Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The USA World Premiere Movie Project: Tainted Blood (1993)

This review has been posted in conjunction with the Daily Grindhouse's year long tribute to the USA World Premiere Movie.  

As I mentioned in my review of Running Against Time, I know next to nothing about science. However, even I can detect something hinky in mumbo jumbo, and the scientific shenanigans backing Tainted Blood are questionable at best. The premise banks its foundation on the theory that insanity is inherited. OK, I can run with that, but this small screen thriller takes it one very broad step further by proclaiming that if you are born to a crazy lady who murders her parents, you too will kill your parental unit as well! Yet, despite this (for lack of a better word) insane leap of faith Tainted Blood suggests we take, the film is thoroughly fascinating, and, most importantly, entertaining.

Raquel Welch plays a famous journalist named Elizabeth Hays. Elizabeth is known for both her investigation skills as well as her ability to constantly pander to sensationalism. She stumbles across the tragic murder/suicide of a young man and his parents, and explores the possible motives leading to the sad event. This leads her to (hinky) information that suggests the murderous son was adopted and he has a twin sister who may also have a penchant for adopted-parental blood.

In a town not so far away, two young girls strike up a friendship. Although wildly different, the girls bond over the fact that both have been adopted. Tori (Kerri Green) now belongs to a stable home that is rife with first world problems, such as Tori’s brother’s insistence on reading her diary, but that’s as difficult as things gets in this suburban paradise. Lissa’s (Natasha Gregson Wagner) homelife is another story. Her alcoholic mom (Joan Van Ark) spends most of her days laying bed, drinking and doing her nails (I kid you not) and while she is not physically abusive, there are definitely problems in this crazy household.

Am I finally at the part where I can talk about Joan Van Ark? Good, because what I wrote above was really only scaffolding for what should be known as the Joan Van Ark Hour (even though the movie is more like two hours, Joan is in about one… so it counts). Joan is absolutely beguiling and delicious in one of the most well played scenery chewing performances in a made for TV movie. No small feat, as we know many divas have taken a shot at over the top material and come out shining.

Part of the shock I had watching Van Ark came from my familiarity with her turn as Valene on Knot’s Landing. Valene bugged the heck out of me when she first appeared on Dallas (I swear you could hold a drinking game based on the amount of times she says, “Good ol’ boys"), but I came to love her on the spin-off soap. Even though she was always smack dab in the middle of the save-the-drama-for-your-momma-variety, she came in with subtle and vulnerable performances. I’ve also seen her guest on a few classic shows as well, such as Cannon and Rhoda, and her under-the-radar execution in those parts left me completely unprepared for the dizzying heights she was willing to put her Tainted Blood character through. Color me impressed.

Don’t believe me? Check out Joan in action:

And yet, despite the almost unrestricted boundaries she puts on screen, Van Ark doesn’t seem all that out of place amongst the other far more grounded performances. Tainted Blood, which originally aired on March 3rd, 1993, is all over the map with respect to the character's verisimilitude. And not in a bad way, because this tele-film is all about dubious science that wants to argue about nature vs. nurture, but has to find a way to fly first. The mostly fantastic performances scale the acting meter from realistically sympathetic to WTF, creating an engaging and fun ride. Hinky science, schminky science... give me more of the slender lady with big blonde hair. Whether or not anything proposed in the story could actually happen takes a backseat to setting and style, and Van Ark drew me in, and the film was strong enough to keep me there.

Definitely worth a look, Tainted Blood is on VHS.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TV Spot Tuesday: The Only Way Out (1993)

Network: ABC 
Original Air Date: December 19th, 1993 

I remember tuning into The Only Way Out when it originally aired in the early 90s. There was no way I was going to pass up a chance to catch John Ritter and Henry Winkler – two of the funniest and nicest men in showbiz – going toe to toe in a surprisingly gripping domestic thriller. The Fonz vs. Jack Tripper?!? That’s front row seat material! I know… I probably needed to get out more. But work with me here, because The Only Way Out is intriguing and suspenseful, and if nothing else, it’s worth catching for Winkler’s excellent portrayal of a manipulative abuser.

