Category Archives: Television

Vanished (1971, Buzz Kulik)

Even for a TV miniseries, Vanished feels like it runs too long. There are always tedious subplots, like folksy, pervy old man senator Robert Young plotting against President Richard Widmark. Widmark is up for re-election and he’s vulnerable. Even his own press secretary’s secretary (Skye Aubrey) thinks Widmark is “an evil man,” possibly because he’s going to end the world in nuclear war, possibly because he’s a secretive boss. It’s never clear. Aubrey, both her character and her performance, are the most tedious thing about Vanished until she, well, vanishes. A lot of characters just vanish. After meticulous plotting, Dean Riesner’s teleplay throws it all out after the resolution to the first part “cliffhanger.”

The setup for Vanished is probably the best stuff it has going for it. At the beginning, it all seems like it’s going to be about that press secretary–James Farentino–who’s new to job and dating his secretary (Aubrey). He’s got an FBI agent roommate (Robert Hooks) and spends his time at happening parties with friends while avoiding reporter William Shatner’s intrusive questions. There’s also a significant subplot involving Widmark’s best friend, civilian Arthur Hill, who’s an active older American. He and Eleanor Parker as his wife are great together. For their one scene. Because then Hill goes missing–he’s Vanished, you see–it’s up to Farentino and Hooks, unofficially working the case, to track him down.

While avoiding Shatner’s intrusions and Aubrey’s annoying behavior.

And Riesner–and director Kulik–manage to make Farentino’s a believable amateur detective. The plotting helps out with it, as does Widmark’s mysteriousness. Shatner’s not very good in Vanished, mostly just broadly thin, but he’s a decent enough adversary for Farentino. Eventually, Widmark’s part grows and he too gets an adversary. CIA head E.G. Marshall thinks Widmark’s keeping too much from him and gets involved with Young’s scheming senator.

Marshall’s so good at playing slime bag, especially the quiet, unassuming one here, those scenes pass fairly well. Farentino’s decent, Hooks’s good, Widmark’s fine. Aubrey’s bad. And no one is anywhere near as compelling as Hill and Parker, or even Farentino before he just becomes an exposition tool. Maybe if Vanished kept him around in the last hour, except for awful bickering scenes with Aubrey, it’d have finished better. Instead, after dragging out the first couple hours–including a pointless excursion to Brazil for Hooks–Farentino vanishes too. Parker goes somewhere towards the end of the first hour, Hooks somewhere towards the end of the second, Farentino in the third. At least in Hooks’s case, it’s so Reisner can perturb the plot. But Farentino just stops being interesting.

And the interesting thing is supposed to be the reveal, which is way too obvious towards the end of the first half of Vanished. Reisner doesn’t have anything to do with it (presumably) as he’s just adapting a novel. Instead of spreading it all out, however, Vanished would do much better, much shorter. It still wouldn’t fix the stupid resolution, which comes during a lot of reused footage for the “action” sequences, but at least shorter there’d be less time investment.

Because Reisner and Kulik don’t answer the most interesting questions. The film skips any number of good scenes to “go big” with stock footage of aircraft carrier take-offs. There’s also a lot of grand, “real world” spy technology in the second half, which is a waste of time. Well, unless Kulik had made it visually interesting, but he doesn’t.

Vanished is a disappointment, but one with mostly solid (or better) acting. Nice small turns from Murray Hamilton, Larry Hagman, Don Pedro Colley; plus a really funny single scene one from Neil Hamilton.

Maybe if Farentino and Hooks weren’t such appealing leads–or if Hill and Parker didn’t imply they’d be able to do great scenes together–Vanished wouldn’t disappoint so much. But it even fails Widmark; after intentionally obfuscating him for over two and a half hours, Vanished wants the viewer to rest their emotional weight on him.

Vanished is reasonably tolerable throughout, just not adding up to anything, until the bungled reveal sinks it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Buzz Kulik; teleplay by Dean Riesner, based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel; director of photography, Lionel Lindon; edited by Robert Watts; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by David J. O’Connell; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring James Farentino (Gene Culligan), Richard Widmark (President Paul Roudebush), E.G. Marshall (Arthur Ingram), Robert Hooks (Larry Storm), Eleanor Parker (Sue Greer), Arthur Hill (Arnold Greer), Skye Aubrey (Jill Nichols), William Shatner (Dave Paulick), Murray Hamilton (Nick McCann), Tom Bosley (Johnny Cavanaugh), Larry Hagman (Jerry Freytag), Denny Miller (Big Bubba Toubo), Don Pedro Colley (Mercurio), and Robert Young (Senator Earl Gannon).


