Sunday, June 7, 2015
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!
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
It's that time of the year again! This retrospective is part of the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here to check out the blogathon's complete schedule, and you should visit MeTV's awesome schedule too! And watch the shows! Enjoy!
Laverne DaFazio and Shirley Fenney were originally introduced on the wildly popular sitcom Happy Days in the season three episode A Date with Fonzie (O.A.D. 11/11/1975). As Cindy Williams said, the characters looked like they “dated the fleet,” and Fonzie even politely refers to the duo as “more boisterous than I usually like.” Richie thought they were edgy because Laverne drove without insurance (and beat up Shirley!). They easily stole the show with their hip swinging, easy action ways and soon got a chance to carry a series in 1976 when they were given their own spinoff.
Williams and her costar Penny Marshall had been writing partners in the years leading up working together as actors, and their chemistry was off the charts. While they lost a bit of the trampy innuendo from that Happy Days episode (well Shirley did, Laverne remained a bit aggressive, but in a more innocent way), they played off each other perfectly as best buds in working class 1950s Milwaukee. Focusing on broad physical comedy and wild, cartoonish adventures, Laverne and Shirley became an iconic series that traversed the cultural landscape known as ABC Tuesdays back in the 1970s (where they stayed for the first three seasons, and then returned in 1980 after a few months of ratings woes). ABC's late 70s Tuesday night line up was seminal. During this comedy heyday, the schedule looked a lot like this (with some variations depending on the season, mostly in the 9:30 slot):
Fall 1978:8pm: Happy Days
8:30 pm: Laverne and Shirley
9pm: Three’s Company
Promo for ABC's 1978 Tuesday Night lineup:
And, it was not unusual to see Laverne and Shirley hanging out around the top of the Nielsens, often scoring higher ratings than Happy Days (furthermore, on January 10th, 1978, the girls scored the “largest audience for any TV sitcom ever” with The Mortician, boasting a rating of 37.6, which means they were seen in approximately 27.4 million homes, with an audience of over 60 million viewers! Holy guacamole!). It was hijinks galore and as the show expanded its physical humor shenanigans, it grew not just in popularity but the series also nurtured a devoted fanbase (i.e. me). To its credit (and frankly to the credit of all of ABC’s Tuesday night lineup during the late 1970s), the humor remains wildly relatable and laugh out loud funny.
|These types of Nielsens numbers were not unusual for the dynamic duo!|
|A seemingly improvised moment from the Season 2 episode Steppin' Out|
|I think Laverne's expression speaks to how I feel about Mr. von Mauer's sentiments.|
|Hang in there, baby! We've got your back!|
|The original Angora Debs, minus Rosie Greenbaum.|
|Keepin' it real|
|Life in Hollywood was downright strange!|
Sidenote #2: My choices are also a little boy-centric as well because I’m basically just as boy crazy as Laverne!
And away we go...
|The bed that eats!|
|Lenny and Squiggy let you know when you've hurt their feelings!|
|Cigarette or cracker? Shirley doesn't care!|
|Who wouldn't want to vodeo-do under the table with this guy?!?|
|All washed up? Never!|
Did I say swoon?
|No caption needed.|
Ha! I'm here all week.
Tune into Laverne and Shirley every Wednesday night this summer on MeTV!
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Original Airdate: December 3, 1974
A Griftin’ n’ a driftin’.
That’s the game Jay (Sam Groom) and Adele (Tisha Sterling) are into. And, while I wouldn’t recommend that lifestyle for everyone, it seems to be paying off for the dangerous couple.
The Scam: Adele (or Gretchen as she is known elsewhere) finds lonely old ladies who need some help around the house, and worms, er, warms her way into their good graces, and then Jay steps in and holds the woman hostage until they pay for their freedom. While this scares the bejeezus out of most of their victims (and leaves them broke), it turns deadly when Eunice (the great Lucille Benson still being accidentally funny in a serious role) realizes that the couple are in cahoots. After they off the old lady, the stakes are raised, and the next payoff is looking rather good when Adele hooks up with Helen Mercer (Amanda Blake), a self-made woman who needs someone to help her handle her business affairs. However, things take yet another turn when Adele comes to look up to, and like, Helen, and now she wants out of the game for good.