Ritter is Jeremy Carlisle, a nice guy who wants his recent divorce to be as amicable as possible. While the three kids he had with his ex-wife, Lynn (Stephanie Faracy) are mixed on the separation and the couple are obviously lugging around some extra carry on baggage, for the most part things could be much worse. And, the words “much worse” come in the form of a guy named Tony (Henry Winkler), a man who is all goofy on the outside, but a seething cauldron of hot water that is just about to boil over on the inside. His escalation from verbal abuse to violence is quick and terrifying (his groveling regret is just as disturbed), and Lynn isn’t quite sure how to react, so she turns to Jeremy for help. This only serves to aggravate both Jeremy and his new wife Susannah (Julianne Phillips), and it also drags Jeremy into an ugly confrontation where only one will come out alive!

Ritter and Winkler had been searching for a project to do together when the script for The Only Way Out fell into their hands. Originally, the pair was gearing up to work on a comedic TVM titled The Sob Sisters, but the film was scrapped due to script issues. Then they were approached to star in The Boys (a TVM about Columbo's co-creators, Richard Levinson and William Link), but the parts eventually went to John Lithgow and James Woods. Around this time, Ritter had become interested in a British thriller titled One Way Out and his production company, Adam Productions, picked up the adaptation rights. Although Ritter was working on the remake he was surprised that it turned out to be the film that would finally team up the talented comedians. Ritter said, “We didn’t realize that such a heavy, dark piece would give us our first chance to work together, but we’ve wanted to do it for years.” So be it, right?

After production, ABC tossed around airdates and the tele-film was originally scheduled to air in November, during sweeps. Ritter believes the creepy thriller was pushed back because some executives were nervous about the heady subject matter and violence. Strangely enough, the network decided to air the TVM during the Christmas season! There's just a touch of irony in there.

In many ways this top-notch small screen suspenser mimics much of the same frustration of the 1990 theatrical film Pacific Heights, by creating a character that exasperates the bejeezus out of you. Dammit, I wanted to kill off Winkler’s character too. Ritter is maddening as well, because Jeremy cowers more than protects. And yet, I can’t imagine how I’d react to a madman showing up at my house, my work, and every other nook of my life. Critics had mixed opinions on The Only Way Out, but many were fascinated, and ultimately taken in by John Ritter and Henry Winkler’s dramatic turns. Ritter stated that both he and Winkler auditioned for the part of the baddie, but now that I’ve seen the movie (a couple of times), I can’t imagine what it would look like if the roles were reversed because the casting is oh-so-perfect. And, that makes it all the more unfortunate that this engaging thriller has fallen by the wayside.

Check out the promo for The Only Way Out below: 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The USA World Premiere Movie Project: The Haunting of Seacliff Inn (1994)

This review has been posted in conjunction with the Daily Grindhouse's year long tribute to the USA World Premiere Movie. 

Confession: I have a love/hate relationship with Ally Sheedy. OK, it’s more like like/don’t like, but I tend to run hot and cold on the actress. I think she really found a niche for herself playing supporting characters because it allowed her to explore darker and more interesting roles. But, as a lead it’s rather hit or miss, and for me it’s more miss than anything else. Such is the case with The Haunting of Seacliff Inn, which premiered on September 22nd, 1994. As a rather traditional small screen supernatural tale, it might have benefitted from a more compelling leading lady. Luckily, Ally is aided by the always reliable (and hunky) William R. Moses, who has actually found a nice place to showcase his talents on small screen thrillers via Lifetime, where he takes on both good and bad guy roles. Moses makes a nice companion for Sheedy, balancing out the couple. And, if nothing else, Seacliff manages to provide a cozy place to spend 90 minutes.

Sheedy and Moses are Susan and Mark, a self-proclaimed yuppie couple, who are interested in starting a bed and breakfast. They stumble upon a gorgeous estate (or more appropriately, Susan’s sixth sense leads them there) owned by an old lady who isn’t interested in selling. So, it all works out rather nicely when she winds up dead, and the property is placed on the market for a song. But like all weird deaths that happen in big houses that sell cheaply, strange things are afoot. There are creepy dogs, electrocutions, a strange woman (or perhaps a sexy apparition), a psychic… you name it. And it doesn’t help that Susan and Mark are already on the outs because of an affair Mark had. In short, they have their own ghosts, and sexual and emotional repression run rampant through Seacliff, raising the dead, if you will.

