Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 6, Number 14: December 2006


Offtopic Perspective

50-Movie All Stars Collection, Part 2

In case you missed Part 1, I should note that this all-stars, all-color collection from the 1960s through 1980s is [almost] all TV movies. Not that TV movies are bad things, to be sure—but that explains how you can buy 50 fairly recent movies for $20! (I’ve omitted sleeve timings; most movies shown in 90-minute time slots show “90 minutes” although actual times are 1:12 to 1:16. Longer TV movies [1:30 to 1:37] usually show the correct running time on the sleeve.)

Disc 7

The Pride of Jesse Hallum, 1981, color, Gary Nelson (dir.), Johnny Cash, Brenda Vaccaro, Eli Wallach. 1:37.

Johnny Cash plays Jesse Hallum, an illiterate coal minor who must move to Cleveland so his daughter can have surgery for scoliosis. After he admits to being illiterate (to Eli Wallach as an aging owner of a produce distribution company, where Hallum gets a menial job), he lowers his pride enough so that vice principal Brenda Vaccaro (daughter of the produce man) can teach him to read. Well done, but the print is dark and occasionally damaged. Even with that, it’s worth $1.25.

Voyage of the Yes, 1973, color, Lee H. Katzin (dir.), Desi Arnaz, Jr., Mike Evans, Scoey Mitchell, Della Reese, Beverly Garland. 1:15.

I was immediately put off by Arnaz and Evans (both sitcom veterans) mauling “El Condor Pasa” under the titles. The story’s absurd: A spoiled high-school grad with his own sailboat wants to sail to Hawaii before entering Stanford, but he’s such a charmer that none of his friends will go along and his parents won’t let him sail solo. Enter Evans, who’s fleeing because he accidentally killed his abusive uncle (Scoey Mitchell, who like Della Reese gets about five minutes in the picture); Arnaz picks him up as a hitchhiker and takes him along. Events ensue, naturally, with distrust, storms, near-death, and bonding…great scenery, acceptable acting. If you can completely turn off your logic switch, not bad; the video quality is very good. $0.75.

Cry of the Innocent, 1980, color, Michael O’Herlihy (dir.), Rod Taylor, Joanna Pettet, Nigel Davenport, Cyril Cusack. 1:33.

A Frederick Forsyth thriller, made (and set) in Ireland, and quite well done. Taylor’s an insurance man who used to be some sort of operative. On holiday, he’s out of the house when a plane crashes into the house, killing his family. The crash turns out to have been intentional, with machinations involving a multinational corporation. Taylor turns the tables on hired guns out to get him. Good video quality, Cusack’s charming as a laid-back Irish police officer, Taylor and Pettet are OK. Good enough to be a second feature. $1.50.

All the Kind Strangers, 1974, color, Burt Kennedy (dir.), Stacy Keach, Samantha Eggar, John Savage, Robby Benson, Arlene Farber. 1:13.

I’m not sure what to say about this one. Photojournalist Keach picks up a kid carrying heavy groceries, delivers him to a house way off in the woods, is forced to accept a dinner invitation when the car won’t start. The household consists of seven children—and a woman in the kitchen they call Mom, who writes “HELP” in the flour she’s working with, when they’re alone for a moment (in a kitchen with a lock outside the door and barred windows). The kids don’t have any parents, and pick up kind strangers who either act as their parents or are “voted out.” Moderately chilling, but it doesn’t go anywhere—the ending basically falls apart. Benson’s better than usual and the video quality is good. The picture, though, is a real disappointment. Being generous, I’ll say $1.00.

Disc 8

Children of the Night, 1985, color, Robert Markowitz (dir.), Kathleen Quinlan, Nicholas Campbell, Mario Van Peebles. 1:33

The first problem with this movie on Disc 8 of this collection is on Disc 5: Hustling is a much better flick dealing with the same subculture. This time, instead of an investigative reporter and “people who really make money from prostitution” as a running plot, there’s a sociology grad student and “the plight of teenage prostitutes” as the running plot. Like the other disc, this one’s too dark (that is, underlit) for its own good and based on a true story—but not as well acted, a lead character who’s a lot harder to take, and generally not all that good. $0.75.

Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring, 1971, color, Joseph Sargent (dir.), Sally Field, David Carradine, Eleanor Parker, Jackie Cooper, Lane Bradbury. 1:14.

Sally Field as a runaway late-teen who’s come back to her wealthy suburban household after a year in a hippie commune of sorts. David Carradine (mostly in flashbacks) as her sociopathic hippie boyfriend. Eleanor Parker and Jackie Cooper as Suburban Parents from Hell, with drink always in hand and just wanting to avoid any problems—and Lane Bradbury as the younger daughter doing pills and ready to run away. Messages about the dangers of meth, I think, and lots of Sally Field being Sally Field (which is not a bad thing). David Carradine makes a great worthless jerk. $1.25.