Based on the novel Only Couples Need Apply by Doris Miles Disney (she also wrote the novel that the excellent TVM Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate was based on), Betrayal was just one of four small screen features that Gordon Hessler directed in 1974! It’s not my favorite of this batch, but I thought Betrayal was quite good, with a few truly suspenseful moments and strong acting from both Sterling and Blake. Like a lot of Hessler’s television films, Betrayal is small in almost every sense of the word. Small cast, limited locations, and light on subplots, this telefilm is brisk, if a bit insubstantial, and is a decent way to spend 74 minutes.
However, what I tend to enjoy most about a Hessler joint is the atmosphere, and that’s largely missing from Betrayal. It certainly would have benefited from a little more mood and perhaps a bit more tension. But, it does its best to keep things ticking, and the story is helped along through the formidable Blake in her TV movie debut.
Yessir, after nineteen years as Miss Kitty on the forever-running Gunsmoke, Blake decided it was time to hang up her bar wench gear, but was far from retiring. It took her only three short weeks after leaving the series to sign up for Betrayal. The actress maintains an air of strength and integrity and it’s easy to see why troubled Adele starts to look outside of a life of crime. Helen, who… in an interesting twist… has also killed before, is at a different but somewhat similar crossroads as Adele. So, while she is unaware of their deeper connection, Adele is not and it’s understandable why the two click so quickly.
The rest of the cast is great, with Groom putting in an especially sleazy performance as the suave but violent Jay, who, despite his own grave circumstances, has the last, morbid laugh.
Not to be confused with the same titled 1978 TVM starring Sterling lookalike Lesley Ann Warren, Betrayal is currently streaming on Amazon Instant Video and is available on DVD.
Friday, April 17, 2015
Dude, it’s like I’ve been away for, like, ever.
Who knew graduate school was so intense? Well, OK, everyone knew, but I went on believing I could handle it all. Then, some personal problems got in the way, and here I am, weeks after my last blog post. But I do promise, I have not been away from the world of TV movies, even if I haven’t been able to review them. Here’s what’s up:
The big news is that I am going to be hosting a podcast dedicated to retro television! We will be concentrating on the television movie genre, and have lots of fun in store for all you small screen fanatics! Look for our first podcast in August or September.
My co-host will be the groovy Dan R. Budnik, co-author of Bleeding Skull: A 1980s Horror-Trash Odyssey, and owner of the blog Some Polish American Guy Reviews Things. Dan is awesome, loves TV movies and is super excited to spend some time discussing our favorite titles.
Did you know Dan was on Twitter? Well, you do now.
He's also a Happy Days expert. True story.
A few other awesome people, who I hope can make every podcast, will join us. But we know life is crappy sometimes, so for now they are going to be credited as Special Guests. Aaron Spelling would be proud (and more on them as time draws near).
Elsewhere in Amandaland (hey, if Shonda Rhimes can have land, so can I):
Did you know I have a fun facebook page that is updated almost daily? While my blog will always be my BFF, the fb page has been a good buddy while I am away. Please stop by and check out all of the TV Guide ads, discussions and links to my archived reviews. (I also have a Twitter that totally gets ignored).
Or, did you know that I helped out a little on Spectacular Optical’s first publication Kid Power? This awesome book looks at all kinds of children’s treats made for both the big and small screen. I offered some images and my proofing and fact checking skillz to the chapter on Afterschool Specials.
Afterschool Specials, you say?
Need I say more?
I thought so.
I am also part of a fun horror movie roundtable for Podcastmania, and we have a facebook page. Stop by for a little blood and gore.
And, yes, I'm still hanging out with The Movies About Girls crew. We are not podfading!
And finally, I am working on another TVM-centric project, which is moving rather slowly (thank you, life), but I’ll have an update on that endeavor at a later date.
I know. I. know. The next few months are looking pretty cray-cray, but I will be getting a little time off in May, before my summer semester gets rolling. Egads! I’m already burnt out. But I’ll do my best to get some new content up. Seriously guys, for now, please visit the facebook page. There are a lot of great like-minded TV lovers over there waiting for your input!
One of us…
One of us...
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
This review is part of the Classic TV Detectives Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Check out the other great posts here.
When this blogathon was first proposed, I racked my brain trying to think of interesting detectives to write about. There are certainly many. But, I ended up with the non-detective detective show (of which there are also many!) Blacke’s Magic because it was a program I hadn’t seen a lot of people talking about, and because it gave me a reason to sit down once again with the pilot movie. And any excuse that gets me on the couch with Hal Linden is good for me!
