Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Happy Birthday Tom Selleck!!! Celebrate with Magnum P.I.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about this world, it is that happiness is found in the little things. Little things can be anything, an extra tasty cup of coffee, a soft kitty at your feet, Magnum P.I. streaming on Netflix. In fact, I can not think of three other things that make me happier. Life is good, right?

Since it’s Tom Selleck’s birthday and since Magnum P.I. is the best show that ever aired on TV, and since it's streaming on Netflix, I thought I’d celebrate the day by making a list of episodes that I think all fans should rewatch and all maybe-fans should give a shot. Narrowing down each season to two episodes was extremely difficult, and also a lot of fun. For a fan like myself, even just scrolling through the titles brought a smile to my face. I went with a lot of personal choices, although I tried to pepper in a few fan favorites as well. If you venture over to Netflix to watch these, I do hope you enjoy them. Also, feel free to let me know what your favorite Magnum episodes are in the comments section.

Is there a better way to warm up on a cold winter’s day than taking a short tour of Hawaii?

Happy Birthday Tom! It kind of goes without saying, but just in case you wanted to hear it again, I love you!

Season One: Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii, Part One and Two

While any long lasting series will go through changes, Magnum was a surprisingly consistent show for most of its eight-season run. Don’t Eat the Snow was the pilot and although it’s not my absolute favorite, it does set up Magnum very nicely. It also features the gorgeous Pamela Susan Shoop as a women seeking answers in her brother’s death. There’s lot of action and intrigue, and beginnings of a nice romance, which seems to happen a lot to our dear Magnum.

Of note: The team ring that Mangum, Rick (Larry Manetti) and T.C. (Roger Mosley) wear throughout the series is first seen in the pilot. The ring symbolizes the profound relationship between the buddies who met while fighting in the Vietnam War. The conflict and the effects it had on the soldiers who came home is dealt with in many episodes, sometimes overtly and sometimes in a more subtle fashion. The ring really captures a bond made during the darkest of circumstances.

Runner up: Adelaide

This is more of a personal favorite. I love a lot of episodes from season one but I think Christine Belford’s portrayal of the shy and naïve Adelaide and the relationship she forms with Magnum makes this one of the sweetest episodes in the series. Adelaide hires Magnum to take care of Norman, who turns out to be a horse! This one always makes me smile.

Season Two: Mad Buck Gibson

Picking a favorite from season two was difficult, but Darren McGavin’s portrayal of the maddening Gibson, and the bittersweet ending, make this episode must see TV. Buck Gibson owes his ex some hefty alimony, and she hires Magnum to track him down. However, it turns out Buck has a secret that has kept him at arm's length. McGavin shines in this episode. I love Mad Buck Gibson mostly for the performances and the final scene. Check it out.

Of note: Before Gillian Dobb became Agatha Chumley, Higgins’ (Jonathan Hillerman) sometimes confidante, she appeared in this episode as Nola Barnes.

 Runner up: The Elmo Ziller Story

If you are going to get into the mythos of Magnum, this is a good place to start. For one, it introduces one of Higgins’ half-brothers (spoiler: he has a lot of half-brothers!). In this story, Ziller hires Magnum to prove that his wife is trying to kill him. Higgins plays both brothers, so it becomes increasingly difficult for Magnum to believe Ziller is a real person. As a fan of Hillerman, this episode is a real treat!

Season Three: Did You See the Sun Rise, Part One and Two

Not only is this episode a huge fan favorite, but I have a personal attachment to it as well. My father was also a Magnum fan and when it went into syndication, we watched it together every afternoon. As the years passed, my father forgot a lot of the storylines, but if I brought up the show he’d always say, “Do you remember the one where Magnum… (SPOILER)…?” And this would always be the episode we’d talk about. I think many others fans have a deep attachment to this magnificent two part episode because of the emotional roller coaster ride it puts the audience through. There are a couple of twists, but it is the unforgettable last scene that continues to haunt us.

