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

Selection from Cites & Insights 6, Number 4: March 2006

Offtopic Perspective

50-Movie All Stars Collection, Part1

All stars! All color! All talkies! Some as recent as the 1980s. Some even with stereo sound (maybe)! Oh, and by the way, these are all TV movies. Nothing wrong with that, to be sure.

I naïvely expected that TV movies would be defect-free, taken from master videotapes. In general, there are a lot fewer defects here—but there are, in some cases, the kind of scratches and jumps you expect from overused prints.

I also figured out something about TreeLine/Mill Pond megapacks, more or less by accident: These are not double-density double-sided discs. They fit two movies on each side, never totaling much more than three hours, because they’re standard resolution with VHS quality: They can compress them even more than regular DVD.

The current rules for these minireviews:

Ø    Date, director, and the first run time are taken from IMDB, as are most names of stars and featured players.

Ø    When there’s a bracketed time, it’s because the actual runtime (as Windows Media Player shows it) is at least a minute different than the IMDB run time. With this set, there’s a third time (although I’ve left it off in some cases): the claimed run time on the jacket, which sometimes appears to be the total time of the TV slot (i.e., 1:30) including commercials.

Ø    Unless otherwise stated, assume VHS-quality video with few major problems and OK sound quality, and assume “full screen” (but most of these were filmed that way anyway).

Ø    The dollar amount is what I might be willing to pay for this movie in this condition separately—with a $2 maximum for any single movie. If there’s no dollar amount, I wouldn’t pay a quarter for the movie.

Disc 1

Divorce His; Divorce Hers, 1973, color, Hussein Waris (dir.), Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Carrie Nye, Barry Foster. 3:00 [2:27]

I don’t understand either the 3:00 claimed run time at IMDB or the 2:34 combined run time on the sleeve (two portions, 77 minutes each). I’d guess the latter difference represents the “in part 2” trailer and “in part 1” leader that the TV presentations would have, which don’t appear on the DVD—but I would assume that these were 90-minute episodes including ads, which makes sense for 73-74 minute runtimes. Is it plausible that 33 minutes are missing? I doubt it. In any case, this two-sided view of a marriage falling apart is well photographed (mostly in Rome), in glorious color, and you can’t fault the cast. It’s a little slow moving (as one reviewer noted, it would have made a good 2-hour movie), but it’s certainly worth watching. Generally very good condition. (This counts as two of the four movies on disc 1: Divorce His and Divorce Hers.) $2.50.

The Brass Ring, 1983, color, Bob Balaban (dir.), Dina Merrill, Sylvia Sidney, Dana Baron. 1:21

Dina Merrill plays this kind of role well, I guess. She’s a depressed mother of three who won’t take her meds, runs away from her mother’s house in New York (Sylvia Sidney as the mother), camps out on supposed family property for some months, gets a job for a little while, and then goes completely out of it…while the older daughter narrates and tries to keep the family together. The mother also chain-smokes. Not very interesting, a typical “trouble” TV-movie. (Of the movies on disc 1, this is the only one not shown as available on individual DVD at Amazon. There’s a lesson there…)

Catholics, 1973, Jack Gold (dir.), Trevor Howard, Raf Vallone, Martin Sheen, Cyril Cusack. 1:37 [1:13]

Another puzzler: Is it possible that 24 minutes are missing? [The sleeve, which has the run time right for The Brass Ring, says 1:18; the DVD itself has 1:13 of movie.] Maybe so, but I can’t imagine where—unless they added 24 minutes for the video release, called The Conflict. The full title of the TV movie is Catholics: A Fable. It’s set in “the future”—1999—in a time in which the Catholic Church has not only abolished the Latin Mass but also private confession, Lourdes has been closed by the church, and transubstantiation is no longer Catholic dogma—now you’re eating a wafer and drinking wine with only metaphoric religious meaning. A bunch of monks on an Irish island maintain The Old Ways, going to the mainland to do an open-air Latin Mass, and bus- and plane-loads of people flock to attend these now-heretical services. A very young Martin Sheen (this was 33 years ago) shows up as a representative of Rome, to investigate and quell the rebellion. He’s not dressed as a priest. It’s an interesting story about faith (or lack thereof) and change. Unfortunately, this one appears to have been transferred from an overused film print; there’s a fair amount of damage. $1 because of damage.

