Tag Archives: Carol Lynley

The Night Stalker (1972, John Llewellyn Moxey)

The Night Stalker moves with ruthless efficiency. It’s a TV movie, so it’s got a mandated short runtime–seventy-four minutes; Richard Matheson’s teleplay has a brisk pace, something director Moxey embraces. There’s rarely a dull moment in The Night Stalker. It’s always about waiting for the next bad thing to happen.

The film opens with lead Darren McGavin alone, “narrating” from micro-cassette recorder playback while either transcribing or copyediting. He’s alone, a resigned look on his face, as he lays out the ground situation. McGavin’s a reporter in Las Vegas who used to be a big city newspaperman. His editor, Simon Oakland, can’t stand him and resents the paper’s (unseen) owner liking him. McGavin’s just been called back from vacation, though it’s almost impossible to imagine what he’s like when he’s not reporting. Matheson and Moxey are able to keep Night Stalker lean by not going too much into McGavin’s back story right off. It comes out later, in pieces, but the exposition is for McGavin’s story.

Someone is killing women, draining them of their blood through wounds on the neck. Every couple days, a new victim, all evidence pointing to someone who thinks he’s a vampire. The cops don’t want to hear it. Night Stalker’s pacing is a little weird because, even though the cops have all the same evidence as McGavin, their interpretation of it is left out. Like I said, it’s lean.

It also lets Night Stalker keep most of the cops are bad guys. Claude Akins’s strong-arming sheriff and Kent Smith’s slimey D.A. spend more time hounding McGavin than trying to solve their cases, going so far as to ignore coroner’s reports and common sense. Ralph Meeker’s the local FBI agent who likes McGavin and keeps him involved (though, actually, it’s McGavin who brings the story to Meeker initially).

McGavin’s got a lady friend, Carol Lynley, who works at a casino (just like all the victims). Night Stalker takes a while to establish the extent of their relationship; she gets introduced in the first act as one of McGavin’s sources. He’s got a handful, including Elisha Cook Jr. in a nice little cameo, but Lynley and Meeker are big ones. Eventually, Lynley gets to be the one who reveals some of McGavin’s back story. He’s been run out of every major city (and major city newspaper) because he’s just too intrepid for his own good. It provides some context, even if the film doesn’t exactly need it.

Because The Night Stalker has McGavin and it doesn’t need much else. Matheson doesn’t give McGavin a lot of speeches–he’s got a lot of dialogue, because he’s always doing his job–but he’s not a crusading journalist. He’s just trying to get the story (and a big enough one to get out of Las Vegas), but his ego’s always in check. The most impressive scenes, at least in terms of Moxey’s direction, are the action ones where McGavin is a bystander. He’s always active–dutifully taking pictures–while madness ensues around him.

There are two big action scenes in Night Stalker. Moxey leverages the film’s mundane realism against the fantastical action to outstanding result. When it’s a smaller action sequence, Moxey’s fine but it’s just a TV movie; the big action sequences, however, they’re beautifully choreographed madness. With McGavin taking it all in, not taking cover, but standing a step or two back from it all.

McGavin’s performance is phenomenal. Even when it is one of those duller moments–eventually McGavin takes to driving the Strip, waiting for the police scanner, waiting for the something in the story to break–and McGavin gives those filler moments weight. No small feat given Bob Cobert’s too jazzy for its own good music.

Technically, The Night Stalker can’t keep up with McGavin’s performance or Matheson’s writing. Michel Hugo’s photography is fine for the newspaper procedural and rather competent for the night exteriors, but he can’t make the finale work. Not the day-for-night, which he really should be able to accomplish, but then not the horror-suspense aspects either. The last deficiencies seem more like director Moxey’s problem–even when Night Stalker’s perfectly well-directed, it’s perfectly well-directed for a TV movie. Moxey’s ambitions are in check.

Akins and Smith are great foils. Oakland less so just because he’s not as much a part of it. He’s underwritten to make room. Meeker’s real good. Lynley’s solid, then gets better as the film progresses and she gets exposition responsibilities. The best performances in Night Stalker are the ones with a detached sadness. Matheson bakes the depressing reality of Las Vegas–so the location exteriors matter–into the film. Long hours, late nights, low pay, conditional happiness. It’s one hell of a downer.