Runner up: Of Sound Mind

After the intensity of Did You See the Sun Rise, you’ll want to relax a little with the humorous Of Sound Mind. This episode is definitely in my top five Mangum episodes. After an eccentric millionaire played by Donnelly Rhodes dies in a plane crash, he leaves his fortune to Magnum, much to the chagrin of the millionaire’s family! Now someone is after Magnum… or are they? Donnelly Rhodes is fantastic as the nasty rich guy and he’s aided by great performances from Roscoe Lee Browne, Elaine Joyce and Magnum’s suit of armor. Don’t ask, just watch!

Season Four: Home From the Sea

Season four opened with one of the most memorable episodes of the series. After his surf ski capsizes Magnum has an Open Water moment while he reflects on losing his father in the Korean War. This episode sets up the depth of Magnum’s loss, as he spends every 4th of July on his own to commemorate the day his dad died, a recurring theme. Most of the episode relies on Selleck’s ability to draw us into a crazy but static scene, as he bobs up and down in the ocean. This premise will be replayed in season seven’s Solo Flight, and while I like that episode, it doesn’t have the same emotional depth as Home From the Sea.

Runner up: Distant Relative

This is another personal pick. Rick’s sister comes to visit and winds up dead a short time later. Distant Relative is one of those episodes that starts out light and fun and then gets very dark, very fast. I make no bones that I adore Larry Manetti and his portrayal of Rick, and this is my favorite of the Rick-centric episodes. He runs around with big guns and looks cute doing it. There, I said it. Plus, this episode has a totally awesome cameo by Carol Channing.

Of note: Distant Relative introduces Kathleen Lloyd as Carol. The role was originated by Patty McCormack, but Lloyd plays her through the rest of the series.

Season Five: Mac’s Back

If you’ve seen Did You See The Sun Rise, than you have a good hold on Mac, and what became of him. This episode reintroduces the character, but with a twist. For me, Mac’s Back is a turning point in the series. This episode dives into an otherworldly and emotional tone that I feel is carried throughout the rest of Magnum’s run. Also, Jeff MacKay was just the best. We miss you Jeff.


Runner up: Ms. Jones and A Pretty Good Dancing Chicken

OK, I could not choose just one other episode because I adore season five to no end. That said, I went with two personal favorites. Ms. Jones is a recurring character on the series, and her maddeningly by-the-book (and hilarious) personality gets the spotlight when she hires Magnum to find her missing boyfriend. Margie Impert is simply adorable as Ms. Jones, and this is a fun episode.

My second pick, A Pretty Good Dancing Chicken, is an episode that never fails to move me. Carol asks Magnum to locate her missing 17 year old cousin, only to find how dangerously mixed up she’s become with a seriously bad guy who is serving time in a work farm. Magnum goes undercover at the farm and gets the ugly truth about Carol’s cousin. This is not a fan favorite and I think I may be this episode’s biggest champion. There is just something about it that gets to me every time. It’s worth a look.

Season Six: Way of the Stalking Horse

By the time Magnum got to season six the landscape of television had been changed by Miami Vice, and the series made a few hyper-stylized episodes that felt MV inspired. Stalking Horse is dark, man. It starts simply enough, with Magnum looking for a young man’s long lost father, but it turns deadly when the meek man turns out to be a hitman who kills the man Magnum located. Bent on revenge, Magnum hits Oahu’s skid row, teaming up with a runaway during his search. I love this episode. It’s thick with atmosphere and as serious as a heart attack.

Of note: Marta Kober plays the runaway, and I know her best from Friday the 13th Part 2 and the women in prison exploitation flick Vendetta. She’s adorable. Also Clu Gulager makes an appearance, and that alone makes Stalking Horse worth seeing.

Runner up: Going Home

Magnum returns to his childhood home after his grandfather dies. Faced with a stepfather he doesn’t like and a mystery, Magnum learns the act of letting go. This is just a fabulous episode. It’s a small story with a huge emotional impact.

Season Seven: Death and Taxes and Laura

OK, so I’ve got a few recommendations for this season. I simply could not narrow it down to only two. We’ll start with Laura, which is most noted for featuring Frank Sinatra in an incredible role as a hard boiled cop avenging the death of his granddaughter. Sinatra prowls around Hawaii, pushing people’s heads through glass and generally kicking ass, but at the heart of the episode is the loss of the little girl’s life. It never fully leaves the viewers mind, and the final scene featuring a tearful Frank crying over his granddaughter’s grave is probably one of the most moving moments in the show's history. A favorite.