Disc 2

Rehearsal for Murder, 1982, color, David Greene (dir.), Robert Preston, Lynn Redgrave, Patrick Macnee, Lawrence Pressman, Jeff Goldblum. 1:36 [1:40 jacket]

Remarkable cast, nicely done staged mystery. The setup: Preston’s a playwright, Redgrave the star of his new show—and his fiancée, with the two to be married the day after opening night. Opening reviews are bad. Everybody leaves the cast party at her place. Next thing we know, she’s an apparent suicide. A year later, Preston gathers the rest of the cast and the producer (the money man) together to read scenes from a new play—which turn out to be various scenarios as to how each of those gathered could have murdered her. Sure, the final plot twists are a bit implausible, but it’s all very well done. Very good to excellent print and sound. Engrossing, satisfying. $1.50.

How Awful About Allan, 1970, color, Curtis Harrington (dir.), Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris, Joan Hackett. 1:13 [1:30 jacket]

Anthony Perkins in a movie about a son stricken by hysterical blindness when his father dies in a fire and his sister (his father’s favorite) is disfigured—and, after some time in a hospital, he’s only semi-hysterically semi-blind and comes home to his sister, who wears a plastic appliance to cover the scar. Anthony Perkins: what more need be said? It’s TV-movie quality, but not bad. Very good to excellent print and sound. $1.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and “The Last of the Belles,” 1974, color, George Schaefer (dir.), Richard Chamberlain, Blythe Danner, Susan Sarandon. 1:38

Part fiction, part (apparently) nonfiction: F. Scott Fitzgerald copes with a failing marriage by writing a story that, sooner or later, is about him and his wife. (Well, that and drinking a lot.) Big cast, big scenery, well played; interesting enough that, one day soon, I’ll read the story and read more about Fitzgerald himself. Very good to excellent print and sound. $2.

To All My Friends on Shore, 1972, color, Gilbert Cates (dir.), Bill Cosby (also exec. producer, music), Gloria Foster, Dennis Hines. 1:10 [1:30 jacket]

The jacket calls this “an uncharacteristically grim role”: True enough. Cosby as an airport luggage handler, odd-job hauler, and whatever else he can do to try to save up enough to buy and restore a decrepit old house and get his wife and kid out of the ghetto. The kid turns out to have sickle cell anemia, and Cosby’s character must deal with his always being a “tomorrow man” (forsaking today for the promise of tomorrow, where his father was a “yesterday man,” always looking back on the way things were). Good to very good print, but dark, and I’m not that wild about Cosby’s scoring, but it’s a low-key, powerful TV movie in its own right. $1.

Disc 3

Anatomy of an Illness, 1984, color, Richard T. Heffron (dir.), Edward Asner, Eli Wallach, Millie Perkins, David Ogden Stiers. 1:36. [1:38 jacket]

Ed Asner as Norman Cousins, editor of Saturday Review: How could you go wrong? You can’t: This is an excellent fact-based movie (based on Cousins’ autobiography of the same name) with a first-rate cast, about using laughter, will, and (maybe) vitamin C to overcome a crippling degenerative spinal disease. First rate, and generally a very good transfer. $2.

Black Brigade, 1970, color, George McCowan (dir.), Stephen Boyd, Robert Hooks, Roosevelt Grier, Moses Gunn, Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams, Susan Oliver. Also called Carter’s Army. 1:10. [1:30 jacket]

Stephen Boyd as a redneck captain dropped behind Nazi lines to take the only available group of soldiers on a mission to keep a German dam from being destroyed (although the jacket and IMDB review both say it’s to destroy the dam!). The only group is an all-black support brigade, basically a group that digs latrines and fills them in; most of them have never shot at anything but tin cans. Robert Hooks plays the lieutenant in charge of the brigade—and as you can see, pretty much everyone in the brigade is or would be a name actor (I’ve left some out). Well played and worth watching. The transfer isn’t as good as it should be, reducing this to $1.50.

