Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Oh, Gawd! Book One

Okay, we're finally back from the life-imposed hiatus that sucked up practically every drop of my free time. What better way to jump back into The Underworld than with a look at some startlingly bad late-1970's television in which a parade of once-stars, nearly-stars and flavors of the moment were coerced into donning layers of linen and burlap in order to portray figures of The Old Testament?! Greatest Heroes of the Bible (1978) was a four-episode miniseries that focused on key passages of The Bible, with all the primary roles going to an unlikely array of actors who might have been found on any random episode of The Love Boat or Fantasy Island! Later, the miniseries was broken up into individual hour-long episodes, some of which found their way onto VHS (where I first encountered them years ago for $1.00 apiece!) and later onto DVD (albeit only eight of the fifteen stories.) Now, twelve of the stories have been released on new DVDs across three volumes (four on each one), which is the most we've been able to see for quite some time. Perhaps a fourth one will eventually depict the remaining M.I.A. installments.

Volume One kicks off with "The Ten Commandments" (there is precious little order or continuity offered with regards to which stories are on which disc or in which order!) As a diehard, life-long fan of the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille movie, there was never so much as a scintilla of a chance that this ragtag production could in any way improve upon that rendition. It kicks off with the parting of the Red Sea, a sequence that is rather unconvincing to say the least. This episode of GHOTB is easily one of the driest, dullest and least involving, in any case.

As to the casting, John Marley (famous as the man who woke up with a horse's head next to him in 1972's The Godfather!) is Moses. Others include former teen actor (and the son of director Don Siegel and actress Viveca Lindfors) Kristoffer Tabori, frequent TV guest star Granville Van Dusen and Richard Mulligan (both Mulligan and Van Dusen would proceed from here to work on Soap!) It's rather hooty to listen to Marley and Mulligan, brothers in this show, exchange their Biblical dialogue tinged with a New York accent!
The real lunacy, though, is reserved for the casting of the episode's trouble-maker. Happy Days' (1974-1984) Anson Williams (!) is a pouting spoilsport, secretly lusting after Tabori's young wife! The fleshy, feather-haired Williams, like everyone else involved in this entire miniseries, gives as earnest and committed a portrayal as he is capable of. He just isn't capable of all that much! It's jarring now to see "Potsie Weber" in the desert. I can only imagine what it was like for 1978 viewers!

Adding to the amusement of Williams' casting is the presence of the love interest he's so keen on. (He even goes so far as to stab Tabori in the back, literally, in the hopes that his death will free up the young wife!) This object of desire is played by Williams' own real life wife at the time, Lorrie Mahaffey! Mahaffey was a Happy Days guest star who popped up a half-dozen times and wed Williams soon after. They had a daughter together (and even hosted a prime time special called Anson & Lorrie, in 1978!  Clearly, Williams was quite popular in his day) before divorcing in 1986. Her own acting career had long since petered out prior to that time.

Filmed in the Arizona desert, GHOTB does offer up some neat, reasonably authentic scenery, though it tends to be peopled with a lot of awkward extras, swathed in an assortment of either cloaks, togas or other such fabrics. When Marley comes down from the mountain with the fabled commandments, he is faced with the "spectacle" of a couple of people sitting on the grass kissing and ONE frizzy-haired dancing girl gyrating around. Then there's the golden calf, which looks like a plastic bull from the entrance to a Bonanza steakhouse, covered in gold foil!!  In a pique over all this sinning, he throws the flimsy tablets to the ground, where they shatter like the plaster of Paris that they are.

At the finale, he is given a new set of command-ments that are of a more hefty size and material. And we're grateful that this particular episode is over because it's low on camp and, thus, low on entertainment value.

Up next is the famous tale of the battle between "David & Goliath." Who better to portray the towering warrior Goliath than TV's go-to guy for tall parts, 6' 9" Ted Cassidy (famous as Lurch on The Addams Family from 1964-1966)? King Saul was enacted by famed character actor and teacher Jeff Corey, Corey's opponent in war was busy supporting actor and frequent villain John Dehner and the young man who takes on the giant was played by Roger Kern. Kern was moderately popular at the time for a hit TV-movie called The Young Pioneers (1976), which in turn led to a second movie and a brief series by the same name in 1978, opposite Linda Purl.

A happy double dose of hirsute, manly beefcake came by way of stalwart Hugh O'Brian as Corey's chief military strategist and Daniel J. Travanti as Kern's older brother. O'Brian had been a star since the 1950s on TV and in movies and, though he'd been kicking around Hollywood since the early-'60s, Travanti wouldn't become truly famous until Hill Street Blues (1981-1987.)
The costumes in this one are (thankfully) more abbreviated than the heavier ones shown in the prior installment. Most of the men wear short tunics and for leg fans, there is plenty on hand to see. This hulking soldier even gets flipped onto his back, revealing a set of snug, black briefs.

Likewise, the macho O'Brian struts around in a thigh-length tunic with breastplate.
Does anyone recognize this actor, not billed in the opening credits, but noted at the end?  He isn't exceedingly well known, but did have a featured, off-the-hook role in one of the cinema's most bizarre and "out there" cult camp classics.