Death and Taxes is incredible. I’m not sure I have another word for it. Someone is killing prostitutes and sending Magnum cryptic clues. This sends him on a wild goose chase as he stalks the gritty streets of Honolulu! Like Stalking Horse, this episode is uncompromising in its dark depiction of city street life. And, it is balanced delicately with the recurring theme of Magnum’s father’s death. It also puts a little focus on the lovelorn Maggie Poole (Jean Bruce Scott), who has an obvious crush on Magnum, and one that is never returned. I feel your pain Maggie!

Runner up: I’ll just list these out:
L.A. Part One and Two
The Little Girl Who

Of note: Limbo was intended to be the final Magnum P.I. and it ends with his death. Incredibly well done, it brings me to tears every time. I’m so glad they continued the show for another half season, because I’m not sure I could go on in a world without Magnum!

Season Eight: Unfinished Business

If you see Limbo, you should probably watched Infinity and Jelly Donuts next (link below) because it brings our dear Magnum back to life. However, of all the episodes from this season, Unfinished Business is the one to sit down with (I recommend watching The Little Girl Who before this one). Again, we are dealing with the theme of letting go, and Magnum has some hard decisions to make after he receives a shocking videotape from one of his enemies. This is gut-wrenching episode and, along with Did You See the Sun Rise, defines Magnum as not just a character, but as a very real and relatable man. Just thinking about this episode makes me sniffle, so I’ll stop here.

Runner up: Again, I could not narrow it down to two episodes. Check out:
Infinity and Jelly Donuts
A Tigers Fan
Resolutions, Part One and Two (this is the series finale episode. I recommend watching Forty first)

Since I’m the most indecisive person on the planet, I’m sure in a day or so, I’ll wish I had picked some episodes over others. But as it stands now, these are my must see episodes of the series. And as a bonus, check out Novel Connection and Magnum on Ice (in that order) to get the Magnum/Murder, She Wrote crossover! Remember what I said earlier? Little things make life good!

And if you haven't gotten your fill of Magnum, please stop by the incredible fansite Magnum Mania for lots of great trivia, stills and whatnot. Enjoy! 

Have a great birthday Tom! 

Check out my other Tom Selleck birthday posts here, here and here

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

USA World Premiere Movie Project: Snow Kill (1990)

Confession: I bought Snow Kill on VHS many, many years ago because I thought it was the creepy Andy Griffith small screen suspenser Winter Kill. While the cast is clearly identified on the box, I am sure I just grabbed the video and threw down my two dollars without thinking twice. I mean, how can there be another movie with a similar title?


I popped on the movie when I got home (and I have a very clear memory of this, although I can’t even remember what I ate yesterday), and thought, “Hey, this is some new-ish flick,” and then hit Stop and went to bed. I’m no TV movie snob, but it’s frustrating when you think you are getting golden age goodness and see something else instead. I regret not finishing the film the first time out, and I’m even more sorry that I waited so long to finally down with Snow Kill, because it is surprisingly brutal and quite good.

Admittedly, Snow Kill has a lot of story going on: The film revolves around three exceptionally cold-hearted convicts, led by Murdoch (David Dukes). After their arrest, a confidante hid their large and expensive bag of cocaine somewhere in the snowy wilderness. In an effort to retrieve the drugs, the men escape from prison and head into the vast nothingness. These guys means serious business too, and have no problem killing, raping or torturing. While they search for a way off the mountaintop (you know, because they killed the pilot of their helicopter) they encounter a pregnant woman whose hermit-esque hubby (Terence Knox as Clayton) has just gone out into the woods to do some good deed (this guy is a hardcore animal lover). Unfortunately, she becomes the next victim. So, now Clayton is looking for revenge. And while all of this is going on, a bunch of white-collar business folk are on a camping retreat. The boss thinks this will help them learn to work like a team, but naturally, it all goes haywire as everyone eventually reveals their true colors. Somewhere along the way, Clayton and the remaining survivors of corporate America band together to put a little foot to creepy convict ass. Or something like that.

