Category Archives: 1977

It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown (1977, Phil Roman)

It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown is a little weird. Not only because the opening establishing shot has adults (albeit in extreme long shot) but also because Snoopy’s helicoptering around on his ears and Woodstock is his cameraperson. And it’s about the homecoming game, where Charlie Brown is the star kicker. And Snoopy’s both ref and mascot and the kids in the stands put on dances in his honor. First Kiss is painfully trying to be hip but it’s also kind of ambitious. It’s going where no “Peanuts” special has gone before.

All of the jokes fall a little flat. The Snoopy stuff is too overdone. The football game gets a lot of attention, but every time Charlie Brown (Arrin Skelley) goes to kick, Lucy (Michelle Muller)–who is on his team–pulls the ball. And everyone blames Charlie Brown for it because, well, apparently no one ever sees Lucy pull the ball. First Kiss has Peppermint Patty (Laura Planting) getting mad at Charlie Brown. It’s kind of intense.

But the First Kiss stuff is about how Charlie Brown is going to escort the Little Red-Haired Girl at the Homecoming dance. She’s the queen and he’s up. Somehow he’s forgotten he agreed to this activity, which is actually kind of fine given the final punchline in First Kiss but only if writer Charles M. Schulz is trying to imply Charlie Brown has blackouts.

He’s not. Unfortunately. Schulz is just really lazy with the script. He goes big with First Kiss–there are a lot of constant elements to contend with. The football game has the other team, it has the kids cheering, it has the cheerleaders, it has Snoopy, it has Linus sitting around giving Charlie Brown bad advice. The dance is different–and where director Roman gets a tad more enthusiastic.

Roman’s direction is good throughout. More than enough to make up for the animation inconsistencies. Though the repeated frames on the Little Red-Haired Girl get annoying fast. Roger Donley and Chuck McCann edit the actual football game in the football game quite well. The rest is fine. Except on the Little Red-Haired Girl. All the shots of her go on way too long. It’s yet another weird thing about the special.

Not to mention Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen’s funk-lite score. It’s… a lot.

First Kiss is never particularly strong, so it’s never disappointing. It even impresses a bit with Charlie Brown at the dance. It’s just too late. The whole script feels distracted and detached.

Good performance from Muller. Mixed performance from Skelley.

It ought to be better. But it’s not terrible, it’s just kind of blah.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen; production designers, Evert Brown, Bernard Gruver, and Dean Spille; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Arrin Skelley (Charlie Brown), Laura Planting (Peppermint Patty), Daniel Anderson (Linus van Pelt), and Michelle Muller (Lucy van Pelt).


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The Return of the Incredible Hulk (1977, Alan J. Levi)

The Return of the Incredible Hulk is the second pilot movie for the subsequent “Incredible Hulk” TV series. It aired three weeks after the first pilot, which featured the origin of the Hulk–scientist Bruce Bixby turns himself into green-skinned musclebound grotesque Lou Ferrigno thanks to gamma rays–and his pursuer, annoying, uninformed tabloid reporter Jack Colvin. Luckily Colvin doesn’t come into Return until over a half hour in so there’s limited Colvin, which is just fine. Return has enough acting… issues without Colvin mucking up too many scenes.

It’s not all Colvin’s fault; the details of his scenes are idiotic television shorthand. But it’s not like he makes the scenes work, which an actor could with some enthusiasm. The cast of Return of the Incredible Hulk is usually at least enthusiastic–all the guest stars act like they’re auditioning for a regular CBS show, which they are–but not Colvin. He’s just an unenthusiastic jackass, which isn’t a good kind of jackass.

And Colvin isn’t the one who drags Return down. The Return of the Incredible Hulk is a perfectly adequate, lower mediocre, late seventies television pilot. The one impressive shot in it doesn’t even involve the Hulk and it’s only technically impressive. Director Levi does show some interest occasionally, but he also shoots some really mediocre scenes. He’s got no interest in the soap opera aspects of the story, which is sort of a Gothic about a troubled young woman (Laurie Prange), who lost her father and her ability to walk, now getting sicker and sicker, in the care of stepmother Dorothy Tristan and special doctor William Daniels. Although an heiress, her true love is Gerald McRaney. He disappears after the first third, which is too bad. He’s rather enthusiastic about the whole thing.

