Sunday, August 30, 2015

Savages (1974)

Network: ABC
Original Air Date: September 11, 1974

As I’ve written before, Andy Griffith was a badass. He was, without a doubt, one of the most powerful presences of the golden age of the telefilm (and beyond, check out Gramps if you need further proof). Like so many television actors from this era, he used the TV movie format to shed his good guy image and brought in several dark performances along the way. And while I have some personal favorite picks (Winter Kill just might be at the top of my list), it would be hard to deny the pure menace he exudes in Savages, a small and suspenseful desert lensed thriller that positions Griffith as a sociopathic lawyer turned hopeful game hunter, who decides that man just might be the most interesting trophy, indeed.

Based on the award winning 1972 young adult novel (!) Deathwatch by Robb White, Savages is about a man named Horton Madec (Griffith), a seemingly amiable attorney looking for a weekend in the wild with nothing but a guide and his guns to keep him company. After his original escort cancels, Madec hires Ben Campbell (Sam Bottoms), a young and handsome geology-student-and-man-of-the-desert and the two head towards parts unknown. Too eager to hit his prey, Madec accidentally kills the local loony miner and asks Ben to help him cover up the crime. But this is Ben’s friend… plus Ben has this thing called a conscience, so Madec has to take matters into his own hands and decides that two murders are just as good as one.

Forcing Ben to remove his shirt, shoes and socks, Madec abandons the student in the middle of nowhere and then follows him at a safe distance to make sure the sun and lack of water gets to Ben before he can get to the main highway. But Ben is a survivor and knows the desert, so it’s only a matter of time before the tables are turned. However, that spinning table turns yet again, and proof of Ben’s innocence may rest solely on a missing slingshot. Only in the movies, my friends.

Shot in the Mojave Desert in 120-degree heat (105 in the shade!), Savages was a bit of a struggle to film. In an article that appeared in a few different papers, there is mention of how the Red Rock Canyon, which is a state park, forbid the building of roadways into the mountains, so the trek to get the equipment and talent to the right locations proved to be an arduous task. It was well worth the effort though, because the long shots of sandy nothing generates a tense atmosphere as we watch poor Ben journey through No Man’s Land.

Griffith is at the top of his game here, sporting an evil mustache and a wicked smile. All of that Mayberry goodness is consumed by one of the most narcissistic characters the actor has ever played. And that’s saying something, if you’ve seen his “I’m a hippie with money” performance in Pray for the Wildcats. Bottoms is also quite good, if a bit restrained, and mostly holds his own against the formidable talent around him.

Although there are a few other supporting characters, Savages concentrates on the cat and mouse games, which takes up most of the film. There are a few truly nail-biting moments, so despite the somewhat absurd (and lucky for Ben) ending, it’s still worth a journey into the desert of Savages to catch this entertaining battle of the wills.

Best TV Guide ad. Ever.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Must See Streaming TV Movie of the Week: The Classic Edition!

Holie Molie! Two incredible early seventies Movie of the Weeks are currently streaming over at Shout Factory TV! You can check out Gargoyles and Born Innocent for free! Of course, I don't have to go into why you should see or revisit these incredible movies, so I'll just throw out a couple of links along with a few words:

Gargoyles (1972): This ABC Movie of the Week is a spooky monster classic, featuring Bernie Casey as a terrifyingly suave gargoyle who thinks mankind places second in the chain of command! Click on title for my review, and click here to watch Gargoyles!

Born Innocent (1974): This brutal classic made its debut under the NBC World Premiere Movie moniker, and was the most popular made for television movie to air in 1974. However, it was followed by controversy and subsequently became the subject of a court case involving the rape of a nine year old girl. Yet, despite the negative attention, Born Innocent remains part of the canon of the small screen thanks to its relatively unflinching look at innocence lost and a corrupt juvenile rehabilitation system. Click here to watch Born Innocent.