That’s just a mess of plot, but at the core of Snow Kill is a simple mano-a-mano survival flick with a few shocking moments... and a few dumb ones too. What makes the film so watchable is the cast, chiefly David Dukes, who is outrageously menacing as the main bad guy. The late David Dukes had one of those careers that most actors dream of. Extremely prolific, Dukes played everything from nice guy fatherly types to downright psychos. Perhaps most famous as Edith Bunker’s sleazy and utterly contemptible would-be rapist in All in the Family, no one knows how to bring on the slimy the way Dukes does.

The rest of the cast is in fine form as well, including Patti D’Arbinville, who makes a decent foe against Murdoch And darnnit, Joey Travolta is kind of cute, if ridiculously helpless as well. Clayton Rohner also has a special place in my heart. He’s wonderful. So, there you go… a recipe for awesome is in the mix!

Through Clayton’s revenge obsession, the audience is able to hold on to the humanity of the situation, and that’s a good thing when the crossbows and bear traps come rolling out. Snow Kill originally aired on July 25th, 1990, and can you think of a better way to cool off during a summer heat wave than with a film that has bad guys that are just as cold as its landscape?

Snow Kill is available on VHS

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The USA World Premiere Movie Project: Murder By Night (1989)

Honestly, wasn’t it inevitable that Amanda By Night would review Murder By Night? Kind of kismet, right? And, now that Made for TV Mayhem is currently in a co-celebration with the Daily Grindhouse’s USA Original Movie retrospective, it would seem the time has finally come. I chose Murder By Night as my first entry because it’s the first USA Original Movie I can remember watching. I recall that the commercial was unquestionably enticing, featuring a hunky Robert Urich caught up in a web of mystery, secrets and murder. What’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yeah… S.O.L.D.

The story revolves around a serial killer who likes to dispatch his victims with a hammer (yikes). After stalking a woman in a parking garage, she manages to get away, only to roll her car over another one (and then get the hammer!). The explosion thrusts a random jogger, who just happens to be on the scene, against the wall, and when he awakes he has no memory of who he is or what he may have seen. Based on what little the police have been able to muster up, this jogger is Allan Strong (Robert Urich), a successful but reclusive restaurateur who lives in a crazy cool apartment filled with crazy cool art.

The detective assigned to the case is Carl Madsen (Michael Ironside), a tough as nails sort of bloke who keeps telling Strong he’s a witness, but he’s really suggesting that Strong may actually be the killer. Strong also has a police psychiatrist assigned to him, and she is the gorgeous and kind Karen Hicks (Kay Lenz). Of course, even though Strong has no idea who he is or even if he is a killer or not, she takes him as a lover. I mean, he is Robert Urich! As the film progresses, the audience is given a few nightmare sequences which may be less a dream and more of a direct serial killer POV via Strong’s hazy maybe-recollections of the assaults. It doesn’t take long for our favorite jogger to begin to suspect himself as the culprit.

Murder By Night debuted on Wednesday, July 19th, 1989, and was just one of the 24 original movies that USA picked up for that season. And, it was only the 4th tele-film to air in what would become a prolific series of original productions for the cable channel. While it’s got a heavy late 80s feel to it (the sexy sax that accompanies a dinner conversation with Ironside and Urich seems a bit displaced), it also has that wonderful old-school 70s TVM feel. The subject matter – a convoluted murder mystery told in a somewhat claustrophobic setting – definitely harkens back to many of the elements I adore about the oldest made for TV movies.

Murder By Night has a small but great cast. The only other regular character is Kevin Carlisle (Jim Metzler), the jovial building super who loves to cook and play chess. So, since we only have four cast members, and a few overt clues, it doesn’t take long to figure out who did what to whom, but the actors make the whole venture worthwhile. Also, as mentioned above, this is a somewhat polished production, and looks slick although it was probably shot on a small budget. Director Paul Lynch, who also helmed one of my all time favorite horror films, Prom Night, fills the film with lots of atmosphere, and while the murders aren’t very violent they are effective (just like in Prom Night). His old musical co-hort, Paul Zaza (also from Prom Night), does a good job with the score, which is a mixture of dreamy sax and eerie chords.

