Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Oh, Gawd! Book Two

Here we are again with the second installment of a three-part series. The fifteen-hour, 1978 miniseries Greatest Heroes of the Bible has been partially released to DVD (broken up into hour long segments, four to a disc) and so here we come to disc two.

It kicks off with “The Story of Moses,” though this is actually part two of a two-hour segment devoted to him. We already saw “The Ten Command-ments” on disc one, which came after this (!) and now we get this section, which is missing the first hour of build-up! Messy packaging and presentation. Anyhoo, the stars include Julie Adams as Pharaoh's wife, Robert Alda as his advisor, Lloyd Bochner as his chief henchman and Frank Campanella (!) as Pharaoh. Could there be any less likely people to be found in ancient Egypt??

Even more bizarre is Anne Francis, chiefly because there is not one single (makeup-free!) frame of her in this hour-long story. Moses' wife (the role she was assigned) is absent entirely from this storyline of Moses coercing Pharaoh into freeing the Hebrew slaves. Did she die? (All I know is that in The Ten Commandments, 1956, Yvonne de Carlo was still in the thick of things at this point!) Then there is Frank Gorshin (The Riddler himself!) as a Hebrew still loyal to Egypt and, once again, John Marley as Moses. Just as in “The Ten Commandments,” it is highly jarring to hear Marley's New York accent spout the faux-Biblical dialogue (and this time it's matched by other NYCers like Campanella and Alda!)

Demonstrating significantly more opulence than some of the other stories in the series, this is still feebly papier-mâché when compared to the famous Cecil B. DeMille epic. How could it not be? The very idea of lanky Campanella in what was Yul Brynner's part is amusing enough before you add in the nipple-revealing togas and gaudy headgear. Likewise, the normally covered-up Bochner is handed outfits that are cut up practically to his ball sack. At least Ms. Adams is glammed up and hilariously bewigged, though her role is bereft of the heated romantic elements and delicious campy dialogue than Anne Baxter got to spout. Al Ruscio appears as Moses' brother Aaron, though he was inexplicably replaced by Richard Mulligan in the very next chapter!

Other familiar faces (not worthy of billing in the opening credits) include staggeringly busy character actor Bernard Behrens as an outraged Hebrew slave and Ron Rifkin (later a costar of Alias and Brothers & Sisters) as one of Marley's fellow oppressed cohorts.
The now-familiar story of Marley imploring Campanella to free his people or else feel the wrath of God kicks off with a rendition of Marley temporarily turning his staff into a serpent. Later, he comes to Campanella's outdoor arena and changes the water there (and everywhere) into blood. Not entirely convinced, Campanella saunters over and sticks his finger in it to taste it.
Get a load of some of the outfits that Campanella was forced into. The fifty-four year-old actor was caught with his belly button peering out and was also slipped into what looks like a large diaper... Don't miss, too, Ms. Adams' sizeable wig! It must be a requirement for Pharoah's son to always be played by a highly-annoying child actor. Just as it was in the old DeMille epic, this kid is one you'll be hankering to spank hard.

The plagues continue, be it frogs landing all over the palace floor or – as shown here – a massive swarm of locusts who only bother Egyptians, not Hebrews. As they are represented 100% by tiny animated dots on the screen, the cast is forced to continuously swat away at absolutely nothing while these teensy dots flit about, usually in the center of the picture and nowhere near the actors who are flailing desperately! Irwin Allen must have been drooling over this section as he was preparing his anti-blockbuster The Swarm (1978)!

The back and forth battle between driven Marley and stubborn Campanella continues as the Egyptians are then plagued by boils on their faces. Campanella makes promises, then reneges on them. The biggest mistake he makes, of course, is deciding that all firstborn Hebrews must be slaughtered, since that turns on him and all firstborn Egyptians die instead, including his bratty son.

The camp highlight of Campanella's already crazed wardrobe comes when he darts into his son's room wearing a white habit, a white shawl and a white loincloth, putting us in the mind of something a Mother Abbess might wear in the back yard of her convent if she were desperate to increase her vitamin D intake!

So he finally relents and allows Marley to take his people out of bondage, but still-spiteful Bochner talks Campanella into going after them all and killing them on sight. That's just what he sets out to do, pinning them against The Red Sea, but God has other plans and sets up a walkway for the Hebrews (which comes crashing back down on the Egyptians when they set forth upon it.) This is the point at which the story continues into “The Ten Commandments,” which we've already seen (and recapped) in the prior post.