Incident on a Dark Street, 1973, color, Buzz Kulik (dir.), James Olson, David Canary, Robert Pine, Richard Castellano, William Shatner, David Doyle, Kathleen Lloyd. 1:36.

If this wasn’t a Crusading Young U.S. Attorneys episode, or a show within some series along those lines, it should have been. Strong TV-actor cast (if you can get past Bill Shatner’s silly moustache—hey, at least he’s a corrupt official), lots of plot, better than it has any right to be. $1.25.

A Tattered Web, 1971, color, Paul Wendkos (dir.), Lloyd Bridges, Frank Converse, Sallie Shockley, Murray Hamilton, Broderick Crawford. 1:14.

Heroes and villains: Bridges runs the acting gamut from A to B in his role as a veteran police detective who tries to run his daughter’s life, discovers his son-in-law is having an affair, accidentally kills the other woman, and sets out to frame a homeless drunk for the murder. The best performances are probably Murray Hamilton as the other police detective—and Broderick Crawford as the homeless drunk. Frank Converse is serviceable as the son-in-law. $1.00.

Disc 9

They Call It Murder, 1971, color, Walter Grauman (dir.), Jim Hutton, Jo Ann Pflug, Edward Asner, Jessica Walter, Leslie Nielsen, Vic Tayback. 1:35

Based on an Erle Stanley Gardner story, this appears to be a pilot for a show featuring Jim Hutton as a DA—but not Ellery Queen. Apart from the fine cast, it’s a well-done murder mystery with enough red herrings to keep it interesting. Good picture and sound. $1.75.

Firehouse, 1973, color, Alex March (dir.), Richard Roundtree, Michael Lerner, Paul Le Mat, Richard Jaeckel, Andrew Duggan, Vince Edwards. 1:14

Roundtree plays the first black in a New York firehouse—replacing a firefighter who died in a fire set by black arsonists. Roundtree’s character lets a black arsonist get away at one point, which doesn’t help matters. A great cast, but the script doesn’t work nearly as well as it could. $1.25.

James Dean, 1976, color, Robert Butler (dir.), Michael Brandon, Stephen McHattie, Brooke Adams, Katherine Helmond, Meg Foster, Amy Irving, Jayne Meadows, Heather Menzies. 1:34.

Michael Brandon plays William Bast, an actor who was Dean’s roommate. Bast wrote the biopic and Brandon narrates. While lauding Dean’s acting ability, the picture certainly doesn’t whitewash his character issues. The only reason this doesn’t get a full $2 is some sound distortion early in the flick. Well done, worth watching. $1.75.

Moon of the Wolf, 1972, color, Daniel Petrie (dir.), David Janssen, Barbara Rush, Bradford Dillman. 1:15.

David Janssen makes a great upstanding sheriff in a Louisiana bayou town, coping with odd murders and a town that’s distinctly Upper Crust and Everyone Else—and the returned-home daughter of the Upper Crust family has eyes for him, which her patrician brother doesn’t appreciate. Good cast, well acted, a little talky but compelling, good picture and sound. I’m giving it full value despite one slightly implausible running plot issue: The half-crazed dying old man keeps saying something like “lukearuke,” and nobody recognizes what he’s saying until the upper-crust lady visits him and hears “loupe garou,” which is to say “werewolf,” which [SPOILER] is, of course, who’s been doing the murders. Maybe back in the 1970s, you could reasonably assume that Cajuns wouldn’t recognize that word. I picked it up the first time I heard “lukearuke,” and I sure don’t speak French—but then, I had the title of the TV movie as a clue. $2.

Disc 10

A Real American Hero, 1978, color, Lou Antonio (dir.), Brian Dennehy, Forrest Tucker, Ken Howard, Brian Kerwin, Sheree North, Lane Bradbury. 1:34.

The stick-wielding sheriff in the “Walking Tall” movies, Buford Pusser, played here by Dennehy, in a plot that deals with bad moonshine, a double-crossing worker in the sheriff’s office, a reformed call girl who the Proper Ladies force to stay in Her Part of Town by using obsolete statutes—and Pusser using other obsolete laws to legally harass a bad guy. Ken Howard makes a great villain. Not great, but watchable, albeit with some picture and sound flaws (and huge lapses in logic). $1.

Get Christie Love, 1974, color, William A. Graham (dir.), Teresa Graves, Harry Guardino, Louise Sorel, Ron Rifkin. 1:14

Remember Teresa Graves from Laugh-In? First black woman hired in a major city police department, goes undercover to take down a major narcotics operation, great costumes, great attitude. It became a one-year series. Very much of its time, but not bad at all. $1.25.