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Alexander the Great (1963, Phil Karlson)

Had Alexander the Great gone to series instead of just being a passed over pilot and footnote in many recognizable actors filmographies, it seems likely the series would’ve had William Shatner’s Alexander continue his conquest of the Persian Empire. The pilot is this strange mix of occasional action, Greek generals arguing, and battle footage from Italian epics. The Utah location shooting is great, but director Karlson’s bad at the direction. John Cassavetes, Joseph Cotten, and Simon Oakland play the arguing generals. They can argue. But Robert Pirosh and William Robert Yates’s teleplay is lacking.

And there’s nothing to be done about integrating that battle footage. If Alexander the Great is going to be talking heads, which Karlson definitely directs better than the action, the action is going to have to be spectacular. And it’s not. There’s some tension with it in the original footage, but the reused stuff? The pilot doesn’t get any mileage out of it.

Cassavetes is pretty cool as this disagreeable young general. By cool, I mean he’s good at the yelling. His character yells. Cotten’s character counsels. Cotten’s good at the counseling. But the pilot doesn’t really know what to do with Shatner. It’s called Alexander the Great and everyone’s a lot more comfortable dealing with Cassavetes’s hurt feelings. Shatner’s appealing and he manages to get through the overdone dialogue, but he’s got no character.

He’s got a love interest–Ziva Rodann–and a sidekick–Adam West–but Pirosh and Yates don’t give either any attention in the script. Rodann’s biggest scene is with Cotten and West is part of the set decoration. Though he gets enough closeups to suggest he’d played a bigger part in the series.

It’s a long fifty minutes. The recycled battle footage and some red herrings drag it out too. It’s kind of too bad, for Alexander, but good for the rest of us it didn’t get picked up.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Karlson; teleplay by Robert Pirosh and William Robert Yates, based on a story by Pirosh; director of photography, Lester Shorr; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by Albert McCleery; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring William Shatner (Alexander), Joseph Cotten (Antigonus), John Cassavetes (Karonos), Adam West (Cleander), Simon Oakland (Attalos), Ziva Rodann (Ada), John Doucette (Kleitos), Robert Fortier (Aristander), Peter Hansen (Tauron), and Cliff Osmond (Memnon).


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Spider-Man (1977, E.W. Swackhamer)

Someone is mindcontrolling upstanding citizens and making them commit daredevil bank robberies in broad daylight. While New York’s finest detectives–cigar-chewing Michael Pataki and his nitwit sidekick Robert Hastings–are on the case, they soon get some valuable assistance from Spider-Man!

This television movie–a pilot for a series–introduces Nicholas Hammond as the hero. He’s a vaguely annoying, wisecracking suck-up graduate student who intrudes, then gets confused when he bothers people. It’s kind of awesome, since Hammond acts obvious to his behavior. He just walks around with a goofy grin imposing on people. He doesn’t get many subplots in the movie–he’s constantly in search for forty-six dollars to get something for his attic science project, the movie never reveals what he’s making. It’s just something to give Hammond some dialogue when he’s not (ostensibly) in his red and blue longjohns climbing skyscrapers.

Alvin Boretz’s teleplay is pretty weak, but it could be a lot worse. It’s clear it could be a lot worse because Boretz’s writing is so much better than Swackhamer’s direction. With the exception of one special effects sequence, saved by Aaron Stell’s editing, Spider-Man is never visually exciting. Even though Hammond’s clearly overjoyed with his superpowers (he has a convientient dream sequence cluing him into their radioactive arachnid origins), none of that enthusiasm carries over to his cavorting around. Instead, it’s just weak composite shots and stuntmen on wires failing to appear to scramble up buildings.

There are a handful of exceptions–that sequence Stell make or when Hammond foils a purse snatching–especially since the reused effects footage does make Spider-Man, always pausing and repeating movement (the same composite at different scales apparently), seem like a spider. Sadly, none of it keeps going in the third act, which is a rough, nonsensical sequence of events, with way too much of Pataki (who has a certain charm, but not enough of it) and of Thayer David’s self-help guru who knows something about the case.

David’s an unlikable creep, which does make the part function all right. Hammond goes to him for help with ostensible love interest Lisa Eilbacher, who doesn’t receprocate Hammond’s interest. Maybe because he’s chatting her up as her father (Ivor Francis) is losing his mind and committing bank robberies.

The first half gets a lot of help from the Spider-Man origin narrative, with Hammond hanging around the Daily Bugle and David White and Hilly Hicks. White’s fun when he’s berating the grinning, obtuse Hammond, with Hicks solid as Hammond’s champion. To some degree. It’s never clear if Hicks likes Hammond or just wants him to stop hanging out at the paper and annoying them.