Prange ends up getting the spotlight, befriending both Bixby and Ferrigno–separately. She calms Ferrigno’s beast and Bixby is trying to save her from those conspiring against her. Though there’s not much mystery in who’s conspiring against her. Kenneth Johnson’s teleplay is nothing if not efficient. The moment after Bixby reveals he knows Daniels’s doing something slimy, Daniels’s conspirator confronts Daniels about it. So all of a sudden Return’s got specific villains who have specific henchmen for Ferrigno to fight.

All the action takes place on Prange’s orange orchard in Northern California. At the opening, before it’s been made clear what a low bar Return is going for, it almost seems like there’s going to be a Bill Bixby as Tom Joad thing. There isn’t.

There is a Lou Ferrigno is Boris Karloff with the old man, which would be a lot more amusing if the old man didn’t stick around the rest of the movie. John McLiam plays the old man, a loner who has cut himself off from the world because of tragedy. He’s a veteran. He’s also a drunken Northern California hillbilly living in a surprisingly well-lighted shack. Oh, and his introduction is taunting the chicken he’s cooking about how he’s going to eat it.

And McLiam plays it all straight, which is just the wrong way to play it.

Everyone in Return, with the exception of Colvin and McLiam, tries. Daniels has some good nerdy creep moments. Tristan has some good moments. Some bad ones too, but at least there’s some energy to her performance. Though muted… as it appears in Charles W. Short’s thoroughly competent and boring lighting.

Prange tries. And she is frequently bad. But when the script’s at its best and the melodrama is toned down, Prange has a really good moment or two. There’s a sweetness between she and Ferrigno and it’s entirely from the actors. Johnson makes the time in the movie for it, but–as producer–he doesn’t make Levi enable it. Instead they rely on Joseph Harnell to do a terrible theme for Prange, separate from the “Incredible Hulk” theme, which gets a disco-ish remix early on in Return. And they use that theme for Prange ad nauseam. It ruins scenes, it ruins momentum.

Because Return finally gets some momentum in the second half, when Bixby, Prange, and McLiam are on the run. Through the Northern California orange country swamp, chased by men with dogs and a guy in a helicopter. And there are snakes.

And bears. And Ferrigno fights a bear. It’s not a bad fight. Like, for a TV pilot movie? With the “Hulk”’s demographic target audience? It’s a decent bear fight. Much cooler than the rest of the Ferrigno action. There’s too much slow motion, not enough choreography. When there’s choreography–even a little bit–it works better. There’s also the breaking stuff factor. Ferrigno breaks things (it’s the reason Bixby can’t stay in one place too long, Ferrigno might break something–not kill someone, break something). They’re big things, sure, but the set pieces are often tedious in Return. And sometimes Levi will all of a sudden decent to get serious during a fight scene and totally change the tempo.

But the bear fight is cool.

The snake not so much.

There’s also a quicksand sequence, because it’s a TV pilot movie from the late seventies. The quicksand is a disappointment.

I forgot McRaney (just the like the movie; though maybe he was busy shooting other things). He’s not good, but he’s likable. You can tell he’s got the TV star thing down. And when he’s in the movie, there’s at least a chance for it to go someplace surprising, story-wise.

It’s when he disappears Return becomes a race to the half hour chase scene.

And the half hour chase scene makes up for the rest. Enough for a late seventies TV pilot movie. The whole thing is an audition tape for Bill Bixby and the various things he’ll be able to do on the subsequent series. There’s just enough with Ferrigno to show off the action possibilities. Prange has just the right amount of tragedies to show off the sentimental possibilities. Bixby’s likability, especially opposite Prange, makes up for a lot throughout. Johnson does a fine job advertising a series.

While still adequately plotting out the ninety minutes. Return is well-produced, it’s just unimaginatively executed and rather underacted.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Levi; teleplay by Kenneth Johnson Johnson, based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Charles W. Short; edited by Glenn Lawrence and Jack W. Schoengarth; music by Joseph Harnell; produced by Johnson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Bill Bixby (Dr. David Banner), Laurie Prange (Julie Griffith), John McLiam (Michael), William Daniels (Dr. John Bonifant), Dorothy Tristan (Margaret Griffith), Gerald McRaney (Denny Kayle), Jack Colvin (Jack McGee), Victor Mohica (Rafe), Robert Phillips (Phil), Mills Watson (Sheriff), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk)..