Born to be Sold, 1981, color, Burt Brinckerhoff (dir.), Lynda Carter, Harold Gould, Dean Stockwell, Sharon Farrell, Lloyd Haynes. 1:36.

The title may tell you most of what you need to know: this is a “social crisis of the week” movie. Lynda Carter is an overworked social worker; one pregnant 14-year-old client maybe doesn’t want to carry through with the adoption agreement. Turns out there’s a baby-farming operation for high-priced private adoptions. Carter manages to crack it, of course (and the client winds up pregnant again). Lynda Carter’s always a pleasure to watch and Dean Stockwell always makes a good villain—but this one just feels tired. $1, charitably.

The Hanged Man, 1974, color, Michael Caffey (dir.), Steve Forrest, Dean Jagger, Will Geer, Sharon Acker, Brendon Boon, Cameron Mitchell. 1:13.

A gunslinger who might be innocent of the current charge but certainly killed others gets hanged. But it doesn’t quite take: He revives and seems to be able to read minds under some circumstances (which doesn’t seem to have much to do with the plot). Seeking redemption of sorts, he gets involved in a mining-claim war between the swaggering evil mining baron and a beautiful widow with a spunky son. I know, I know—but for some reason, I found this Western eminently watchable, quite possibly workable as the lower half of a double bill. Maybe it’s the excellent video quality and sere western landscape: It just felt right. $2.

Disc 11

Evel Knievel, 1971, color, Marvin J. Chomsky (dir.), George Hamilton, Sue Lyon, Bert Freed, Rod Cameron. 1:28.

Even the sleeve blurb (which spells Knievel’s first name “Evil”) has to take a slap at Hamilton, “The ever-tanned and charismatic,” who also produced. George Hamilton as Evel Knievel? Surprisingly, at least as I watched, it works pretty well—and it’s a nicely done movie. The blurb says Vic Tayback was in the movie, but if he was, the part was so small it’s not credited in IMDB or listed in the movie’s credits. Some damage reduces what’s otherwise a pretty good flick. $1.25.

Stunts, 1977, color, Mark J. Lester (dir.), Robert Forster, Fiona Lewis, Ray Sharkey, Joanna Cassidy, Bruce Glover. Richard Lynch. 1:29.

Death and peril in stunt work on an action flick where the director’s wife is sleeping with stuntmen. Gee, who could the real murderer be? Interesting stunt work, not much else. $1.00

Murder Once Removed, 1971, color, Charles S. Dubin (dir.), John Forsythe, Richard Kiley, Reta Shaw, Joseph Campanella, Wendell Burton, Barbara Bain. 1:14.

A slick triple-cross murder mystery, with Barbara Bain in a classic femme fatale role and John Forsythe as a doctor who has a bad habit of killing off patients for his own gain. There’s a lot more to it than that; for plot and only slight overacting (Forsythe and Bain chew as little scenery as I’ve ever seen), I’d give it a higher rating but for damage. $1.25.

The Strangers in 7A, 1972, color, Paul Wendkos (dir.), Andy Griffith, Ida Lupino, Michael Brandon, James A. Watson Jr., Tim McIntire, Susanne Hildur. 1:14.

The blurb calls Griffith’s role “uncharacteristically sleazy”—but although he plays a discouraged, married apartment building super willing to be seduced by a hot chick in a very short skirt, he winds up being the hero anyway. (The blurb also says he’s a landlord, which is a hugely different thing than a super!). Reasonably well plotted and Michael Brandon makes a pretty good villain, but it’s all a little tired. $1.00.

Disc 12

Out, 1982, Eli Hollander (dir.), Peter Coyote, O-Lan Jones, Jim Haynie, Scott Beach, Danny Glover, Grandfather Semu Haute. Title “Deadly Drifter” appears before title sequence. 1:23.

What’s this movie about? It’s about 83 minutes: An old joke, but the most applicable one in this case. After a bewildering viewing experience, a bit less so because the “experimental” nature of the film became fairly obvious, a visit to IMDB was helpful. This is probably misplaced in the megapack: It’s certainly not a standard “TV movie” (particularly not with certain key language early on that isn’t acceptable on network TV, but perfectly appropriate to the flick). It’s an indie—a little indie: IMDB says the total budget was $25,000, including blowup to 35mm, and that most actors worked for free. Great cast, pretty much incomprehensible plot having something to do with underground conspiracies and ESP. I think. “Deadly Drifter” was apparently added by a distributor; the director hates it, as it’s misleading. The jacket blurb calls this a comedy, but that doesn’t work either (particularly with at least one implied murder). Read the outraged rave reviews at Amazon: Maybe you have to have eyes to hear and ears to see what this picture’s really about. Or, to put it in a timely fashion: Far out, man. (The movie’s 12 years after its time—and I do remember the 60s.) $0.75.