The film was shot in Canada, and the crew does their best to give the location a grimy, New York City kind of feel. Kay Lenz once commented in an interview that to make Toronto a passable version of NYC the crew brought their own garbage to spread along the streets! She said the garbage was re-used in several scenes, which is both gross and so very eco-friendly.

Murder By Night will always remain close to my heart because of the context with which I first viewed it. I will never forget the TV spot and my eager anticipation of seeing a new-ish thriller with Robert Urich. It also opened my eyes to the then-new world of the USA World Premiere Movie, and it is probably the reason I started to venture over there more often, discovering Commander USA, Saturday Nightmares and USA Up All Night. I’m not sure there was ever a better channel!

Murder By Night is available on vhs

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Best Month Ever: September, 1973!

When the Movie of the Week was on a serious roll, audiences had to make some very complex and potentially heartbreaking decisions. I mean, Is it The Brady Girls Get Married or This House Possessed (answer: If you are me, This House Possessed, although I'm a huge Brady Brides fan). And those choices were actually at the tail end of the golden era (and in time for more households with VCRs), so imagine what it must have been like when people had to choose between Frankenstein and The Night Strangler (OAD 1/16/1973), Pray for the Wildcats and The Questor Tapes (OAD 1/23/1974), The Dead Don't Die and Satan's Triangle (OAD 1/14/1975) or The Dark Side of Innocence and Shark Kill (OAD 5/20/1976)? O.M.G. The mind boggles, right? Thank goodness, The Powers That Be saw fit to make the sure that the tele-films that aired during the week of September 16th - 22nd of 1973 only had a bit of overlap. Three new films debuted, two on the same night no less, but at least they ran at different times, so fans of small screen genre fare could enjoy the incredible premieres of Dying Room Only, Terror on the Beach and Satan's School for Girls. Sometimes, I do believe in a higher power!

I recently stumbled across full page ads for all three films in one of my old trusty and dusty TV Guides. Little squeals were heard throughout the house. I am posting them below, along with snippets of Judith Crist's reviews: 

Of the three movies, Judith seems to enjoy Dying Room the most. She said, "Although Richard Matheson's script too often mistakes mere attenuation for suspense, there are a few goosebumps in this one, courtesy of the always commanding Miss Leachman and the creepy Psycho-type setting."

OK, OK, so there is some overlap between Dying Room and Terror on the Beach, but hopefully you would have been situated somewhere between your couch and your TV's channel dial! I like, but don't love Terror, although it does feature some fun moments and it pairs the great Dennis Weaver with the gorgeous Susan Dey as part of a family beset by a bunch of bad dudes. OK, I need to give this one a rewatch. The synopsis is just too B-movie enticing.

Judith was less positive about Terror saying that the "quickie-flick offers staunch performances by the always watchable Dennis Weaver, Estelle Parsons, and Kristoffer Tabori. Otherwise, it's typical horror-in-everyday-life harsh." OK, not too harsh, she does give her props!

And if somewhat-realistic horror/terror/suspense ain't your bag, you could have found your groovy and supernatural mojo the next night with Satan's School for Girls! Of course, Satan's School is a classic of the genre, and one of the first titles I sought out when I decided to revisit the early gems of the genre. I'm a Roy Thinnes softie, but there's lots to love, including putting both Cheryl Ladd and Kate Jackson in their first project together, and casting the awesome Lloyd Bochner as the nervous red-herring professor. And hey, is that Pamela Franklin being cute as button? So, what else is new?

Judith didn't care for this one, but she agreed about Pamela's effervescent presence, writing, "Miss Franklin is, as always, lovely and talented, but even she can't save this stale supernatural stuff-and-nonsense - set in Salem, natch."

In general, Judith was rather kind with all of these movies, and that just makes picking a favorite that much harder! Which one do you love the most?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Must See Streaming Movie of the Week: The Five of Me (1981)

Network: CBS
Original Air Date: May 12th, 1981

As you may have guessed, I have been extremely pleased with the world of Amazon Instant Video. If you have an Amazon Prime account, you will find it comes with a nifty TV movie selection that is offered at no extra cost! That equals good times my friends! I was beside myself when I noticed that they have added a few new titles since I wrote this article last summer. I am hoping to pull together a similar list soon, but for now I wanted to highlight The Five of Me, a title which seems to be a bit on the rare side.