As Spider-Man goes on, the plot disintegrates, Swackheimer’s direction gets worse, good characters disappear from the screen, replaced with Pataki or, worse, Hastings. There’s occasional character moments, but it’s a TV movie and they barely last half a minute. I suppose the movie does wrap up pretty succiently, even if when Hammond finally gets in the last word with White he inexplicably walks away from his ride. You’d think he’d have more respect for someone getting such a good parking spot in New York.

Some of Spider-Man is shot on location in New York; a lot of it is California. The New York exteriors are solid. The California ones not so much. But, again, it’s Swackheimer’s fault. He really doesn’t have any good ideas for the movie. Especially not showing the bad guys are bad by shooting them from low angles.

Spider-Man is never really offensive, it’s just lukewarm, unambitious, and confused. Is Hammond supposed to be likable because he’s a goof or is likably goofy? If he’s so unreliable, what’s he doing running a lab and getting his Ph.D.? Why does he reference his lack of income when hitting on Eilbacher? All good questions, all ones Boretz’s script ignores.

Still, it could be a lot worse. And goofy or not, Hammond’s a perfectly solid Spider-Man.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by E.W. Swackhamer; teleplay by Alvin Boretz, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Fred Jackman Jr.; edited by Aaron Stell; music by Johnnie Spence; produced by Edward Montagne; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Nicholas Hammond (Peter Parker), Lisa Eilbacher (Judy Tyler), David White (J. Jonah Jameson), Michael Pataki (Captain Barbera), Thayer David (Edward Byron), Hilly Hicks (Robbie Robertson), Robert Hastings (Monahan), Ivor Francis (Professor Noah Tyler), Larry Anderson (Dave), and Jeff Donnell (Aunt May).


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Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring (1971, Joseph Sargent)

Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring opens with a montage sequence. Sally Field is hitchhiking cross country (supposedly, it’s all California) while audio of her calling home to her parents–after running away to become a hippie–and letting them know she’s all right. The exact amount of time she’s away, where she went, how she left, never gets addressed in the film; probably for the better. But that opening–followed by Field sneaking back into her house and her family going about their morning routine before finding her peacefully asleep in her bedroom–does frame Field as the subject of the film.

Turns out it’s a red herring. Director Sargent, writer Bruce Feldman, and Field have a far more ambitious plan. Sargent, thanks to his actors, Feldman, and particularly editor Pembroke J. Herring, sets about deconstructing the nuclear family. There are frequent short flashbacks–presented as Field’s memories–revealing the family’s history and how it affects Field and little sister Lane Bradbury. Dad Jackie Cooper’s loving as long as no one bothers him and everyone listens to him. Mom Eleanor Parker is underwhelmed too, but she and Cooper have separate beds and he makes good money, so with frequent alcohol, she’s coping. Bradbury, it turns out, is on a similar path as Field took, though with drugs, which apparently wasn’t Field’s problem.

Feldman writes long scenes, which Sargent initially brackets with these uncomfortable panning shots. Maybe is a TV movie and it takes Sargent about fifteen minutes (of its seventy-and-change run time) to get comfortable having to pan to do establishing shots. By comfortable, I mean he stops trying to force wide establishing shots.

Anyway. The long scenes, as the family drama starts to play out, soon reveal just how much Field has changed. The movie’s not about her, the movie’s about this messed up family she’s rejoining. And Field’s performance just gets better and better throughout, as she understands more and more, no longer the teenager, not an adult in her parents’ understanding but certainly from her (and the viewer’s) perspective. Especially once the film gets to her parents’ party with their horrifically shallow friends.

At the same time, Field’s hippie boyfriend (David Carradine in an affable performance) is stealing various work vehicles to get back to her. Most of his character development happens in those flashback scenes, which doesn’t seem like it’s enough but turns out to be just right. Sargent really knows what he’s doing with the pacing of character development. Not just with Field (though, obviously, most with her), but also with Carradine and Bradbury.

Parker and Cooper get established first, which seems like an odd choice given how the emphasis flips, but it too works out. It’s their lives being deconstructed after all. Field and Bradbury are just the victims of their failures.

Cooper’s great, Parker’s great. Nobody’s as great as Field, who asserts herself into the protagonist role without any direct help from Feldman’s teleplay, albeit enabled by Sargent’s spot-on direction. And Sargent and editor Herring establish this choppy, confrontational rhythm to Maybe. Sure, some of the hippie stuff comes off a little washed out thanks to TV and general squareness–and the Linda Ronstadt songs are forced over the action–but Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring works out pretty darn well.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Joseph Sargent; teleplay by Bruce Feldman; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Pembroke J. Herring; music by Earl Robinson; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Sally Field (Dennie), Lane Bradbury (Susie), Eleanor Parker (Claire), Jackie Cooper (Ed), and David Carradine (Flack).


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