Good Against Evil, 1977, color, Paul Wendkos (dir.), Dack Rambo, Elyssa Davalos, Richard Lynch, Dan O’Herlihy, Kim Cattrall. 1:24.

Start: A mother gives birth and is somehow frightened into falling down stairs and dying. A shadowy figure notes that the baby is Theirs Now. Next: Baby all grown up, independent young woman, meets guy, they fall in love…but, oops, she’s supposed to marry Satan. Things get really confusing—and she winds up disappearing, while the guy finds another Satan-bound child and a priest exorcises that one, sound effects and all. Meanwhile, the woman’s gone, and the sometimes-interesting movie trails off in a pointless cloud of talk. Why? It was a pilot for a TV series, presumably chasing the woman and her evil captors. Fortunately, the series never got made. Decent cast, mediocre acting, no ending. Arrggh… $0.75.

Congratulations, It’s a Boy, 1971, color, William A. Graham (dir.), Bill Bixby, Diane Baker, Karen Jensen, Jack Albertson, Ann Sothern, Darrell Larson, Tom Bosley. 1:13.

Bill Bixby as swingin’ bachelor as they were supposed to be in the early ‘70s—until a young man turns up who he fathered in a one-night stand. Various melodramatic hijinks ensue. But look at the cast: This crew couldn’t make a really bad movie, and it’s mostly pleasant enough fluff. $1.00.

Snowbeast, 1977, color, Herb Wallerstein (dir.), Bo Svenson, Yvette Mimieux, Robert Logan, Clint Walker, Sylvia Sidney. 1:26.

Set in a ski resort town (Sylvia Sidney as the matriarch of the principal resort) starting the annual festival that keeps the town working—when a young woman disappears and the matriarch’s son (and manager of the resort) finds a bloody jacket. As the plot progresses, it’s clear there’s a “snowbeast” on the loose—maybe not a Sasquatch, because everyone knows they’re all gentle creatures, and this one’s a semi-intelligent killer. Great scenery, lots of ski and snow scenes, and the picture’s better than it has any right to be. $1.25, mostly for the scenery.

Disc 13

The New Adventures of Heidi, 1978, color, Ralph Senensky (dir.), Burl Ives, Katy Kurtzman, John Gavin, Marlyn Mason, Sherrie Wills. 1:38.

I like family pictures, at least some of them, but this one’s way too treacly for my taste—and, I’d guess, almost anyone else’s taste in 2006. The plot summary on the sleeve is just plain wrong. Heidi’s separated from her grandfather (Ives) because he’s apparently died—and her “despicable relatives” turn her over to a wealthy-but-busy widowed hotelier (Gavin) whose troubled daughter is a boon companion. They go to New York, and naturally goodness triumphs over all. The sleeve also mentions “ten delightful original songs,” but “delightful” is not the word I would use for the pallid ballads. Ives used to be a fine singer; not in this flick. $0.75, very charitably.

The Borrowers, 1973, color, Walter C. Miller (dir.), Eddie Albert, Tammy Grimes, Dame Judith Anderson, Karen Pearson. 1:21.

The first of three TV movie (and one movie) versions of the Mary Norton novel about the borrowers, or rather one family of borrowers: Little people (about six inches high) who borrow space and possessions from the humans in the house. In this case, the house is a mansion and the lady of the house is a lively, bedridden, tippling Dame Judith Anderson, who enjoys chatting with the father of the borrowers (Albert) but assumes he’s a hallucination. The sleeve gets it wrong here too: “Now they must frantically avoid being captured and exhibited as scientific curiosities.” More like they must escape a ferret set to get rid of the vermin the housekeeper assumes them to be. Didn’t anyone at Treeline (now Mill Creek) ever watch these things? I know: Not bloody likely. Anyway, a first-rate cast, well acted, not treacly. I’d give it a higher price but for one bit of cheapness that unfortunately comes in opening scenes: Albert’s scuttling across the living room floor of the mansion to go back under the clock (and under the floorboards, where they live)—but he casts no shadow even when standing next to a heavily-shadow-casting door. Green screen is one thing, but doing it that baldly and badly right at the start… $1, for that and for some damage; otherwise, probably $1.50.

Conclusions

I count two winners, four more good enough that I’ll probably watch them again, eight more pretty good and possibly worth watching again ($1.25), seven fair, and five mediocre. None among these 26 ranked down with the five real dogs in the first 24, and the total ($31.25) beats the first 24’s adjusted total ($26.75: I inadvertently left the $0.75 rating off one mediocre TV movie in the first 24). That comes to $58 for a set that now sells for $14 to $20.

For the set as a whole, I come up with 14 recommendable movies, from James Dean to The Hanged Man. All in all, not bad.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 6, Number 14, Whole Issue 84, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at OCLC.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services, http://www.ybp.com.

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