Director Walter Klenhard does his best to create an eerie atmosphere, and the gorgeous Seacliff Inn becomes its own character. Shot around Camarillo and Mendocino, CA, this is your one stop shop for 19th century architecture, moody cemeteries and crashing waves. Lucinda Weist, who plays the first guest at the inn is also a great addition to a relatively small cast, injecting a somewhat predictable but intriguing mystery in the whole affair (emphasis on the word affair). And Louise Fletcher is good as the local psychic who helps Susan unfold the many mysteries.

In many ways, Seacliff reminded me of Haunted By Her Past (aka Secret Passions, 1987), mostly in that the sexual repression works as a catalyst to raise ghosts that are both physical and metaphorical, and the, ahem, climaxes are somewhat similar. But whereas Haunted had a nasty but sympathetic ghost villain, Seacliff lacks any real edge, and in the end, it is not that memorable of a film. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but it failed to linger upon the mind only an hour or so after I saw it. I do like that it's a nice, serious throwback to the supernatural TVMs of the 1970s, and, even if it's not the best movie ever or anything, Seacliff is definitely a rainy day kind of film, the one you turn on when you're half-dozing and want to fill your mind’s eye with lush manors and cute blonde guys.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer of MeTV Blogathon: An Open Love Letter To the Happy Days Post-Jumped Shark Cast

Dear Mr. and Mrs. C, Fonzie and the post-fourth season gang, 

I love you! I always have. Yes, when the show first started, it was wonderful. It gave the turbulent 70s a little taste of 50s nostalgia, which was something that was needed. And although you weren't always laugh out loud funny, you were consistently charming and sweet, and it gave us a comfortable place to rest our eyes on Tuesday nights. Richie and his friends were really great (oh Potsie, I have always loved you), and I also liked the quiet and impossibly cool Fonzie, who was just a little scary but also kind of funny.

Get your hands off my man, Joanie!
But those (happy) days, which started in January of 1974, were just a little before my time. I came of age (or maybe I was just more aware of the impact of television) in the later 70s and early 80s. Fonzie had become a little less quiet, and while he also became a bit more cartoonishly cool, I loved the idea that a guy who started his TV-life as a high school drop out could become the Dean of Boys at George S. Patton Vocational High School by the end of the series run. Keep the dream alive, right? 

Fonzie's version of a three piece suit: white tee-shirt, jeans and a pressed leather jacket. Aaaayyy!
It was during these years that I remember the Fonzie Phenomenon. The girls loved him, the boys wanted to be him. Around this point, Richie had enlisted in the military and lots of new faces began to show up at Al's. Jenny Piccolo had only been a figment of the audiences’ imagination before she first appeared in the 1980 episode No Tell Motel (which is such a perfectly titled episode for the oversexed teenager to make her debut). Of course, like all shows that build their foundation on such innocence, we knew Jenny was all talk, and while the talk was big and sometimes overbearing, I totally got Jenny because I too was crushing on every other boy in school. Thank you for making me look tame by comparison. 

I'm sure Jenny's man-dar went nuts during this scene!
I also loved when you became a scream fest. Like, whenever Chachi, Roger, or even Flip (wow, who else remembers Flip?) appeared on the screen, the girls would go crazy. Of course, I was Team Potsie, and I always appreciated the female screeches that came his way. 

So, like, when did Al join the band?!?
I will always love you for introducing me to Laverne and Shirley, but I also loved your aliens (Mork and Mindy) and angels (Out of the Blue). It was a hoot when characters crossed decades on Joanie Loves Chachi, and our favorite lovestruck couple was instantly transformed into part of an early 80s musical group. It was really nice that Happy Days let them back into the early 1960s when they returned full time to the series in 1983. You guys were cool that way. Aaayyyy!

Too cool to caption
But what I loved most was that no matter how broad the humor, or how far away you got from the original premise (and even when you introduced not-great characters like K.C. and that extra Belvin), you were funny. Maybe it wasn’t the kind of humor that critics look back on fondly, but they can sit on it! For 30 minutes each week, you made millions of people smile and laugh, and my childhood friends and I will always share the memories of fighting over who the cutest cast member was, mimicking Fonzie’s iconic “Aaaayyyy!” and to this day, we can still be known to call people Bucko when we are feeling aggressive. You gave us a whole new language and a lifetime of laughter. And for that I will always love you. 