A Christmas Without Snow, 1980, color, John Korty (dir.), Michael Learned, John Houseman, Ramon Bieri, James Cromwell, Valerie Curtin. 1:35. [1:40 jacket]

OK, I’m a California native, so the title seems a little odd—and it’s set in San Francisco, where a recent divorcee from Kansas has moved (leaving her son behind temporarily) to try to get a new start as a teacher. It’s certainly dated in one respect: There are no jobs anywhere in the Bay Area for a credentialed teacher (!) so she winds up doing temp office work. Most of the story, however, is about the choir she joins, John Houseman as the crusty old retired musician who takes over as director, and the trials of going from a bunch of truly rank amateurs to a group capable of handling the Messiah with some flair. There’s even organ rebuilding along the way. Too much plot and a lot of subplots left hanging, but all in all a good movie (and generally very good transfer). $1.50.

Panic in Echo Park, 1977, color, John Llewellyn Moxey (dir.), Dorian Harewood, Catlin Adams, Ramon Bieri. 1:12 [1:13]. [1:30 jacket]

If you’re wondering why I mentioned Ramon Bieri in the previous film—here he is again, in an entirely different role, also doing a solid job in some key scenes. But he’s not the star; Dorian Harewood is as a black doctor in LA coping with an epidemic centered on one housing project in Echo Park. The jacket blurb calls it a “classic story of the underdog fighting a closed-minded bureaucracy,” and that’s not a bad description. Generally well acted (Harewood is excellent—but the closing theme, which he sings, has lyrics that are banal even by TV-movie standards). Generally very good transfer. The most “TV movie-ish” of this group. $1.

Disc 4

Love is Forever, 1983, color, Hall Bartlett (dir.), Michael Landon, Edward Woodward, Jürgen Prochnow, Laura Gemser, Priscilla Presley. 1:36 [1:31]

Based on the true story of John Everingham (Landon), a newsman in Laos accused of spying, imprisoned, and deported—who goes back across the river to rescue the native Laotian woman he loves. Good cast, reasonably well acted. Unfortunately, the color is odd (and sometimes fades to black and white), the sound isn’t always great, and there’s damage as evidenced by five missing minutes. $0.75.

Betrayal, 1974, color, Gordon Hessler (dir.), Amanda Blake, Dick Haymes, Tisha Sterling. 1:14.

What a disappointment. I was really looking forward to this one based on the sleeve blurb and cast: “The story follows the case of a woman who claims to have been forced into a sexual relationship with her psychiatrist, under the pretext of its therapeutic value. When the police try to investigate, they find their inquiries face many obstacles.” Leslie Ann Warren, Rip Torn, Richard Masur, Ron Silver. How can you go wrong: Any movie with Rip Torn and Leslie Ann Warren and Ron Silver must be worth watching!

Only one problem: That’s the 1978 TV movie Betrayal. The 1974 teleflick that’s actually on the disc is, despite Miss Kittie’s presence (as a tough middle-aged widow who hires a young woman as a companion—but the young woman’s part of a con-artist couple…), a disappointing mess. Some decent acting, but damaged and generally incoherent. I felt a little betrayed. $0.

Intimate Agony, 1983, color, Paul Wendkos (dir.), Anthony Geary, Judith Light, Mark Harmon, Arthur Hill, Robert Vaughn. 1:35.

Sure, it’s a TV-movie cast, but a good one—and Robert Vaughn is his villainous best as a real-estate speculator trying to make sure Paradise Isle doesn’t get tagged as having Social Diseases while he’s trying to build and sell upscale condominiums. Anthony Geary is the hot young doctor who takes over Arthur Hill’s practice on the island for the summer, and finds himself dealing with a fair amount of genital herpes among the residents, and Vaughn (and colleagues) don’t want to hear about it. Nothing special, but not bad as disease-of-the-week movies go. $0.50

The Disappearance of Flight 412, 1974, color, Jud Taylor (dir.), Glenn Ford, Bradford Dillman, David Soul, Guy Stockwell, Greg Mullavy. 1:12.

