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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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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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Once Upon a Spy (1980, Ivan Nagy)

Once Upon a Spy is a strange result. I mean, it’s a TV movie (pilot) for a spy series, complete with a kind of great James Bond-lite seventies music from John Cacavas, Christopher Lee in a electronic wheelchair with a rocket launcher, spy mistress Eleanor Parker working out of a secret headquarters in the Magic Mountain amusement park… oh, and leads Ted Danson and Mary Louise Weller bicker adorably. And Welsh writer Jimmy Sangster makes American Parker say “bloody” a lot because he doesn’t care what Americans sound like.

I’m getting ahead of myself because there are two things to examine and the rest of it all makes sense.

First, Sangster’s script. It’s boring–I can’t imagine not changing the channel from Once Upon a Spy on a relatively temperate Monday night in February 1980. There’s no chemistry between the characters. Sangster can’t even try to figure out how to force it into the script. There’s some attempt to address sexism–though Danson’s dorky computer guy (who all the ladies love–literally, two attempt to grope him) doesn’t know anything, he ignores everything Weller’s super spy tells him. Because, as it turns out, Danson’s the one evil mastermind Lee is really after. Danson beat him for the “Einstein Award for Smart People” once and Lee has never forgotten it.

Really.

But if there were chemistry–if Lee and Danson facing off actually did anything, if Danson had an iota of charm outside the strange experience of seeing him so completely without the thing his career’s based on, if Weller’s finale outfit didn’t go through three changes (from cleavage to no cleavage but leather cords wrapped around her legs to a version where it’s no longer a jumpsuit), if Nagy actually had any concept of how to pull of a spy movie based on charm–well, if any of those things, Once Upon a Spy might be somewhat successful.

Instead, Danson comes off like a wooden plank. Despite a little bit of a belly, he’s clearly a physical guy. He’d need to be to have the endurance for all the women falling over him. He doesn’t play computer nerd well, he doesn’t banter with Weller well, he doesn’t banter with Lee well, he doesn’t banter with Parker well. Maybe there are three big problems with Spy–Sangster, Nagy, and Danson. Maybe it’s not just Nagy’s lack of direction to his actors or Sangster’s lame writing, maybe it’s Danson himself. But with the direction and writing being so problematic, it’s impossible to know.

It’s concerning ABC let this one get made with such a dearth of chemistry between its leads. Even if it was in 1979… because there’s nothing there and it wastes Weller’s time. And she’s pretty good, all things considered. Once Sangster’s got her established as overcoming polite sexism to become a super spy, he’s got nothing else for her to do except babysit Danson. Her relationship with Parker is cold because Sangster writes Parker’s character so badly. Maybe if the character were exaggeratedly British, but instead it’s just Parker in a conference room all to herself with nothing to chew on. Nagy’s got no idea what to do with actors.

After Weller, the best performance is probably Lee. If only because he’s a mad scientist who has created a shrinking ray and has to pretend Ted Danson is a worthy intellectual nemesis. Then Parker, who has nothing to do, but does it with professionalism and dignity and as much style as she can get away with given the lame script and direction.

Once Upon a Spy is disappointing. It just needed to be cute and fun. Still, it’s competent as far as most television movies go and Weller’s likable. And that music’s all right.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ivan Nagy; teleplay by Jimmy Sangster, based on a story by Lemuel Pitkin and Sangster; director of photography, Dennis Dalzell; edited by Bob Fish and William Neel; music by John Cacavas; production designer, Duane Alt; produced by Jay Daniel; aired by the American Broadcasting Network.

Starring Ted Danson (Jack Chenault), Mary Louise Weller (Tannehill), Eleanor Parker (The Lady), Leonard Stone (Dr. Webster), and Christopher Lee (Marcus Valorium).


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The Ewok Adventure (1984, John Korty)

There’s a strange effectiveness to The Ewok Adventure during Burl Ives’s narration. With his voice, with the lameness of the script, Ewok Adventure feels like a storybook come to life. Much of the movie is exquisitely produced, whether Peter Bernstein’s score, director Korty’s lovely photography or John Nutt’s editing, there’s a definite precision to the film. And some fabulous effects sequences.

But most of the film isn’t Ives narrating the quaint lives of Ewoks and their madcap, gentle misadventures. Most of the film features annoying kid Eric Walker, who learns important lessons from the Ewoks. Not metaphorical lessons, but really obvious ones. Ewok Adventure is obnoxiously didactic. It’s a very strange mix of quest picture–with some of it even feeling like a Western–and children’s film. Then the end rolls around and it’s something else entirely. Still adventure, I suppose, but a lot more annoying.

Korty isn’t good with the kids. He’s not much better with the parents, but with Walker and Aubree Miller, Korty just doesn’t care. There are so many bad deliveries, so many scenes obviously not working… Ewok Adventure has “it’s good enough for kids” stamped all over it.

But the special effects are phenomenal. It’s rather good looking for a TV movie, even if it does feature a stupid giant at the end. It also features a “giggle” fairy, which is an amazingly manipulative scene–it’s just Miller and Walker laughing. Along with Warwick Davis’s Ewok sidekick, of course, but it’s like someone told the filmmakers kids respond well to scenes of kids laughing.

And the Ewok performers are all good.

The big action finale with the giant is awful though. It hurts the picture. It’s technically fine, but it really doesn’t work. There’s not room for giant monsters. Maybe if the effects on it were better, but it’s just a giant.

So with a better finish, a lot less of Walker and a little bit less of Miller (and a lot more Ives narration), Ewok Adventure might be something. The production values are outstanding and Korty does do well with the costumed performers.

It’s just way too tedious to wait for Walker to get through his scenes. He’s bad, his character’s obnoxious and he’s inexplicably the star of the Adventure.

1/4

CREDITS

Photographed and directed by John Korty; teleplay by Bob Carrau, based on a story by George Lucas; edited by John Nutt; music by Peter Bernstein; production designer, Joe Johnston; produced by Thomas G. Smith; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Eric Walker (Mace), Aubree Miller (Cindel), Warwick Davis (Wicket), Daniel Frishman (Deej), Kevin Thompson (Chukha-Trok), Fionnula Flanagan (Catarine) and Guy Boyd (Jeremitt); narrated by Burl Ives.


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