McGavin is right at home in it, whether he wants to be there or not, whether anyone else wants him there or not. He wears a straw pork pie hat, a pinstrip suit, and an exhausted expression, but he’s full of energy. The Night Stalker succeeds thanks to the script and the competent filmmaking, but it excels because it’s McGavin in the lead. He’s so good. It’s like Matheson wrote the thing for McGavin’s cadence and his resigned exasperation.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey; teleplay by Richard Matheson, based on a story by Jeffrey Grant Rice; director of photography, Michel Hugo; edited by Desmond Marquette; music by Bob Cobert; produced by Dan Curtis; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Darren McGavin (Carl Kolchak), Carol Lynley (Gail Foster), Simon Oakland (Vincenzo), Ralph Meeker (Bernie Jenks), Claude Akins (Sheriff Butcher), Charles McGraw (Chief Masterson), Kent Smith (D.A. Paine), Elisha Cook Jr. (Mickey Crawford), Stanley Adams (Fred Hurley), Larry Linville (Dr. Makurji), Jordan Rhodes (Dr. O’Brien), and Barry Atwater (Janos Skorzeny).


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Eve (1968, Robert Stevens)

For all of its problems, Eve rarely feels stagy. Director Stevens makes the most of his location shooting, whether it’s town or country, and there are enough scenes out doors to make up for the utter lack of establishing shots. It’s for television, it’s on a budget.

It’s also got a rather poorly conceived narrative. Writers Michael Ashe and Paul Wheeler seem like they’re trying to keep Eve interesting–it’s about listless young man Dennis Waterman falling in love with a mannequin. Murder and madness ensue. Carol Lynley plays the mannequin in his imagination and Ashe, Wheeler and possibly Stevens make the odd choice of keeping her quiet.

Waterman’s in need of an imaginary friend due to the Swinging Sixties going on around him; he just wants classy romance. And Lynley is fully capable of the performance, she just doesn’t get the chance.

At least Michael Gough has some fun.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Stevens; teleplay by Michael Ashe and Paul Wheeler, based on a story by John Collier; director of photography, Arthur Lavis; edited by Inman Hunter; music by Harry Robertson; produced by Anthony Hinds; aired by Independent Television.

Starring Carol Lynley (Eve), Dennis Waterman (Albert Baker), Michael Gough (Royal), Angela Lovell (Jennifer), Hermione Baddeley (Mrs. Kass), Peter Howell (Mr. Miller), Errol John (George Esmond), Barry Fantoni (Kim) and Barry Linehan (The Detective).


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Beware! The Blob (1972, Larry Hagman)

Could Beware! The Blob be less competent? Possibly not.

Screenwriters Jack Woods and Anthony Harris approach Beware! like a spoof. It’s a comedic early seventies handling, complete with hippy jokes, racism, some cracks at small businessmen, pot, Eastern Europeans… Woods and Harris cover just about everything they can except maybe feminism. Some of these jokes are funny. Not many, but some of them. For the most part, they flop. Why? Because Larry Hagman cannot direct a movie.

Beware! is clearly low budget, but Hagman’s completely incapable of working around those issues. There wasn’t, apparently, money for establishing shots. Not just of the Blob, but of the locations in general. Daytime long shots are rare in the picture; one imagines the crew running up and filming and running off before the cops show up. Except, of course, that approach would have led to some enthusiasm, something Beware! desperately lacks.

Shelley Berman and Godfrey Cambridge are the two biggest guests. Berman does a little better than Cambridge, though Hagman’s lack of comedy timing hurts his scene too. Cambridge is supposed to be this goofy, drunk black guy who hangs out with the hippies we later meet. It’s terrible, terrible stuff and his opening “cameo” takes like fifteen minutes.

Of the main actors, Gwynne Gilford is easily the worst. Both Richard Webb and Richard Stahl have okay moments. A few anyway. Lead Robert Walker Jr. is occasionally good. Cindy Williams is in it for a second, probably giving the best performance.