And thanks to Kindertrauma for mentioning Shout Factory's streaming site yesterday. They also have some great non-TVM choices, but seriously, who wants that?!? Regardless of what you end up watching, please support legitimate streaming websites and enjoy!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Missing are Deadly (1975)

Network: ABC
Original Air Date: January 8, 1975

I guess when you watch (and re-watch) as many TV movies as I do, it’s inevitable that titles and stories will blur together. Just the other day I made a total fool of myself during a conversation about Terror on the 40th Floor because I thought the movie they were referring to was the USA original Nightmare on the 13th Floor.

Boy, did I feel stoopid.

And, yet again, I recently thought I knew all about The Missing are Deadly because I had a copy of The Dead Don’t Die. Ummm, OK. So, the second I pushed the play button on Deadly I realized I had once more mistaken one title for another… and frankly, I’m not cool with it. I need my TVM street cred the way others need water. But life is a learning experience… Then I saw the names Ed Nelson and Leonard Nimoy, and the world was OK again. At least for the next 74 minutes. I’m not really sure I knew much about this movie, aside from the title (which I obviously was only half familiar with), and was surprised that this Nimoy flick had not been on my radar. It’s quite fun, if insubstantial.

Ed Nelson is Dr. Margolin, a Nobel Prize winning scientist who has traded in his microscope to deal with the bureaucracy behind medicine, and is now essentially a PR guy for a state of the art laboratory. This lab is run by the cutting edge Dr. Durov (Leonard Nimoy rocking the hazmat suit), who is obsessed with finding a cure for “Mambosa Fever.” Although he’s been asked to postpone his research, he is secretly infecting rats with the disease and then injecting another virus into them in an effort to kill the Fever.

Meanwhile (or "later that same day" depending on your choice of comics), at Margolin’s home everything is a wreck. Even though he lives with his kids, Margolin is an absentee father who spends all day and night at his lab. His oldest son, David (George O’Hanlon Jr.) is essentially raising his little brother, a teenager named Jeff (Gary Morgan) who thinks he’s an alien and eats rabbit food! Everyone calls him “special,” but I think they meant annoying. Certainly, Dad thinks so, and wants to send Jeff off to a school that can handle delusional-alien-wanna-be rabbit-pellet-dieters.

So, for their last weekend together, David whisks his girlfriend Michelle (Kathleen Quinlan) and Jeff off to the forest for a weekend of bonding. But first he stops off at Dad’s lab where Jeff steals an infected rat. Before you know it, Mambosa Fever is spreading throughout the city!

That’s some kind of set-up! Honestly, my synopsis probably takes longer to read than it does to watch. At 74 minutes, it’s all fairly brisk and the bulk of the film involves Durov and Margolin racing to find a cure, and desperate to locate Margolin’s kids before it’s too late. The wrap up is absolutely predictable, and the film just sort of ends as quickly as it starts.

Yet, while Deadly is admittedly a mostly forgettable entry in the ABC Movie of the Week lineup, it has some things going for it. For one, there are no bad guys. The villain in this TVM is the Fever. Even Mr. Warren (Jose Ferrer), the corporate suit paying for the lab, is all about taking responsibility, notifying the public and offering services to the infected. And he doesn’t have to be coerced into it either! Like the movie Heatwave, which I reviewed recently, Deadly wants to see the best in people. Kind of makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. So either that’s a good sign, or I just contracted Mambosa Fever!

And of course, the cast is great. Both Nelson and Nimoy are given little meat to chew on, but they play off each other beautifully. Ferrer has a fairly thankless role, but he’s always a treat, and Quinlan finds herself trapped in the mountains yet again, after Where Have All the People Gone in 1974. Oh, and you might not see her through the hazmat suit, but keep an ear out for Marla Gibbs as a nurse! I can only give Deadly a light recommendation, but fans of the ABC Movie of the Week certainly know what they are signing up for, and those who know the drill will enjoy it.