Tag Archives: Darren McGavin

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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Nightshift (1985, Phillip Noyce)

The big problem with Nightshift, an episode of “The Hitchhiker,” is how William Darrid’s teleplay handles the protagonist. Margot Kidder plays a retirement home nurse who preys on her charges–little mean stuff, stealing their jewelry. The script isn’t playful with its presentation of Kidder. If Darrid had made her true nature a reveal instead of setting it up in the ground situation, for example.

It makes Kidder a weak protagonist, letting Stephen McHattie (as her scummy boyfriend) take over the episode when he’s in it. But he’s not in it very much, just a lengthy middle sequence. Then it goes back to Kidder, but she’s even more ineffectual now.

Director Noyce is trying to play with the constrained environment, but it doesn’t come off. There’s some good editing from Stan Cole.

Nightshift could have been a lot better, but Darrid didn’t give Kidder a believable enough character. It’s unfortunate.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; teleplay by William Darrid, based on a story by April Campbell Jones and Bruce Jones; “The Hitchhiker” created by Riff Markowitz, Lewis Chesler and Richard Rothstein; director of photography, Reginald H. Morris; edited by Stan Cole; music by Michel Rubini; production designer, Richard Wilcox; produced by Markowitz and Chesler; released by Home Box Office.

Starring Margot Kidder (Jane Reynolds), Stephen McHattie (Johnny), Dorothy Davies (Mrs. Cranshaw), Enid Saunders (Mrs. MacDonald), Kenneth Gordon (Mr. Loring) and Darren McGavin (The Old Man).


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Captain America (1990, Albert Pyun), the director's cut

Captain America actually has a few interesting ideas. First is how Carla Cassola’s scientist (she creates the villain, Scott Paulin’s Red Skull, and Captain America—played by Matt Salinger) almost serves as a surrogate mother to the two boys. Well, they’re supposed to be boys when they change. Cassola probably gives the film’s best performance; she manages to imply depth rather well.

Second is how Captain America is a failure. The script touches on it and Salinger tries, but there’s just not enough character development to show it. Instead of focusing on the titular character, Captain America often focuses on the supporting cast.

The film reunites Christmas Story stars Darren McGavin (who’s awful) and Melinda Dillon (who’s just bad). Of course, they don’t have a scene together. Neither do Deliverance alumni Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty. Beatty’s bad, but Cox has his moments. One wonders if he wanted to be an action star, as he gets to beat up a bunch of eurotrash.

Oh, that element’s another amusing one. All of Paulin’s gang are eurotrash. It’s sort of funny.

Salinger’s not always terrible, but he’s too physically awkward to be believable. Not to mention the costume being a disaster. His love interest, played by Kim Gillingham, is bad. Except in her old age makeup.

Michael Nouri manages not to embarrass himself too much.

Pyun’s direction is mostly weak, often obviously due to the minuscule budget; he’ll occasionally have a profound shot.

It’s fairly awful, but at least it’s interestingly awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Pyun; screenplay by Stephen Tolkin, based on a story by Tolkin and Lawrence Block and characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Philip Alan Waters; edited by Jon Poll; music by Barry Goldberg; production designer, Douglas H. Leonard; produced by Menahem Golan; released by 21st Century Film Corporation.

Starring Matt Salinger (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Ronny Cox (Tom Kimball), Ned Beatty (Sam Kolawetz), Darren McGavin (General Fleming), Michael Nouri (Lt. Colonel Louis), Scott Paulin (Red Skull), Kim Gillingham (Bernice Stewart / Sharon), Melinda Dillon (Mrs. Rogers), Bill Mumy (Young General Fleming), Francesca Neri (Valentina de Santis) and Carla Cassola (Dr. Maria Vaselli).


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A Christmas Story (1983, Bob Clark)

I don’t get A Christmas Story‘s continued success. I mean, I get its initial success (I grew up with it, on video, and remember my friends talking about it before I got to see it and the film living up to expectations), but it’s hard to believe people still like it. I mean, what do they like about it? What does someone who thinks Wild Hogs is comedic genius get out of this film?

Anyway, this viewing–it’s been a while since I’ve seen it and I think I always forget how the opening titles play–I realized just what a precious object Clark is making here. Since the last time I watched it, I’ve listened to some Jean Shepherd radio programs and A Christmas Story is remarkably tame (I also notice Peter Billingsley is played as a bit of a doofus for a protagonist, until the end when it’s clear Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin are the real leads).

There are some issues with Clark’s object here–well, some issues with how Reginald H. Morris photographs it. There are about six shots where the lighting is just off, like the film got developed wrong. It hurts the flow. Luckily the excellent soundtrack and Clark’s directorial abilities (has anyone ever commented on how the Chinese restaurant sequence is one magnificent shot–someone should have), make up for any bumps.

It’s amazing how little Christmas itself has to do with the film itself. It could have been called practically anything else.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Clark; screenplay by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Clark, based on a novel by Shepherd; director of photography, Reginald H. Morris; edited by Stan Cole; music by Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer; production designer, Reuben Freed; produced by Clark and René Dupont; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Melinda Dillon (Mrs. Parker), Darren McGavin (The Old Man), Peter Billingsley (Ralphie Parker), Ian Petrella (Randy Parker), Scott Schwartz (Flick), R.D. Robb (Schwartz), Tedde Moore (Miss Shields), Yano Anaya (Grover Dill), Zack Ward (Scut Farkus) and Jeff Gillen (Santa Claus).


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