How do you make a UFO movie without UFOs? In this case, three dots on a radar screen seem to do the job. A crew goes up to diagnose electrical anomalies in a radar setup; they get the three dots; fighter jets scramble—and disappear. Then the flight is diverted to “Digger Control,” where the men are “debriefed” for 18 hours—apparently to convince them that they want to say they didn’t see a thing. Deep, serious narration, Glenn Ford doing his best Glenn Ford impression, a solid cast. No action to speak of, lots of talk, and strong intimations of government suppression of UFO sightings. $0.75

Disc 5

The Death of Richie, 1977, color, Paul Wendkos (dir.), Ben Gazzara, Eileen Brennan, Robbie Benson, Charles Fleisher. 1:37. [Jacket time 2:00]

I made the mistake of looking at IMDB user comments after looking up info on this movie. They mostly talk about the Oscar-caliber performances of Robbie Benson and Ben Gazzara and the apparent true story behind the movie. Unfortunately, maybe because I didn’t read the book, what I saw was a scenery-chewing performance by Benson and a reasonable interpretation of a block of wood by Gazzara. At the end of the movie, my thought was, “If the DEA didn’t pay for this, I’m surprised”—since it’s got the exact same message as Assassins of Youth: “Smoke pot and you will die.” I thought it was a pathetic example of TV movie as drug propaganda—but what do I know? Good print and sound. $0.50 purely as a propaganda piece.

Shell Game, 1975, color, Glenn Jordan (dir.), John Davidson, Joan Van Ark, Tom Atkins. 1:30 [1:12]

Just plain fun, in the way that sting movies usually are. John Davidson is a convicted-and-paroled con man working for his good-guy lawyer brother. He conducts a nicely plotted sting to get the head of a charitable organization who’s been stealing the contributions—and gets back the money as well (which, of course, goes back anonymously to the charity). Well-acted, very good print and sound; probably some holes in the logic, but entertaining enough to make a decent second feature. I doubt IMDB’s “90 minute” timing; the jacket time and actual time are both 72 minutes, and I suspect the TV movie showed in a 90-minute time slot. $1.50.

Hustling, 1975, color, Joseph Sargent (dir.), Lee Remick, Jill Clayburgh, Monte Markham, Alex Rocco, Howard Hesseman. 1:38.

Based on Gail Sheehy’s book, with Lee Remick as a Sheehy-like investigative reporter and Jill Clayburgh as the prostitute she tries to interview. Strong plot, with considerable attention to the people who really make money from call girls (e.g., the hot-sheet hotel owners). Great cast. (Howard Hesseman has a bit part, but still…) Unfortunately, the print’s dark and muddy. $1.75.

The Gun and the Pulpit, 1974, color, Daniel Petrie (dir.), Marjoe Gortner, Slim Pickens, Pamela Sue Martin, Estelle Parsons, David Huddleston. 1:14.

OK now: The best movie on the disc. Add 16 minutes and you’d have a theatrical release—a well-done Western with Marjoe Gartner as a fast shooter disguised as a preacher (the jacket blurb gets it dead wrong), taking on a bully who’s terrorizing a frontier town. Gortner used to be an evangelist, and it shows; he makes a great gunman-as-preacher-with-gun. The rest of the cast is good as well. Excellent print and sound; thoroughly enjoyable. $2.

Disc 6

Coach of the Year, 1980, color, Don Medford (dir.), Robert Conrad, Erin Gray. 1:36 [1:34, jacket time 2:00].

Chicago Bears star comes home from Vietnam partially paralyzed; Bears want to hire him, but as a PR person, not a coach. Meanwhile, his nephew gets sent to juvenile hall for one of many offenses—and, visiting him, the old football player offers to coach the juvies. Naturally, after getting clobbered when he challenges a hotshot local high school team, his team comes back to win in a rematch. Cliché city, with Robert Conrad mostly being angry. Not quite as bad as the worst IMDB user reviews, it’s still mostly a rehash of a rehash of a done-to-death plot… Decent print, no special virtues. $0.50.