Next up is “Joshua and the Battle of Jericho,” featuring Robert Culp as the title figure. Also on hand in the male-heavy cast are William Daniels (later of St. Elsewhere) as a shifty city official, omnipresent supporting actor Royal Dano and John Doucette, a veteran movie actor, often as a henchman, who proceeded to appear on almost every conceivable TV western. The latter two portray Culp's fellow Israelites.

Rounding out the credited cast are Sydney Lassick (of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest,1975, and Carrie, 1976) as Jericho's decadently evil and flamboyant ruler and Cameron Mitchell as his right-hand military man.
Culp and his sizeable group of followers are camped not far from Jericho, a city full of sin and corruption, which he is bent on wiping out. As a precaution, he has sent all the children of his tribe to a special containment at the rear of his base of operations. He also sends two young gentlemen into the city as spies, telling them to pose as merchants, in order to determine the settlement's strengths and weaknesses. (These actors, Brad David and Rand Bridges, have significant parts, but didn't warrant up-front billing.)

This was the last on-screen role for Bridges, who'd previously landed bit parts in a few movies and on TV. David's career was more substantial, though he was chiefly known for effectively playing strung-out hippies and other troubled young men. As tastes shifted, he found himself only in bit parts before stepping out of the biz in the mid-1980s.

You could search the world and still have difficulty coming up with two bigger hams than Lassic and Mitchell in their scenes together. Lassick parades around in a series of glittery muumuus, flaming out uncontrollably and surrounded by nubile young things. Some token girls are around, but generally there are scantily-clad men, some of them chained up for his (God only knows) bidding! Mitchell, for reasons unknown, has some pasted-on eyebrows that make him look for all the world like one of the Klingons from the original Star Trek!

Like many of the stories told in this series, there is a battle filled to the brim with young men careening around in skimpy togas, often riding up to reveal anything from tiny gym shorts to black briefs. This snap depicts one of the “up the skirt” moments that occur from time to time during the fight choreography.

Another key role, un-billed in the opening credits, is that of a Jericho prostitute who is in the street when all the children from Culp's compound are captured and dragged to a holding cell. Played by Sondra Currie, she helps one of the little girls up who's been knocked to the ground and we see that she's beginning to rethink the vicious behavior of her hometown.

Later, Currie is called upon to dance at a human sacrifice and is unnerved to see that several of the children she's just seen are on the menu! A truly creepy-looking executioner comes out and hacks away at the little ones, including the one (natch!) that Currie helped to pick up off the ground (and who also happens to be the little sister of David and Bridges!)

At the time of this miniseries, Currie had carved out a niche for herself as the star of several sexploitation drive-in movies with titles like Mama's Dirty Girls (1974) and Fugitive Lovers (1975), so it stands to reason that she would be cast as a whore, but fans of The Golden Girls should instantly recognize her as the younger woman who married Blanche's father Big Daddy the time that David Wayne played him! She has also more recently found her way into the series of The Hangover movies as “Linda.” Currie had the same basic hairstyle back then and, apparently, wears it that way still now!

Once Culp finds out that Lassick has been killing off his tribe's children just for the fun of it (it's actually to deliberately goad him into fighting instead of lingering outside the city), he thanks his two spies for the work they've done and then suits up for battle.

In a rather impressive (for this program) display of scenery, the walled city of Jericho is shown up against an impenetrable mountainside. Culp and his men march back and forth in front of the city for several days, finally returning to blow their fabled horns and hop in place until “the walls come a'tumblin' down!” (Actually, they're helped by some fortuitous blasts of lighting, courtesy of the Almighty.) Unintentional hilarity ensues when the towers break apart and send soldiers scrambling upside-down and sideways to the ground below.

Culp and his followers proceed to kill everyone visible in the city with the exception of Currie and her family, who had helped to shield David and Bridges when they were being hunted down by Mitchell's soldiers. Mitchell himself is dispatched by Culp while Lassick is felled by a falling statue (some sort of appropriately fat animal like a bull or a pig!) during all the disastrous goings on.

Our third presentation is a real hoot. “The Story of Esther” gives us one Miss Victoria Principal (!) as the famed queen of Hebrew descent who puts her life on the line with her husband King Xerxes in order to spare her people from slaughter. Noah Beery is her Jewish cousin Mordechai, Michael Ansara is the King's duplicitous second-in-command and, as the King, we have Robert Mandan of Soap!

As Ansara's chief henchman, there is ever-busy utilitarian actor Paul Carr and, in a special dollop of camp hilarity, we are presented with Laverne & Shirley's lantern-jawed Eddie Mekka as a rebellious Hebrew whose heroic behavior kicks off a potential bloodbath.
Thanks to the royal aspects of the story, this installment has a certain amount of grandeur to it with regards to the sets. Though nothing about this miniseries can touch the classic Hollywood designs of other countless epics, at least someone out there in the desert was working hard to try to cough up some sort of imposing structure.