It’s wretched.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Larry Hagman; screenplay by Jack Woods and Anthony Harris, based on a story by Richard Clair and Jack H. Harris; director of photography, Al Hamm; edited by Tony de Zarraga; music by Mort Garson; produced by Jack H. Harris; released by Jack H. Harris Enterprises.

Starring Robert Walker Jr. (Bobby Hartford), Gwynne Gilford (Lisa Clark), Richard Stahl (Edward Fazio), Richard Webb (Sheriff Jones), Shelley Berman (Hair Stylist), Godfrey Cambridge (Chester Hargis), Marlene Clark (Mariane Hargis), J.J. Johnston (Deputy Kelly Davis), Rockne Tarkington (Deputy Williams), Gerrit Graham (Joe), Carol Lynley (Leslie), Randy Stonehill (Randy), Cindy Williams (Randy’s Girl), Dick Van Patten (Scoutmaster Adleman) and Tiger Joe Marsh (The Naked Turk).


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Return to Peyton Place (1961, José Ferrer)

I’ve read a review of Return to Peyton Place positing the whole film as a disservice to Mary Astor. It might have been Maltin. Right now, I’m reading Bruce Eder’s review over at allmovie. Eder’s a smarty-pants (he does or did a lot of scholarly audio commentaries) and I’d almost recommend it over my own post, because I made a few of the same observations. Return to Peyton Place starts out bad, with Rosemary Clooney singing a silly song over location shots of the town. The first Peyton Place had a great score–if it was a little derivative of Aaron Copland’s Our Town score–and the first couple seconds of music in Return to Peyton Place seemed all right… then the singing started. Clooney was married to director José Ferrer at the time and one imagines there’s a connection to her involvement.

Worse, the first scene is with Carol Lynley. I’m a Peyton Place fan and I can imagine how upset people seeing this film in the theater would have been. Lynley is a poor substitute for Diane Varsi, who originated the role. Poor substitute might be too polite. Lynley’s acting is a crime against celluloid. But then Eleanor Parker and Tuesday Weld and Mary Astor show up–and here’s where Eder and I agree–and Mary Astor’s first scene is really good. Immediately after, she becomes Mrs. Bates, complete with haunted house, but the first scene is good. Tuesday Weld manages to have a few good moments, but she’s busy being in love with Swedish sky instructor–she visibly competent, though I don’t know if I’d say anything if I didn’t know she turned well. Eleanor Parker–replacing Lana Turner, who was the lead in the original Peyton Place–is around because she has to be, but there’s no emphasis on her. It’s a bad sequel in that way–it’s set after the events in Peyton Place, but certain things didn’t happen….

The idea of the film–besides Mary Astor combating her son’s new, pregnant Italian bride (Fox was very international with Return to Peyton Place)–is Lynley writing a book a lot like… Peyton Place. The novel was (I’m Googling for the appropriate adjective) notorious at its publication. That idea of turning that notoriety into filmic content in a sequel, it’s not a bad one. It would allow for the film to cover the existing situations in the narrative and create all sorts of conflicts and yada yada yada, but it’s so poorly handled, it just doesn’t work. Jeff Chandler–who’s good–is bad in Return to Peyton Place. He doesn’t fit the role of book publisher and his scenes are all with Lynley and… oh, they’re awful together.

It’s hard to imagine a good sequel to Peyton Place. You would need the entire cast to return. You would need five or six stories, good ones (instead of two and a half bad ones). You’d need a good writer–though, Return to Peyton Place’s scenes are competently paced–and you’d need a good director. But still, even with all of those components (and Return to Peyton Place has none of those components), there still isn’t a good artistic reason for a sequel….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by José Ferrer; screenplay by Ronald Alexander, based on a novel by Grace Metalious; director of photography, Charles G. Clarke; edited by David Bretherton; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Jerry Wald; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Carol Lynley (Allison MacKenzie), Jeff Chandler (Lewis Jackman), Eleanor Parker (Connie Rossi), Mary Astor (Mrs. Roberta Carter), Robert Sterling (Mike Rossi), Luciana Paluzzi (Raffaella Carter), Brett Halsey (Ted Carter), Gunnar Hellström (Nils Larsen) and Tuesday Weld (Selena Cross).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 3: BARONESS.