Wake Me Up When the War’s Over, 1969, color, Gene Nelson (dir.), Ken Berry, Eva Gabor, Werner Klemperer, Hans Conried, Jim Backus, Danielle De Metz. 1:14.

This one’s a charmer. Berry’s an American officer who falls out of a plane (he’s supposed to be throwing out propaganda leaflets) over German-occupied territory. He lands in a young widow Baroness’s (Gabor) estate. She hides him and takes advantage of the situation (ahem)…and continues to hide him for five years after the end of World War II, hiring local ex-Nazis to come once a week and tromp around looking for him. When he finally escapes, still not knowing the war’s over (and, after five years, not speaking a word of German), he causes a certain amount of havoc before, of course, Everything Turns Out Fine. Fluff, but well-done fluff, with a first-rate TV-level cast. $1.25.

Katherine, 1975, color, Jeremy Kagan (dir.), Sissy Spacek, Art Carney, Henry Winkler, Julie Kavner, Jane Wyatt. 1:37.

Apparently based on the life of Diana Oughton, an upper-middle-class young woman turned Weatherman. Portions are characters talking directly to the audience about their motivations; the rest is Spacek going from Peace Corps-style reformer to agitator to underground Weathermen-style radical. Carney and Wyatt play her wealthy parents. Winkler, in the most sinister role I’ve seen, plays her revolutionary lover. Good songs from the period. So-so print and sound quality. Well acted for the most part, dramatic, could work as a modest theatrical picture (with a big cast); I’d give it a higher price if the transfer quality was better. $1.

The Ballad of Andy Crocker, 1969, color, George McGowan (dir.), Lee Majors, Joey Heatherton, Jimmy Dean, Bobby Hatfield, Marvin Gaye, Agnes Moorehead, Pat Hingle. 1:14 [Jacket time 1:30].

With a cast like that, how can you go wrong? Turns out it’s easy when there’s no worthwhile plot and the hero loses our sympathy ten minutes into the movie. Majors, a grade-school dropout from Texas who lives for racing motorcycles on weekends and repairing them during the week, gets injured just enough in Vietnam to come home with a medal. First night out in LA, a hippie chick takes him to a pad shared by several couples. They don’t spit on him or anything like that, but eventually make it clear that he’d be better off elsewhere. So the vet—the apparent hero of this story—steals a motorcycle from one of the hippies and drives home to Texas, where he finds that everything’s a mess. His girlfriend’s married (and pregnant, but still Joey Heatherton using the talents for which she’s best known). His motorcycle/race track “business” (co-owned with Jimmy Dean) is in ruins (and Dean winds up selling it out from under him).  His farmer father (Hingle) is reduced to driving trucks. Marvin Gaye’s in there somewhere, as an Army buddy now in Oakland, maybe in five minutes of the flick. Lots of good old boys offer help, but the vet’s only interest is reviving that worthless business. The vet winds up beating up his partner, trashing the stolen cycle after a long chase with cops, somehow getting to Oakland…and the movie ends with him waiting for the Army recruitment office to open. What a waste of talented players. Generally good video and sound quality. $0.50.

Conclusions on the First 24

This isn’t quite the “first half”—the last two movies are on a 13th single-sided disc. So far, though:

Ø    This half, at least, isn’t the enormous bargain that the Family Classics megapack was. I count $26 total value for half of the $25 set: Not bad, but not such a stunning bargain. (Compared to $23.50 for the first half of the Sci-Fi Classics megapack, it’s not bad.)

Ø    Star power doesn’t equal quality. That’s always been true for real movies, but few real movies are as underplotted and underdeveloped as a few of these gems.

Ø    Some pictures here are definitely worth another viewing; more would be if the prints were better.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 6, Number 4, Whole Issue 74, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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