As the story opens, there is heavy unrest between Mandan and the Hebrews living in his kingdom. His soldiers are constantly harassing them and destroying their property. When Mekka resists and antagonizes some of the soldiers, he becomes a hunted fugitive. An old man of the village goes to see the King on his behalf and, for his trouble, is hanged! Principal, decked out in some outre makeup and costuming, wouldn't be out of place on Space: 1999 in this sequence!

It is declared that all Hebrews of the city will be slaughtered on a particular day. Principal, whose Jewish heritage is unknown to her husband Mandan, sneaks out with one of her trusted handmaidens, to warn her cousin Beery of the impending doom. A young boy, Mekka's brother, poses as a trinket dealer and acts as a go-between for Principal and her relatives. Principal has a hilarious come-and-go accent that suggests a Dallas, Texas beauty queen contestant reciting Shakespeare as her “talent.”

Mandan, often guilty of campy overacting in other projects, doesn't disappoint here. Outfitted with a leisure-time piece of headgear that looks like a gold lamé shower cap surrounded by rows of cat ribs, he stews and grimaces and mugs his way through the story. Meanwhile, the imposing Ansara doesn't twirl his mustache, but looks like he may have twirled his curly beard.

It fascinates me that Queen Esther is played by soon-to-be prime-time soap queen Principal (Dallas hit the airwaves this same year), especially since her ratings rival Joan Collins of Dynasty also played the same role in 1960's Esther and the King, opposite Richard Egan. This “Pam Ewing in the Desert” presentation allows Principal to display her usual type of look along with some glamorous get-ups and make-up schemes.

But I digress... After the old man mentioned earlier is killed by the King, his son emerges with revenge on his mind. Previously a loyal member of Mandan's army, he now wants blood because of the way his papa was cruelly offed. He meets uneasily with Mekka to forge a murder plot. (Note the expansive scenery which goes a long way to enhance this sequence.)

The son is played by Michael Anderson Jr., who had once been a burgeoning film actor, but now, despite a sizeable role, didn't even rate an opening credit!
The convoluted murder plot is thwarted by Beery and Mekka, who decide to save the King and expose the fact that Ansara is actually bent on killing him himself, but things backfire and Beery is held captive, soon to be executed. A frantic Principal turns to her faithful handmaiden for solace. The girl is played by Bonnie Ebsen, the not-too-successful-actress daughter of Buddy Ebsen!

Principal begs Mandan to rethink executing Beery, claiming he actually saved the King's life, and tricks Ansara into honoring the man by parading him around town in the royal cloak atop one of his majesty's horses.
Next, Principal has to expose Ansara for the scheming scoundrel he is, so she arranges for him to visit her in her private chambers while Mandan is away. She fans the flames of a seduction, counting on Ebsen to bring Mandan to the room at a key moment, which she does. She also convinces Mandan to allow the Hebrews to arm themselves against the preordained massacre that he isn't able to halt. Thus, it winds up happily ever after (for most of the people!)

The last segment on this disc, “Abraham's Sacrifice,” stars Gene Barry (of Bat Masterson and Burke's Law) as the devout leader. Also on board are his sworn enemy Andrew Duggan, his elderly, barren wife Beverly Garland (positively buried in age makeup) and Ross Martin as a disloyal member of his tribe.

Once more ticking off the camp Richter scale is the presence of Lainie Kazan as one of Barry's servants who has borne him the (illegitimate) son that Garland could not! Rounding out the cast is singer-actor Ed Ames (of Daniel Boone), playing Barry's right-hand man.
The story begins with sheep czar Barry being threatened by a hostile neighbor Duggan, who wants Barry's herd. Duggan's sneering son heads into the fray to take control of the situation and in a bit of a scuffle lands directly onto Barry's ginormous javelin!

With his prized son now dead, Duggan swears revenge on a troubled Barry, who hadn't intended to kill the young man.

Then we meet Kazan, Barry's slave “girl” who resents the second-class treatment that her son receives from his father (not being named heir to the estate because of his illegitimacy, even though he was procreated at Barry's own request!) Kazan is but one of countless New York actors in this project whose jarring accent is completely at odds with the Biblical setting. She plays her part as if she's some back alley call girl from the streets of the Bronx.

