Monday, October 10, 2016
Original Airdate: October 10, 1972
On the surface it would seem Professor Mark Lowell (Monte Markham) has an enviable life. He’s a well to do academic with a gorgeous and doting girlfriend named Susan (Barbara Anderson). Unfortunately, he’s also haunted by disturbing psychic visions that he cannot control. Things take a turn for the worse when he unwittingly taps into a mad bomber who is terrorizing Denver. Mark goes to the police with his visions and concerns, only to find he’s been named Suspect No. 1. The skeptical Lt. Phil Keegan (Telly Savalas) is certain Mark is toying with authorities while he lays giant bomb devices throughout the city. But, the story takes an interesting twist when Mark is cleared early on, and begins collaborating with Keegan in an effort to stop a reign of terror.
Shot on location in Denver, Colorado, and using many recognizable locales as potential bombing sites, Visions is a stylish and suspenseful television movie. Directed by Lee H. Katzin (The Voyage of the Yes, and the theatrical What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice), this TV movie is refreshing because it strategically sets up a fairly standard thriller, and then twists it around early on when Mark is cleared of the crimes. Aside from it decidedly trying to move away from what outwardly looks like a customary police procedural where the cops are looking in the wrong place, it also allows Savalas a chance to show a little range as a hard-boiled cop who becomes sympathetic to Mark’s plight.
Strangely, while I was watching Visions, the telefilm Beg, Borrow or Steal kept popping up in my head. But it was really not so strangely, it turns out, because both films were written by Paul Playdon, who has a real knack for ramping up these little films until they reach an almost nail biting apex.
The always-reliable Markham is very good, although he admitted to struggling a bit with the role, stating, “I’m trying to show someone actually undergoing a frightening psychic experience. I don’t want to overdo it but I want to communicate a measure of a man’s terror… One part of you is always waiting for the unknown terror… You have this powerful contrast of police frantically trying to avert a disaster on the basis of wispy clues from a guy they’re not sure is all there himself.”
While the reason for the Mark’s connection to the bomber is never made clear, there are similarities between the characters. Markham presents Mark as an even-keel but troubled character. His visions are mostly out of his control, and he hides his extrasensory perceptions from his girlfriend. But he’s also compassionate, and perhaps that’s why he’s able to tap into the madman’s mind, because he too is struggling with a pain he’s let fester inside of his gut.
Although Visions was shot before Savalas would make his debut as Kojak in 1973, the actor was quite busy shooting films in Europe, and landed in Denver, during a whirlwind era of work. He had just completed Reason to Live, Reason to Die and then headed back to Rome after shooting Visions to begin work on The Devil is Taking Away the Dead (which is presumably the working title for Lisa and the Devil). He doesn’t show one ounce of fatigue, giving audiences a good glimpse at what the charismatic actor was going to do with the soon-to-be-legendary Kojak. Markham would also take on a new series in 1973, when he was cast as the New Perry Mason. Unfortunately, it did not last long, and was cancelled in 1974 (Confession: I thought it was a good show, but I did miss Mr. Burr immensely).
Visions ran against another really good small screen thriller, Night of Terror, starring Donna Mills and Martin Balsam, as well as a run of a 1965 theatrical film with Sean Connery titled The Hill. What to choose, what to choose?
Visions was released on DVD as Visions of Death.