Yours til Niagra Falls, 


P.S. Happy Days is airing every weeknight on MeTV

Only one turkey here, and it's on the table. I love the later years' cast o' crazies!

This retrospective is part of the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here to check out the blogathon's complete schedule! Guaranteed good times!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer of MeTV Blogathon: The Love Boat

It's that time of the year again! This retrospective is part of the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here to check out the blogathon's complete schedule! Guaranteed good times!

In Aaron Spelling’s wonderful autobiography A Prime-Time Life, the producer extraordinaire comments that he owes a lot to O. Henry, whose short stories were an inspiration for many of Spelling's projects. “We didn’t steal from O. Henry,” Spelling writes, “but we did use his form.” Shows like The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Hotel (and earlier Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater) were “short O. Henry-style tales with a twist at the end.”

O. Henry must have been an inspiration for Douglas S. Cramer too, who worked behind the scenes at Love, American Style as Executive Vice President in Charge of Production. He loved the romance anthology format and it spurred Cramer to find another venue to use this type of short form relationship-driven storytelling. He had acquired the rights to Jeraldine Saunders tawdry and fun novel The Love Boats and created two pilots based on the book. The TVMs garnered OK ratings but were not picked up for a series. Cramer asked Spelling to help him get a third pilot off the ground and they fine-tuned the cast, which included bringing aboard the beloved Gavin McLeod who’d recently found himself out of work with the cancellation of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Both Cramer and Spelling also agreed that they would produce the pilot film under a much tighter budget. The third time was a charm, and as romance on the high seas set sail, the rest as they say, is television history.

Behind the scenes on The Love Boat: Bernie Kopell prepares for his closeup.
Love Boat ran for ten glorious seasons, experienced their share of casting ups and downs and even a few real life calamities (Fred Grandy suffered burns to his hands and face after and odd balloon accident!), but as far as the viewers’ 60 minute dose on Saturday nights were concerned, all that could be seen was magic (well, minus the Love Boat Mermaids… sorry ladies).

Apparently, John Ritter had just seen Tootsie right before he boarded The Love Boat!
Despite the critical disdain, the nickname the “Sex Barge,” and the fact that it originally ran against the highly rated Carol Burnett Show, audiences turned up in droves, and surprisingly enough, the show was a family favorite. Although Love Boat was seen as a response to the sexual revolution, the series exuded an air of innocence, most likely because it concentrated on romance and the stories upheld a very traditional boy-meets-girl-boy-gets-girl way of storytelling. Fred Grandy once said that the show resonated with audiences because, “Love was more than a stateroom and a Do Not Disturb Sign.” Grandy was right, the Love Boat featured young and old, rich and poor, divorced, widowed and single on equal footing in the game of love.

A promo still for The Love Boat: Joanie Loves Chachi Loves Isaac and Gopher
And it was Spelling’s respect and admiration for old Hollywood that brought a lot of the classic stars to the small screen, making high seas amore all the more tender and tangible. In fact, it was Spelling’s desire to showcase actors who had, for lack of a better phrase, been thrown out to sea, that has made the series undeniably timeless, despite some other dated elements (although I do love a good bell bottomed pantsuit any day of the week). Commenting on ageism in Hollywood, Spelling wrote, “It’s criminal the way they’re treated. The moment a woman’s breasts droop one inch, they don’t work anymore, as opposed to countries like England, where the Margaret Rutherfords work forever and are revered. But in our crazy country, once you reach a certain age, you’re dead. It’s a very sad statement. So if we can use an established star who’s not working, it’s a privilege.”

Olivia de Havilland and Joseph Cotten find romance and yellow shirts on The Love Boat
Boy, did Love Boat fill the roster with great Hollywood stars! Everyone from Kaye Ballard, Ethel Merman, Vera Miles to Joan Fontaine signed up for comedy, hijinks and a little light petting on the way to exotic locales (piece o’ Love Boat trivia: Lana Turner was the show’s 1,000 guest). And there were many handsome older men to accompany these fine ladies, including Fernando Lamas, Harold Gould, Joseph Campanella and even Allan Ludden (!), among many others. The friendly faces of Norm Crosby and Milton Berle could be seen, along with oddball casting stunts that came in the form of celebrities like Andy Warhol, and even some animals got porthole billing, like Tiny the Kangaroo (playing himself in two episodes, no less!). But it was really the way The Love Boat featured cross-generational romance, where anyone could find their soul mate, despite their age, finances, past mistakes or bad marriages, and audiences tapped into this equal opportunity lovefest.