Blacke’s Magic made its debut as a made for television movie on NBC on January 5th, 1986. It was a midseason replacement show, put together by Peter Fischer, Richard Levinson and William Link, the trio behind the much loved Murder, She Wrote, which had made its impressive debut in 1984 (and you probably also recognize Levinson and Link as the madly brilliant duo behind Columbo). In many ways, the formula replicates Murder, She Wrote: A non-detective celebrity figure finds a new profession investigating various crimes committed around them. However, whereas Jessica Fletcher worked a sort of intuitive magic solving seemingly unsolvable crimes, Alexander Blacke (Hal Linden looking fit and fine) employs his learned tricks as a way to turn a whodunit into a howdunit!
Linden said he had rejected many television series offers before he decided to hit the small screen again as the retired magician crime fighter. He remarked that the sophisticated Alexander Blacke appealed to him because unlike the good-natured and responsive Barney Miller, Alexander was not just reacting to everyone else. He seemed larger than life, and that enticed Linden, who noticed a hint of Broadway in the charming Alexander.
Also, this opportunity gave Linden a chance to work with the great and oh-so-lovable Harry Morgan, whose last series role had been on the unsuccessful MASH spinoff AfterMASH. Morgan was actually not in the market for a weekly show, but said that after his first wife died in 1985 he wanted to put himself back out there. The combination of these two greats, backed by Levinson and Link, directed by the great John Llewellyn Moxey, and featuring a tasty premise full of magic and wonder should have been just as magical for the audience as it was on the show (the actual tricks were orchestrated by Doug Henning’s “magic designer” Jim Steinmeyer). And, it’s a damn shame that Blacke’s Magic never got a chance to fully explore its potential.
|Newspaper promo for Blacke's Magic|
The pilot episode, which is titled Breathing Room, starts off with Blacke performing a highly anticipated escape act, only to end up all wet and soon retired. Bored and unfocused, Blacke is invited to a magician's conference where he is due to get an award. Jetting off to San Francisco he soon runs into one of his magician friends, the Great Gasparini (!), played by Ceasare Danova with an extra dose of suave. Gasparini's beautiful daughter, Carla (Kathleen Beller) is dating a hot new magician named Michael (Joseph Cali from Grease, and The Lonely Lady and my heart). Michael basically plagiarizes one of Gasparini’s tricks, much to the dismay of the great suave one! Before you know it, Gasparini is taking one last… you got it… gasp at his infamous dunked coffin bit, only this time he plans to stay underwater one more hour than normal. Everything seems to be going wonderfully, but soon after Gasparini is released from the depths of the hotel’s pool, it quickly become apparent that he’s been shot… from inside the coffin?!?
I know! Crazy, right?
Luckily for the viewing audience, Alexander's daughter (Claudia Christian) is dating a gorgeous homicide detective played by Mark Shera (lucky girl!), who is so baffled by the murder that he invites Alexander to help him solve the crime… on the down-low of course!
And that’s just about half of the story! Early on Morgan shows up as Leonard Blacke, Alex’s scoundrel of a father. He is an aging con artist who is equally as bored by his retired life and he soon joins Alexander in San Francisco, using his con-style tactics to, well, not get too much information. But Morgan looks like he’s having a blast.
Airing on a Sunday night against a small screen remake of The Defiant Ones, Blacke’s Magic was met with mixed reviews. Certainly, it was an imperfect pilot film – Morgan needed a stronger presence, and the story is buried under subplots and superfluous characters. Sure, we need red herrings, but with abused housewives, con artist illusionists, devilish doctors and hotel managers it feels like the telefilm was trying to cram a whole season into their first two-hour time slot!
However, as a cozy mystery series, ala the aforementioned Murder, She Wrote, it doesn’t get much more charming or comfy than Blacke’s Magic. This is one of those shows where you can simply sit back and let the actors do the driving. It’s an inviting cast, and everyone from Maud Adams to Tricia O’Neil to David Huddleson bring a little bit of their own ol’ black(e) magic of awesome to the screen (trivia: O’Neil was also featured in the Murder, She Wrote pilot telefilm and got her start with the Fischer/Levinson/Link trio all the way back in seventies in an Ellery Queen episode and in another pilot TVM titled Charlie Cobb: Nice Night for a Hanging). It’s really a shame that Blacke’s Magic only ran for 12 episodes before it did its final disappearing act, because I think the series had some great tricks up its sleeve.
Plus it had this wonderful opening: