Tag Archives: Eric Braeden

The New, Original Wonder Woman (1975, Leonard Horn)

There are a number of things to talk about with The New, Original Wonder Woman. It’s a TV pilot movie. It’s a self-contained narrative about Wonder Woman, amiably but not quite enthusiastically played by Lynda Carter, coming to the United States in the middle of World War II. It’s this weird, campy, ill-advised serious “silly Nazis” played by comedic actors. It’s many things.

It’s also a painfully manipulative bit of condescension. After setting Carter up as the strongest lead possible, it turns out she’s willing to degrade herself as Lyle Waggoner’s secretary while incognito. It’s creepy. The way Stanley Ralph Ross writes it is creepy. It’s the last scene of the movie, which I don’t consider spoiling because Wonder Woman went to series. I myself was a “Wonder Woman” fan as a toddler. I’m trying to keep myself measured–going back to the show thirty-three years later, I was letting the promise of nostalgia carry a lot.

But no. I can’t. Some of New, Original is fine. But it’s all so disjointed, nothing can be good because it seems like other elements are moving in complete independence. I’m not sure if it’s Ross’s teleplay or if it’s just director Horn having a profound misunderstanding of what he’s doing, but cutting from Carter’s lame story to the silly Nazis? If it were intentional, there’d be a flow. Instead, Horn directs Stella Stevens poorly whenever she’s with John Randolph and Waggoner, but well whenever she’s with Red Buttons.

Oh, right, forgot. The thing about New, Original is it should be a camp classic. It has Cloris Leachman as Wonder Woman’s mom. Except Leachman’s terrible in the part. It’s a poorly written part and Horn’s direction of the Paradise Island sequence is the worst in the movie, but Leachman’s still terrible. It doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Mars and Henry Gibson play silly Nazis. Gibson loves the U.S.A. and sends messages by Mars’s carrier pigeons. The actors aren’t exactly having a blast, but they’re enjoying not letting themselves laugh at the material. They’re whole levels above not appearing miserable. Because Horn’s direction of those scenes isn’t good either. Mars, Gibson and Eric Braeden go for stuff and they get no support. It’s a shame. It’s almost this awesome short film about the conflicted bromance between Mars and Gibson. Or is Gibson just a heartless traitor?

But it’s not. Because Horn.

So most of Wonder Woman’s problems are because of Horn’s inept direction. It’s his inability to find the quality in his material. Red Buttons as a silly Nazi spy. Come on. It’s awesome. It has to be awesome or you can’t do it. And Horn doesn’t care. New, Original feels like someone knew what to do but no one listened enough to them.

And Carter’s okay. She has a good enough time–she’s enthusiastic about playing Wonder Woman and she’s very positive about it. But Waggoner gets too much emphasis, in the script, in the direction. Horn does some bad action sequences–Carroll Sax’s editing is awful–but Carter’s clearly the hero in them. You’re clearly supposed to watch it and think she’s kicking ass. Then Waggoner comes along and calls Lynda Carter in glasses dumpy. With poor John Randolph along to ask him to clarify the jokes for younger audiences. And Carter’s playing along so it can be “wink wink” but it’s more like “puke puke.”

So, as a pilot, I might hate watch “Wonder Woman” the series, but probably not. I hope the show was better. As a pilot movie, Horn manages to fumble a willing cast, an only occasionally odious teleplay and production values somewhere above a Roger Corman production. He should have done much better.

It really is kind of worth it at least once for the performances of Mars, Gibson, Braeden, Buttons and Stevens.

Oh, and there’s casual racism against the Japanese. It’s not even seventies TV casual racism, it’s seventies TV going overboard because it’s pretending to be forties propaganda blatant racism. It’s unpleasant. It’s not frequent, but it does stick out. Wonder Woman kind of does drown a bunch of Japanese sailors while saving Mars’s dippy butt. Mars is great and all, but come on. If Wonder Woman is going to crash a German plane into a Japanese submarine, she’s got to kill them all. Obviously, no one working on the pilot thought about it, which is the more disturbing part about it.

And New, Original isn’t like an homage to a forties propaganda movie. It should be, actually, just because of how well Mars and Gibson can keep straight faces. It’s just Horn being awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Leonard Horn; teleplay by Stanley Ralph Ross, based on characters created by William M. Marston; director of photography, Dennis Dalzell; edited by Carroll Sax; music by Charles Fox; produced by Douglas S. Cramer; aired by the American Broadcasting System.

Starring Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman), Lyle Waggoner (Major Steve Trevor), John Randolph (General Phil Blankenship), Red Buttons (Ashley Norman), Stella Stevens (Marcia), Eric Braeden (Captain Drangel), Severn Darden (Bad Guy), Fannie Flagg (Amazon Doctor), Henry Gibson (Nikolas), Kenneth Mars (Colonel Von Blasko) and Cloris Leachman (Queen Hippolyta).


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The Ambulance (1990, Larry Cohen)

How can Cohen do such amazing New York location shooting, but not be able to direct whatsoever? His composition is a disaster, but so is every dolly and pan. Luckily, his script is decent and his cast is phenomenal. So, even with the direction, The Ambulance is outstanding.

While Cohen’s dialogue is occasionally a tad tepid, his plotting is unbelievably tight. He introduces characters in the natural flow of the story, never worrying late additions may be hostile to the audience.

The film has a bunch of fantastic performances but the two most important are Eric Roberts (as the lead) and Megan Gallagher (as his reluctant sidekick). Roberts maintains energy and enthusiasm throughout—every moment he’s on screen, he’s captivating. Even with a terrible haircut.

Half Gallagher’s performance is unspoken, just her expressions changing. She has great chemistry with Roberts.

Red Buttons has a nice part—excellent chemistry between him and Roberts. It’s too bad there wasn’t a sequel, given he gets along with Gallagher well too.

James Earl Jones also has a good part. He has a lot of fun. The next supporting tier is strong too. Janine Turner, Eric Braeden, Richard Bright, all good. Stan Lee has a nice cameo for realism’s sake (Roberts works at Marvel Comics).

The only bad performance is Jill Gatsby’s and the only bad technical aspect (besides the direction) is Jay Chattaway’s awful score.

I wasn’t expecting anything from The Ambulance; turns out it’s quite good. Roberts and Gallagher make it occasionally amazing.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Larry Cohen; director of photography, Jacques Haitkin; edited by Claudia Finkle and Armond Lebowitz; music by Jay Chattaway; production designer, Lester Cohen; produced by Moctesuma Esparza and Robert Katz; released by Triumph Films.

Starring Eric Roberts (Josh Baker), James Earl Jones (Lt. Spencer), Megan Gallagher (Sandra Malloy), Red Buttons (Elias Zacharai), Janine Turner (Cheryl), Eric Braeden (The Doctor), Richard Bright (McClosky), James Dixon (Detective Ryan), Jill Gatsby (Jerilyn) and Stan Lee (Marvel Comics Editor).


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Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970, Joseph Sargent)

Colossus is a pre-disaster movie, in the Irwin Allen sense. It has a lot in common with films like The Andromeda Strain and The Satan Bug. The problem is established and then the film’s story is an attempt to resolve it. It’s a little less character-oriented than the Allen disaster formula–Colosuss doesn’t have much lead-in, it sort of just gets started after the opening sequence–but that lack of character development makes the cast all the more important. The viewer’s never going to have a chance to get to know these people; the casting has to be superb.

And Colossus is perfectly cast. Eric Braeden–who I just discovered ended up on a soap (and I even recognize him)–turns in a likable, funny leading man performance. He’s always believable as the world’s foremost computer designer, but he still can get away with being a traditional (and excellent) leading man. Susan Clark’s second-billed and sort of around for half the movie in the background before she gets to take a more central role and she’s got some fantastic moments. I figured–based on that Planet of the Apes movie he was in–Braeden would be good. So the real surprise is Gordon Pinsent as the President. Too often, movie presidents aren’t convincing–or they’re played by big name actors who assume their recognizable name will make them a good president-in-crisis. Pinsent does have a lot of good material–he’s second lead for the first half–but his performance is rather impressive.

Colossus is a from-the-top crisis story. We don’t really get to see how regular people are reacting, which has become the norm today. Everyone in the film has been on the phone with the President of the United States. What director Sargent and screenwriter James Bridges have to do is make a film without special effects–we don’t see any of the disasters–work from a couple rooms. There’s the White House and there’s Braeden’s computer lab. The film could practically work as a play.

Sargent’s widescreen composition is peculiar and effective. He started on TV and he tends to use the Panavision frame to horizontally expand what would otherwise be television composition. The result is unexpected. It’s like Sargent’s composition ends up looking like deliberate, thoughtful art, when it appears to just be a pragmatic approach to widescreen filmmaking.

Bridges’s script is competent and unambitious. Colossus is from a novel–which probably followed most of the same story beats–so all Bridges has to do is make it play right. And, given how the beats develop, it’d be impossible not to. There’s some character development, left nicely with Braeden and Clark, but a lot of the script is just perfunctory. That mechanical approach ends up hurting Colossus, because there’s no sense of anything escalating. Eventually, the movie just stops. I figured there were another fifteen minutes, but no, it was end credit time.

Perceiving the passage of time in the story is partially Bridges’s fault–three days pass without acknowledgment, a problem in a story set over a specific period–but a lot of it lies on Michel Colombier’s score. It’s anti-climatic and rote. Colombier tries for melodrama and ends up wasting a lot of time.

Colossus is a boring and intriguing film. Even with the narrative distance, the characters’ dilemmas are compelling. And, at just after the halfway point, when the computer taking over the world starts talking, it gets real funny. Not dumb funny, smart funny. But still real funny. It sort of suggests the film could have cut fifteen minutes and run another thirty and it would have turned out better.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Sargent; screenplay by James Bridges, based on a novel by D.F. Jones; director of photography, Gene Polito; edited by Folmar Blangsted; music by Michel Colombier; produced by Stanley Chase; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Eric Braeden (Dr. Charles Forbin), Susan Clark (Dr. Cleo Markham), Gordon Pinsent (The President), William Schallert (CIA Director Grauber), Leonid Rostoff (Russian Chairman), Georg Stanford Brown (Dr. John F. Fisher), Willard Sage (Dr. Blake), Alex Rodine (Dr. Kuprin), Martin E. Brooks (Dr. Jefferson J. Johnson) and Marion Ross (Angela Fields).


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Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971, Don Taylor)

I occasionally–or often, depending on the films I’m going through–start a post saying how much I was dreading the film and how well it turned out. Usually, these are films I used to love and haven’t seen in ten years and was worried about them. I wasn’t dreading Escape from the Planet of the Apes, I was wholly anticipating suffering for ninety minutes. I rented the Apes box set from Nicheflix and, after the first two–especially the second one, since Paul Dehn wrote both it and this film–I was desperate to avoid Escape, to avoid continuing the series. I rented it on a lark anyhow, just because Nicheflix’s price was great for six movies.

For those who don’t know, who somehow missed Escape on TV every other weekend throughout the 1990s, it takes place in modernity (1973), and features Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter (as the apes from the first two movies). They travel back in time. Nicely, the film doesn’t even bother getting into the “science” of it, not even wasting time on that sort of puffery. Not to say Escape is a lean film. The first couple acts are lean, but towards the end it starts to drag. Roddy McDowell really impresses in this film, while Kim Hunter doesn’t quite work. She has more to do and the audience is supposed to be sympathetic towards her because of the other movies. McDowell isn’t treated so nonchalantly and he provides a funny and touching performance.

But Escape doesn’t work because of the apes, it works because of the people. This film is not a serious rumination on time traveling apes. It’s a somewhat serious film, but it knows how to get the audience going, but engaging their expectations for future apes in modernity. There’s a hilarious montage of the two going around and getting dressed up (speaking all the latest colloquialisms too). It’s got a playful 1970s Jerry Goldsmith score, probably the most playful thing I’ve ever heard from him (and the best) and a lot of the film is just about having fun. Maybe not laughing out loud, but being amused. The serious parts come when the filmmakers realized they needed a conclusion, so some scientist decides the apes need to go. The scientist, played by Eric Braeden, gives the best performance in the film. Escape introduces some real internal conflict into the film series–because the scientist goes nuts and he gets it. He recognizes he’s lost it.

There are some other good performances, mostly smaller ones (Ricardo Montalban has a fun cameo and William Windom is good). The secondary male lead, Bradford Dillman, is good too, but his character is nice and nothing more.

The direction (by Don Taylor) seems bigger than the first two films in the series, which it shouldn’t. It feels more epic, but it’s really just in that early 1970s style, when extreme long shots were big in mainstream movies. A lot of it looks like a TV show, but a good one. Taylor also gets the humor and knows how to direct the audience’s attention to it without having to bonk them over the head.

I’m not sure at what point during the film I realized it was actually successful and good, but it didn’t take too long. From the opening credits, it becomes obvious it’s going to be entertaining, and while Kim Hunter’s failure to create a truly sympathetic character hurts it, Braeden makes up for that absence but giving the film a great antagonist. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’d be understandable to anyone who hasn’t seen the first two films… However, it might actually be worth it for Escape.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Don Taylor; written by Paul Dehn, based upon characters created by Pierre Boulle; director of photography, Joseph Biroc; edited by Marion Rothman; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Arthur P. Jacobs; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), Kim Hunter (Zira), Bradford Dillman (Dr. Lewis Dixon), Natalie Trundy (Dr. Stephanie Branton), Eric Braeden (Dr. Otto Hasslein), William Windom (The President), Sal Mineo (Milo), Ricardo Montalban (Armando) and Marshall Stewart (Arthur, the zoo keeper).


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