She carps and complains like a fishwife while Barry's “real” wife Garland peers out timidly from their tent. Her uncle, Martin, can't wait to plot against Barry and, through the son, take control of everything once the kid has been pronounced legal heir.
Then three angels appear out of nowhere and come into Barry's tent. They tell a shocked Barry (and an even more stunned Garland) that he will soon have a legitimate son via his elderly, long-barren wife Garland.
Sure enough, despite her doubts, Garland soon reverts to the blossom of her youth (complete with glamorous press-on nails and a Loretta Lynn wig) and becomes “with child!” It isn't exactly clear if this was all miraculous or if Barry helped sow the seed himself. Presumably, once she peel back the years, he peeled back the covers on their marriage bed once more!

I'm not really the praying kind, but I must say that I'd be happy to get down on my knees for the angel on the far right! This trio states that they'll return upon the birth of the son, but, sadly, we never see them again in the show.

Martin is aghast that a newborn son and legitimate heir has been born, so he arranges for Kazan and her boy to leave the land for a time, during which he'll dispose of the new kid. Then, when he's sure that Garland can't pop out yet another child, Kazan can return and claim the inheritance for her boy.

About a hot minute after Garland's boy is born, she begins to, as the narrator Victor Jory says, “wither” back into her craggy, wrinkled former self. Martin kidnaps the child and takes him to Duggan to be done in, but winds up being executed himself by the villain for his trouble.

Duggan lures Barry and his men to an ambush, using the boy as bait, but before he can wipe all of them out, The Almighty intervenes and uses lightning and an avalanche to kill Duggan and all his men. But he's not done. As a test of Barry's recently-faltering faith, he orders Barry to kill his own son in sacrifice! Just as he's on the threshold of doing just that, God relents and allows him to proceed with his life, free of any more troubles.

Thus ends this second look at this irresistibly loony miniseries. The third and final part will be unfolding sometime soon!

6 comments:

Armando Kotch said...

Your description of Joseph Campanella looking like a Mother Abbess was spot-on and hilarious!. Maybe the Casting Director and the Costume Designer got together and had one too many.
Poor Anne Francis, cut from Funny Girl, and now from this miniseries.
Can't wait for the third part.

Gingerguy said...

As much as I like to watch Victoria Principal struggle, I think I will just youtube the Lainie Kazan part. Lainie in anything raises the camp level through the roof, thanks for another resource!

joel65913 said...

Yipes this sounds like just as big, if not bigger, train wreck then the first one! I love Lainie Kazan but to put it mildly she is a certain type and this ain't it!

It's always disappointing to see quality performers like William Daniels, Julie Adams and Beverly Garland stuck in this kind of junk. Of course Beverly was a queen of the B's for a goodly part of her early career but she could be very good when given the chance. However this sort of stuff is just perfect for lesser lights such as Principal and Ansara.

angelman66 said...

Campanella doesn't look half bad for 54, but you're right, in that outfit, his drag is indeed a bit camp...

I remember this one well...where else but 1980s TV could you see a biblical epic featuring the stars of Dallas, Soap, My Three Sons and Laverne and Shirley?? It's a classic TV fever dream! Love it!
-Chris

Poseidon3 said...

Hello, y'all! I know you think I gave up on your comments, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Just very crazy goings on in The Underworld in addition to trying to get that Judy Parfitt post up before I departed on a brief trip.

Armando, so funny about dear Anne Francis!! It is so bizarre how they hacked up this miniseries into the one-hour chunks and left continuity to the wayside half the time. Why not just release it in order in two-parts or something if cost were an issue....?

Gingerguy, Lainie is in rare form here, her incredibly contemporary speech style and looks at utter odds with the time and place! She isn't alone, though, as I've pointed out a few times.

Joel, you would surely cringe your way through these episodes. They're just plain bad, though I stand by my earlier statement that every single person involved is giving it his or her best. Sometimes one's best just isn't good enough, especially if the writing, direction, costumes, sets and effects do not pass muster.

Angelman, your description of this as a "classic TV fever dream" is PERFECT! I can never hold in my enthusiasm as each episode blurts out the stars' names and then keep my eyes peeled for anyone notable who is unbilled. It's like a humongous episode of "Fantasy Island" in which each guest's fantasy was to be in The Old Testament!

Taylor Maddux said...

Wonderful synopsis, Poseidon, and wonderful comments, as well. I somehow missed this epic whilst a young adult tv watching gay male.

To echo Joel's (sp?) comment above, it is disappointing to see top-flight actors involved in this kind of dreck. In fact, I was wondering why they didn't at least insist on having wardrobe and make-up approval. Maybe they did, but once they saw the what was on offer, they just gave up.

Now onto reading about "Roller Boogie," which I did see and (I think) enjoyed.