some decent knowledge on the genre, and I owe them a lot.

I am just going to post what I wrote on my Facebook Page because I think it really just says everything I am thinking about right now:

It is with great sadness that I post this news about Judith Crist's passing. As a lover of TV Guide, I have been pouring over my old issues, reading her reviews of TV movies. Strangely enough, my husband just got me 150 (!) old TV Guides from the 70s (which are currently being shipped) and I just said to him that I wanted to start cataloging her reviews in a spreadsheet so I could have a nice way of finding them when I want to quote her. Wow. While she didn't seem super pro-TV movie, she was one of the first critics that I saw taking the form seriously. We might not agree on everything, but I respected and admired her work.

RIP Judith.

Read more about Judith's life here.

Here is Judith at 90 discussing herself in her own words:


Saturday, August 4, 2012

LIke Mom, Like Me 1978

Network: CBS
Original Air Date: October 22nd, 1978

Like Mom, Like Me might seem quaint or even trite by today’s modern Kardashian 15 minute marriage standards, but things were different in the decade of bellbottom madness. Divorce rates were climbing while women attempted to escape the Feminine Mystique, and this film captures a very rocky era of uncertainty with a little heart and thought.

Linda Lavin is Althea, a college professor with a teenage daughter. Her husband has left his family for a younger woman, forcing Althea to reassess her life. She flounders big time, travelling from man to man, while her daughter Jennifer (Kristy McNichol) attempts to adjust to a single family household and her mom’s new sex life.

Linda Lavin called the movie “a love story between a mother and a daughter… It’s a very human, powerful story.” However, in some ways, Like Mom, Like Me feels like a racier Afterschool Special. That’s no complaint, I adore my Afterschool Specials, but it’s hard to deny there are some heavy handed moments. Yet, it is so well acted, I didn’t care so much when it tried to hit me over the head with its messages.

As she is in everything, McNichol is amazing as the confused daughter who embarks on her own romances while helping her mother work through her own. There are fights and there is understanding, and while it's a little predictable, McNichol helps to keep everything engaging. Lavin is also great in her role. Confession: she annoyed me a little as Alice, especially when she would tell Mel to “get involved” (insert New Jersey accent here), but now that I’m the age Linda was when she made this movie, I found I truly felt for her situation. The character is lost in a world that has become more swinging and less traditional. She falls on her face many times, and surprisingly turns away the one decent relationship that comes along. Like so many people who have had to deal with a separation or divorce, she doesn’t know what she wants or how to re-engage herself with the single world. In this respect, Jennifer becomes a parental figure, comforting her own mother when she is broken hearted. It’s a good learning lesson for Jennifer, who’s about to embark on her first romantic adventure (with cutie pie Michael LeClair).

Like Mom, Like Me was adapted from the novel by Sheila Schwartz, who based the book on her own relationship with her daughter Nancy Lynn Schwartz. Nancy, who’d only had one produced film under her belt at the time, wrote the teleplay. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor soon after, and it quickly took a turn for the worse. Sadly, she passed away three weeks before Like Mom, Like Me aired (her third and last movie, Charleston, aired a year later). Knowing this only made the film more poignant and bittersweetly innocent.  

Like Mom, Like Me will no longer break new ground, but I would imagine that back in its day it spoke to far too many people. Despite the fact that each woman is going through their own romantic trials, the bond between the two becomes the one saving grace of their lives, and it sensitively portrays a new kind of family that still relies on good old fashion love.

Oh yeah, and Max Gail is sexy.