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The Goodbye Girl (1977, Herbert Ross)

The Goodbye Girl is excessively genial. Usually at the expense of lead Marsha Mason. It’s her movie too. Not hers to lose, because it’s so much her movie–she’s The Goodbye Girl–instead hers to be taken away. And take it away writer Neil Simon does. The film starts being about single mom Mason getting dumped by her live-in boyfriend. He’s a New York actor, she was a Broadway dancer. He goes to Italy, dumping her and the kid (Quinn Cummings) instead of taking them to L.A. as promised.

Of course, the ex-boyfriend is never in the movie. He’s got his pictures up all over the apartment, but he’s never in the movie. It’s the best thing Simon and director Ross end up doing in the film. The establishing of this awful ex-boyfriend just through exposition and visual suggestion.

The ex sublets the apartment out from under Mason and Cummings. Enter Richard Dreyfuss, Chicago actor come to New York, subletter.

The apartment is central to the film. Simon’s script has play trappings while still paced like a movie; Ross never goes stagy. The direction’s not great, but it has a lot of depth. The apartment becomes gradually familiar in the first half of the film. It becomes comfortable. Even though Mason and ten-year old Cummings are living with part-time nudist, wheat germ enthusiast Dreyfuss. Though all of Dreyfuss’s first act eccentricities disappear right after being established.

Goodbye Girl has some behind-the-scenes drama and some of it might explain Simon’s disjointed script. But the lack of consistency just comes off as lazy. It makes a lot of Simon’s set pieces come off contrived. Especially once they become at the expense of Mason. First couple times, it’s not at the expense of screentime for her, it’s at the expense of her performance. See, once Dreyfuss warms to Mason–which seems impossible after their first few scenes together–and takes a liking to Cummings (who’s likable in the thinnest part in Simon’s atomic-thin cast of characters), he sort of starts stalking her. Like he goes to her job to mess with her.

Then Mason stops doing anything but decorating; once she and Dreyfuss do hook up, she stops caring about anything except redecorating.

The movie has some problems with plotting. Ross doesn’t do summary well so it’s never clear how long they’re living together before the third act. It just makes for a disjointed picture–Dreyfuss and Mason go from bickering funny to romantically funny in about five minutes. And it’s Dreyfuss becoming a completely different character.

That character is far from an organic development. The movie doesn’t even really acknowledge that his character is developing. While he should be warming up to Mason and Cummings, Dreyfuss is busy in the play from hell subplot with Paul Benedict as a misguided but insistent director.

So, while Dreyfuss is doing all that stuff, Mason gets to keep her movie. Then she loses it.

By the finale, all Goodbye Girl has got keeping it going is the charm of its three stars. Because everyone else in Goodbye Girl is disposable. It’s just Dreyfuss, Mason, and Cummings. If their parts were stronger, it’d be enough. If their parts were at least consistent, it might be enough.

The film’s dramatically inert. But pleasant–even when it’s being creepy–and amiably acted. David M. Walsh’s photography doesn’t help with the excess geniality. His lighting is too soft. Dave Grusin’s score is a little light too. Everything in Goodbye Girl is too thin, too soft, or too light. They have to be to match Simon’s unsubstantial script.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Herbert Ross; written by Neil Simon; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by John F. Burnett; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Ray Stark; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marsha Mason (Paula McFadden), Quinn Cummings (Lucy McFadden), Richard Dreyfuss (Elliot Garfield), Paul Benedict (Mark), Barbara Rhoades (Donna), and Theresa Merritt (Mrs. Crosby).


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The Incredible Hulk (1977, Kenneth Johnson)

The Incredible Hulk opens with a montage of lead Bill Bixby’s martial bliss. It goes on for quite a while, just Bixby and (an uncredited) Lara Parker being a happy married couple. Then tragedy strikes. Like most tragedies in The Incredible Hulk, it involves a car tire blowing out. There are three such instances in the movie. The first two are fine. The third one’s contrived, but effective. Director and writer and producer Johnson doesn’t let anyone acknowledge how unlikely the third instance seems; Hulk takes itself way too seriously for that sort of thing.

And Hulk taking itself seriously works. Sure, Hulk Lou Ferrigno has a terrible wig but who knows what would happen to hair after a person metamorphoses into a… well, an incredible hulk. But the rest of the seriousness? It works.