That was John Lazar, one of the stars of 1970's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in which he played an outrageous and dangerous wacko. He later worked for that film's director (Russ Meyer) again in 1975's Supervixens (with nothing more on screen in between), claiming that his bizarre role in Beyond caused his movie career to come to a screeching halt. By comparison to many of his roles, this one as a Palestine general was downright benign.

The rather slight story, padded out to episode length, has plenty of Cassidy standing around shouting insults while young Kern (who seems to possess maybe one or two facial expressions) becomes more and more outraged. Meanwhile, Travanti paws all over his younger sibling at all times.

In this rendition of the tale, Kern is used as a distraction for Cassidy while O'Brian attempts to maneuver his men around the battle zone, but thanks to the power of God and a trusty slingshot, Kern winds up doing more than just holding Cassidy at bay.

At last some decent camp factor appears with our next episode, "Samson and Delilah." We like a little John Beck as much as the next guy, but as SAMSON?!?! One simply pictures a person with a little more bulk than he when envisioning the Biblical hero who could tear anything apart with his bare hands. Rounding out the cast are Victor Jory (the slave overseer of Gone with the Wind, 1939, along with many other movies), James Olson and, amusingly, John Schuck who had played Rock Hudson's semi-bumbling sidekick on McMillan & Wife from 1971-1977 and then a wacky android in the short-lived Holmes and Yo-Yo, 1976-1977!

As Delilah, the sultry temptress who wins Samson's heart before cutting off the source of his immense strength (no, not THAT... his long ponytail of hair!), Ann Turkel was cast. Turkel was the lanky, attractive model-turned-actress wife of Richard Harris who rarely made it beyond B-movies unless appearing with him. She later worked steadily on TV. In this rare chance to be showcased, she is clearly giving it her all, though, as I said, every actor involved seems to be doing the same, no matter the end result!

Beck is first seen in a very short tunic, which shows off his rather spindly legs. His character is a devoutly religious strongman who protects his people from oppressors, while stopping short of killing them.

This episode is fairly packed with known actors who don't appear in the opening credits, one of which is Ann Doran, who is Beck's mother and is perhaps best known for having played James Dean's mother in Rebel Without a Cause (1956), though that was only one of countless acting jobs she turned in over the years.

Two other familiar faces include stage actor H.M. Wynant, who worked on a monumental number of TV shows and movies over the past sixty years, and Charles Siebert, who costarred on Trapper John, M.D. from 1979 to 1986 as the persnickety Dr. Riverside. Despite having a moderately prominent role, Siebert is not billed in the credits of the actual program or even listed at for this!
After a lion threatens Beck's little sister, he slays the beast with his bare hands, but in her fright, she has fallen off a cliff and died. This Beck loses his faith, leaves his people and begins a life of drinking and carousing!
Turkel, the daughter of Jory, takes an interest in the fabled hero and through Olson manages to get a decent look at him. He's drunk and in a daze, but still manages to rip and iron gate out of its gateway and hurl it at a clatch of soldiers. Over Olson's objections, she decides she has to meet this guy. Olson wants her for himself.

She sets up a "meet-cute" in which Beck is halted in the road by a wagonload of luscious grapes. In a subtle, yet undeniably hilarious and deliberate moment, Beck lays his eyes on the seductive Turkel and within seconds, his big, long, hard staff rises up and comes between them (!), whereupon she takes a nice gaze at it.

Beck is outfitted with a truly heinous wig that is situated beneath his own lengthy 1970's locks and gathered into a flimsy ponytail. Despite this, he's still a pretty decent piece of eye candy, especially when spotted in a teeny little nightshirt/lounging ensemble with part of his hairy chest (and one nipple) exposed.

Once Turkel has been coerced into deceiving him by cutting off his long hair, we get the more standard John Beck 'do that we're used to seeing. (We also get welcome glimpses of his curvy rear end and the off-white briefs that are underneath his little toga!)

This being Poseidon's Underworld, you know we're going to zero in on that whole situation for another moment or so! Anyway, most of you know that Beck is then blinded and forced into hard labor until his God restores his strength long enough to topple a temple and kill pretty much everyone in the cast!

The last installment of this volume is "The Story of Noah." Lew Ayres, a notable real-life pacifist, is well cast as practically the last man on earth who has unwavering faith in the Lord. Robert Emhardt (an actor quite unfamiliar to me despite an impressive resume of television and occasional movie roles) is a slave trader. Rita Gam is Ayres' devoted wife. Ed Lauter (!), decked out in a serpentine headdress, is a self-appointed god who has lead many people astray.

Then we get, as one of Noah's soon-to-be daughters-in-law, Jan Brady herself, Miss Eve Plumb!! This was the post-Brady Bunch (1969-1974) era in which Plumb was attempting to broaden her acting horizons by portraying young prostitutes (as in Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway, 1976) or tragic literary heroines (as in Little Women, 1978, where she played Beth March.) By 1981, she'd be back playing Jan again in The Brady Brides.

Anyway, the world is overrun by evil, not the least of which is Lauter and his band of flashily-garbed cronies. Ayres and his three sons are basically the only folks left with any sense of right and wrong. Two sons are married while one is promised to be as soon as he can arrange it with the girl's father.