The Five of Me is based on a book by Henry Hawksworth, a man who claims to have five personalities. He is often referred to as the male Sybil and he garnered some attention for himself during the split personality craze of the 1970s. He even appeared (disguised) on The Tomorrow Show! I am not well versed on Dissociative Identity Disorder, but I do know it brings a lot of controversy to the table, and is usually triggered by an extremely traumatic event. In this tele-film, the subject matter is well handled, but it does not flinch from the terror that supposedly caused Mr. Hawksworth to split, or the anguish that followed him throughout his life.

According to David Birney, who plays Hawksworth in the film, Henry went to sleep one day and woke up thirty years later. The Five of Me starts with a harrowing flashback of Hawksworth’s childhood, revealing an abusive father. Then the film moves ahead to Henry as a young man in Korea. After the North Koreans capture him, Henry slips into one of his survival personalities, which he has named Dana. Strangely, the limp he developed is gone and now he needs a good pair of glasses. To the outside world, it would appear that Dana is living a mild, three-piece suit kind of life, but in private he’s either a brash, threatening alcoholic, or a little boy, who keeps his toys locked away in a kitchen cabinet. When his old war buddy Harry (James Whitmore, Jr.) comes to ask Dana to be his best man at his upcoming wedding, the personalities begin to reveal themselves in far more dangerous ways. The hellraising Johnny is ultimately responsible for the Harry’s death in a car accident. Dana then falls in love with Harry’s fiancé, Ann (Dee Wallace) and they are married. Of course, this romance is marked by several scary moments, including one where Dana morphs into Johnny and then tries to strangle his pregnant wife. Eventually, a noted psychiatrist named Dr. Allison (Mitch Ryan) is able to help Dana work through these horrifying problems.

In an interview, David Birney discussed how he prepared for the role, and commented that to capture Henry/Dana as a boy, he spent a lot of time with his daughter. He said, “Your body is so different. There are certain things you can’t do because you lose your flexibility. My daughter can bend over and touch the floor with her head. Kids are active, always moving. They machine-gun their attention.” He also considered what life for Hawksworth must have been like: “For him, he was just a serious of blackouts. It must have been terrifying. Two hundred years ago and they’d have accused him of witchcraft… Certain things would trigger the submersion of one personality and emergence of another. He’d come home as Dana and his mother would mention some toys in the closet. She’d leave the room and he’d revert to a seven year old boy.”

The Five of Me charts several decades of Hawksworth’s life, but seems most interested in capturing the relationship he had with his wife. And it’s not an easy ride. From the potential affair Johnny attempts to have with Ann’s best friend (Judith Chapman) that turns into a violent assault to burning Ann’s hand with a cigarette, it is really difficult to like Hawksworth, but Birney manages to make him both terrifying and sympathetic. I was surprised he was not nominated for an Emmy. The actor moves effortlessly between personalities, and each one is discernable, creating a uniquely heartbreaking journey. It is the stuff that great television is made of.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The USA World Premiere Movie Project: Week One

Happy New Year!

It looks like 2014 may prove to be a grand year for Made for TV Mayhem. For one, I have a bit more time to dedicate to the blog and I have a few fun posts I hope to get to soon. However, one of the most exciting things to happen to MFTVM in some time is a new collaboration with Paul Freitag-Fey of The Daily Grindhouse. We are uniting in our love for the USA World Premiere Movie and embarking on a year long retrospective! Paul just posted his first piece, which is on The Forgotten!

There are many things to love about the USA TV movies (and Paul hits on many of those points in his post), but one of my favorite things about USA is that they breathed new life into what was a dying genre. Arguably, the TVM output from the Big Three in the 90s was still decent, but they were heavily concentrated on true crime thrillers and those always cheerful disease-of-the week pics. USA was different. Certainly they dabbled in all kinds of stories, but they brought back sensational drama and fun chillers and thrillers of the golden age. Their productions may have held that late 80s/early 90s sheen, but the passion was pure 70s old school. Both Paul and I will be talking more about these films though the year, and if that doesn't make 2014 look crazy awesome, very little else will.