Even the manipulative opening montage.

It’s almost a year after the tragedy. Bixby has thrown himself into his work; he and research partner Susan Sullivan are trying to figure what gives people superhuman strength in cases of crisis. It’s not clear whether they’ve been working on the project since before the tragedy, as it ties directly into Bixby and Parker’s experiences.

The first act of Hulk is this phenomenally plotted science and research story. Sullivan does great selling all the scientific stuff (for a while at least, Hulk sounds pretty scientificy–the science variation of truthy). Sullivan does a great job with everything. Bixby might get top-billing, but Sullivan makes the movie. She and Bixby have this gentle relationship; when Johnson adds their backstory in exposition towards the end of the second act, it all works because Sullivan has been so good.

As the movie begins, Bixby’s not doing well at work. He walks out on an interview with mom Susan Batson who found super-strength to save son Eric Deon. Sullivan, playing the responsible one, has to get Bixby focused. Turns out she gets him too focused and he starts experimenting on himself. Resulting in the third blowout and the first appearance of Ferrigno.

Ferrigno’s “first day” out as the Hulk is Johnson doing something of a Frankenstein homage. The electronically amplified Hulk growls don’t work–and the wig is terrible–but Ferringo works hard in his scenes. He gets to over-emote since he’s a seven foot tall musclebound green grotesque, but the over-emoting is what the part needs. Johnson knows it too. He gives Ferringo more emotional scenes than Bixby by the end of it. Bixby’s sad, but Ferrigno’s tragic. Sullivan’s great with both of them.

Did I already mention she makes the Hulk? Not literally, of course, because she’s a responsible scientist, unlike Bixby.

Unfortunately, once Ferrigno shows up, the movie takes a turn. It’s been expansive until that point–introducing new characters, having Bixby and Sullivan’s research go somewhere–but once it’s about figuring out the Hulk, the movie starts folding in on itself. It’s just Bixby and Sullivan trying to figure things out. And dodge tabloid reporter Jack Colvin, who is very dedicated to his job, but very bad at it. Colvin’s performance also isn’t up to Sullivan or Bixby’s level, which certainly doesn’t help the already narratively troubled third act.

The movie’s technically accomplished, with Johnson getting a lot of good work out of his TV movie crew. Howard Schwartz’s photography is excellent for the daytime stuff and interior night stuff, okay for the exterior night stuff. Johnson’s direction is rather good. Surprisingly good in spots. The editing is fantastic–Alan C. Marks and Jack W. Schoengarth cut the heck out of the first act setup. Okay, they can’t make the remembered dialogue playing as voiceover work but who can? And the script needs the voiceovers for introspective purposes. Johnson likes introspective; he gets the tragedy out of it.

He’s good at the introspective stuff too. Bixby’s great at being sad. Sullivan’s great at everything, which I think I mentioned. She really holds the movie together. Anyway, Johnson’s not great at some of the action stuff. He’s fine with scaling up to big set pieces, but he’s not so great at little stuff. Like his Frankenstein homage. It’s well-directed, but the actors? Johnson doesn’t pay any attention to their performances, just how they’re moving through the action sequence. Their performances need a lot of attention, especially given the action sequence. Johnson doesn’t direct much from character point of view (if ever). Sometimes that point of view would help things.

I can’t forget–Batson’s great. She’s only in it for a bit but it suggests Johnson’s going to keep bringing in excellent performances in small parts. Doesn’t work out that way, though. Instead we get Colvin’s performance rolling gradually downhill from mediocre.

Joseph Harnell’s music has one good theme and then the rest of it is hot and cold. He runs out of ideas for the action scenes pretty quick. And the dramatic stuff only really works when he’s playing with that one good theme.

The Incredible Hulk could be better–another half hour to play with might have given Johnson some ideas for subplots–but it’s still pretty good.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Kenneth Johnson; teleplay by Johnson, based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Howard Schwatz; edited by Alan C. Marks and Jack W. Schoengarth; music by Joseph Harnell; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Bill Bixby (Dr. David Banner), Susan Sullivan (Dr. Elaina Marks), Jack Colvin (Jack McGee), Lara Parker (Laura Banner), Susan Batson (Mrs. Maier), Eric Deon (B.J.), Charles Siebert (Ben), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk).


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