Sunday, June 7, 2015

Heatwave (1974)

Network: ABC
Original Air Date: January 26th, 1974

Summer is just around the corner, so why not dive right in with… Heatwave? Yeah, probably not the best movie to watch before the onslaught of the scorching season. But it was raining the other night and it just seemed like the right movie at the right time. And wouldntyaknowit? Heatwave is pretty good.

Ben Murphy is Frank Taylor. He’s working in the financial sector, but is in one of those I-have-to-wear-a-tie-but-get-paid-crap type of positions. It makes him cranky. He has an adorable wife named Laura (Bonnie Bedelia). What she lacks in cranky she makes up for in pregnancy. She is about to P.O.P. Life is tough for everyone in L.A., but this down and out couple are splitting at the seams because of the heat, and decide to take a break and head for the hills. Unfortunately, their car is stolen and the heat is just as intense on the picturesque mountains as it is in the city. The baby arrives, and then the real problems start.

Disaster movies on the small screen were not an unusual occurrence in the 1970s. In fact, the Master of Disaster, Irwin Allen shrunk the scope and made a few decent timewasters, including Fire, Flood and The Night the Bridge Fell Down. He didn’t have a hand in Heatwave, and maybe that’s a good thing because the filmmakers took Irwin’s more grandiose flourishes down a notch, shrinking the cast and chaos, bringing a more intimate story to the forefront.

The movie starts in Los Angeles, and, certainly, if done right, watching the residents go insane in the heat might have been really incredible. But instead screenwriters Peter Allan Fields and Mark Weingart (based on a story by Herbert F. Solow, who also produced) focus on the hapless Taylors, who frankly see no end to their woes. I was surprised by how human the film was, and how it rejected only showing people at their worst, opting to place a nice little rainbow across the blazing sun (as the eternal optimist, I related).

The cast is full of familiar, likable faces, including the gorgeous Murphy who unsurprisingly rocks a pair of glasses, and who manages to stay a good guy even when his disposition is vinegarish. Bedelia is easy to root for, and while I think I prefer her more enigmatic turns in Sandcastles and Then Came Bronson, she makes the most of the beleaguered mom-to-be role. But the big draw here is catching the great character actors David Huddleson, Lew Ayres, John Anderson and Dana Elcar. The telefilm seldom had the luxury of big budgets, total artistic freedom or long shoots, but they almost always had extraordinary performers, who brought oodles of charisma to the plate. Huddleson is the standout as the maybe-heartless opportunist trying to cash in on the misery of others, but everyone is great to see, and their presence definitely brings the film up a notch.

Director Jerry Jameson brought four small screen disaster flicks to television in 1974 (along with Heatwave, he also helmed Terror on the 40th Floor, Hurricane and The Elevator)! Obviously no stranger to claustrophobic catastrophes, Jameson was a pro at generating an oppressive atmosphere within the brisk 74 minute running time. Certainly, Heatwave is not going to bring about world peace, but it is fairly engrossing, and a nice way to spend an afternoon. Just bring a cool glass of water with you!