The sons are as follows: Sam Weisman (of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, 1977, fame!), Jay Hammer (then near the dawn of his acting career) and Bill Adler (who was known as the costar in many teen sexploitation romps!) Weisman wisely went into directing, Hammer enjoyed a long, popular run on Guiding Light and Adler left the business in 1981 to develop a leather goods business.
Another solid actor of this series who wasn't given billing in the opening credits is Mark Lenard as a slaver, who played many terrific villainous roles, but is notable for having played Mr. Spock's father on Star Trek and in some of the subsequent movies. I had the opportunity once in 1986 or '87 to meet Lenard and he couldn't have been a nicer, warmer person in contrast to the bombastic parts he often played. As the story here plays out, Ayres manages to obtain Plumb from the slave trade in time to marry his son Hammer.

At the ceremony, Plumb's hair is done up with sprigs of wildflowers while Hammer sports the popular feathered look of the day! He is, by the way, very handsome here and engaging. Regardless of his soap opera popularity (which was a bit lost on me because I never really watched Guiding Light), he used to annoy the hell out of me on game shows such as The $25,000 Pyramid thanks to a manic nature and a seemingly endless array of horrible hats, fedora and otherwise!
A word about Rita Gam. For the longest time, she meant less than nothing to me, sort of a starlet who happened to be in Grace Kelly's wedding party, but once I saw her in King of Kings (1961) as the scheming, outraged wife of Herod Antipas, my opinion forever changed and now I always enjoy seeing her in things.

The ark is shown being built and loaded down with the animals, two-by-two, and, especially in the shot on the left, it looks like they might actually be throwing a little dough at this episode in order to make an impression.
But then we see the finished ark and it looks like nothing so much as a Death Valley branch of U-Store-It! This obvious and quite awful miniature is laughably bad in every way from shape to color to detailing.
Lauter, Emhardt and Lenard get all worked up over the ark and attempt to set it on fire with all the inhabitants still inside! However, the rain finally arrives and with it, The Great Flood. There's a neat moment in which one of the rabble-rousers is struck by lightning! Soon, everyone's underwater as the ark drifts away.

And they had the nerve to say that my beloved S.S. Poseidon looked like a boat in a bathtub?  This is really dreadful miniature work. It borders on a king sized Snickers bar being dropped in the pool as a prank! LOL
We all know how the story ends, with Ayres and company finally setting down on dray land and repopulating the earth. That brings to a close this post, part one of what will ultimately be a three-parter! I hope you enjoyed this detour into the scripture and look forward to Book Two when it comes along.  Amen!


Gingerguy said...

Good Lord! I do not remember this at all, so maybe I did do homework once in while. I don't know who looks more out of place, Richard Mulligan or John Schuck, I think Schuck wins. High-larious about Potsie and his wife. Similarly "Roots" was also populated with tv people who looked so strange in period clothing. Daniel Travanti is one of my favorite hot Daddy types, so nice to see him anytime. And never would have recognized "Jonas Wilkerson" from GWTW. Poor Eve Plumb, her characters never got any respect! Thanks Poseidon

Anonymous said...

It looks like this out-camped Cecil B. DeMille's classic. Ann Turkel looks beautiful as always, and handsome Jay Hammer looks weird.
On Hollywood Squares the question was, "Who's considered the greatest actor alive today"? Paul Lynde quipped: Anson Williams! He's another one who never got any respect.
I hope Lew Ayres, always a favorite of mine, ended his career on a higher note.
Thanks for a hilarious post.

sowhatelse said...

I laughed out loud at "Death Valley branch of U-Store-It." So apt!

I had the biggest crush on John Beck's furry chest. Thanks for saving me the time in watching this, as I can't tell you the number of horrible things I've sat through just to catch a glimpse of it, as well as the hirsute torsos of many others.

Thanks for all of your work!

joel65913 said...

Welcome back! You were missed.

I've never seen this particular piece of television "art" but it does remind me of many productions that have been churned out in a similar vein. It makes you think "Did they ever look at the rushes?" "How low could the budget possibly have been if this is the best they could do?" It can be painful though to see quality performers like Victor Jory or Richard Mulligan trapped in this sort of junk. However sometimes these types of "entertainments" are fun to watch for their sheer dreadfulness. Thanks for watching this one for us to spare us the pain.

Knuckles Girlyskirt said...

How come I've never heard of this???

Gingerguy said...

So for the last two days I have been frying my brain trying to remember what John Lazar called himself during the dramatic finale of "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" was "Superwoman"...phew! How did that guy ever find work again? In these pics he looks like Jimmy Fallon wearing a headband.

angelman66 said...

How could I have missed this epic back in the day? I guess I wasn't watching much TV then and having some coming-of-age adventures of my own.

Anson Williams? Eve Plumb? John Beck? I wouldn't have missed it!

And you are right-on about Rita Gam. Really good B-movie actress who had a few big parts after being Gracie's maid of honor...then she wrote a few really fun books sharing lots of Hollywood anecdotes.

So much fun, as always!