Eleanor Parker = Perfection
The two-part episode Alaska Wedding (aka Buddy and Portia's Story/Julie's Story/Carol and Doug's Story/Peter and Alicia's Story - got that?) is one of my favorite examples of featuring actors of different ages and experience sharing the small screen. Alaska Wedding originally aired on September 15th, 1979, during season three, as two hour special. It features two well off families renting out the ship for the extravagant wedding of Doug Bradbury (a blonde Mark Harmon) and Carol Bowers (Lisa Hartman). The families are a variety of old and new money, with Carol’s grandfather Buddy (Lorne Greene) having acquired his wealth during his own lifetime while Doug comes from old money, where these types of luxurious vacations are more the norm. Unfortunately, Doug’s mother Alicia (the ridiculously glamorous Eleanor Parker) has squandered most of the fortune and hopes to keep that a secret until after the wedding, to save her son the embarrassment. Her ex-husband Peter (Ray Millland), and her sister Portia (Audra Lindley looking at home in her oh-so-gorgeous frocks) are also on board and know bits and pieces of the secret.

Boy, did she get the wrong number!
And that’s just the beginning! Natalie (Caren Kaye) is ga-ga for Doug’s money and hopes to thwart the upcoming nuptials. But romance is blossoming elsewhere, mostly for Portia and Buddy who both had personal promises to never make a later-life trip down the aisle for various reasons. Also, Alicia doesn’t know that her black sheep ex-husband wants to reconcile with Doug because he’s dying. And while Peter might not have set out to reconnect with Alicia, the couple start to remember what it was like to be happy together.

Julie wonders why her love life is so doomed
But wait, I’m not done yet! Doug’s best man, Marv (Donny Most) has set his sights on Julie but she’s hoping to reunite with Jack (Tony Roberts) who’d proposed to her in the previous season’s Julie Falls Hard (OAD 12/16/1978). However, as many of us know, Julie’s doomed love life sees no bright lights at the end of this Alaskan voyage, and unfortunately, romance is not in the cards for either her or Marv on this trip. But a thoughtful friendship blooms in its place. Awwww...

Buddy and Portia share a laugh
Alaska Wedding is an episode I tend to revisit for a few reasons. For one, it’s opulent in that way that only Aaron Spelling could deliver. We’re talking fur coats (although I do prefer my pelts to be of the faux variety), sequined dresses, up-dos galore and enough costume jewelry to fill a small U-Haul. The scenery is spectacular, and is every bit as lush as the cast. And honestly, I’m a little obsessed with Julie’s constant misfire at love. Of the regular cast, she definitely had the most tragic love life and I’m sure in my more formative years, I related with the melodrama that always followed her around. Also, where else can you see Donny Most as a potential romantic love interest? And you know what? He’s great. Julie, ahem, missed the boat on that one!

You guessed it, Julie is still wondering about her tragic love life!
However, I think the most important element that keeps drawing me back to this episode is the way it depicts these older actors with such dignity. Yeah, Alicia made some horrible mistakes, and basically drives her family fortune into the ground, but her desire to keep the secret comes from protecting her son, not from any personal humiliation. Likewise, Peter hides his illness because he doesn’t want to upset anyone.

Looking good Lorne!
Nevertheless, Alaska Wedding is really about Portia and Buddy’s love affair. The best moments in this two-hour special come from their sweet flirtations, and the fact that they make each other laugh... a lot. I adore Love Boat because it says we can be vital, important, and desirable at any age, and despite all the critical flack the show has endured, this message has never wavered. I thought the line was silly at the time, but when Jack Jones croons, “Love won’t hurt anymore,” I believe him.

Young love is also welcome on this cruise
Love Boat is currently airing six days a week on MeTV. They have a fantastic summer schedule, so you should come aboard… we’re expecting you.

And check out my post on the Love Boat episode that pits Robert Mandan against Randolph Mantooth in the game of love. 

You can also Smash It with Deacon Dark here.