Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Oh Gawd! Book Three

You can't fool me... You thought that you were off the hook on this three-volume set of Bible study because of all the issues I've had with workload and time availability, didn't you? Well I dug in my heels and devoted time to this sizable post! We already covered Book One and Book Two, but regardless of how swamped I am, I couldn't forget Book Three of Greatest Heroes of the Bible (1979!) I thought maybe I'd saved the best for last, but in truth the most delectably campy installments were probably contained in the prior posts.

Certainly, the first story in this third and final volume has an amusing bit or two of casting anyway... “The Tower of Babel” features former bodybuilder and star of Ben Casey, M.D. (1961-1966) Vince Edwards, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea's (1964-1968) Richard Basehart and familiar, prolific character actors Dana Elcar and Cliff Emmich.

The most joyfully inane appearances, though, come courtesy of young lovers Ron Palillo (of Welcome Back, Kotter, 1975-1979) and Erin Moran (Happy Days, 1974-1984, and the short-lived Joanie Loves Chachi, 1982-1983.) It's like a Biblical “Joanie Loves Horshack!”

The tale kicks off with burly hunts- man Edwards using his dog and a huge net to fell a lion who's been threatening the sheep of a tribe descended from Noah. He handily captures the beast, witnessed by Elcar, Palillio and Moran, and offers up the pelt to Moran for a wedding coat.

They inform him that the village elders, apart from steadfast Basehart, have decided that what is needed more than anything in this world is a gargantuan tower whose steps will connect the earth with heaven and bridge the gap between God and man. Basehart considers the connection between the two spiritual, not physical, but he is outnumbered by the opposition.

Unfortunately, his own son Palillo is the architect of the edifice in question! He wants to honor God with his structure. Strapping, virile Edwards is chosen to head up the construction of the tower and it isn't long at all before the whole enterprise goes to his head. He even decides that the present design isn't tall enough and orders a new model of the tower made.

He then has Emmich order every citizen to “volunteer” one day a week on the project. Before long, this is extended to three days a week for everyone except children, who are permitted to slave away only two days per week! It's a real community effort, whether the people actually wish to partake or not!

Meanwhile, Elcar (Moran's father) and his cohort Emmich are making a ton of money out of the brick-making business, since the project requires scores of thousands of bricks. They can hardly keep up with the coin that this enterprise is generating. Moran, for her part, does begin to see that not everything seems particularly rosy about the building and its proponents, but Palillo manages to squash her objections... for a while.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Palillo and Moran remain proud of and loyal to their oncoming project. Basehart, however, thanks to his vehement disapproval, doesn't attend and is eventually forced to go into hiding out in the caves away from the city. He is heartbroken that his son is being used for the nefarious scheme.

Things get more and more dictatorial, with Edwards getting haughtier and more dangerous, until finally the people are on the verge of a rebellion. Unfor- tunately, all their weapons have been confiscated in order to forge tools for the building of the tower! The whole story begins to resemble Hitler's rise to power or at least someone like that. (There's even one scene early on in which the people give "heil"-like arm gestures in support of him.)

In time, even the young lovers are held in contempt by Edwards and are forced to depart the city and live with Basehart in the hills. Here they are finally wed in a ceremony presided over by the wise old man. They begin to plan a revolt in which they'll sneak back into town and arm the put-upon workers who will then attempt to defeat the ever-present guards.

By now even God doesn't like the building – or at least the design of it – because in the end he begins to strike it with lightning and ultimately punishes everyone involved by causing them to speak in tongues different from one another, believing that the inability to communicate will be their punishment. (However, few people seemed able to communicate properly before this anyway!)

Hirsute Edwards is even hairier than usual thanks for a thick beard. Basehart, buried under a large, gray beard of his own, resembles Sir Laurence Olivier during his period of The Betsy (1978) and Clash of the Titans (1981.) Though he is certainly no Olivier, he does try to bring some gravity to the proceedings. 
Despite their committed dramatic performances, one half expects Moran and Palillo to suddenly toss out one of his or her patented catchphrases like, "Sit on it, Johtan!" or "Up your nose with a rubber hose, Amathar!" In any case, Moran's hair is better here than it ever was or has been in any adult performance of her life and Palillo really gives his all to a rare dramatic part.
There was at least a certain amount of production value to this one, too, with the title structure becoming more and more imposing with each brick. Perhaps this was nothing more than a facade with scaffolding behind it, but it nonetheless looks sturdy and reasonably authentic during the course of the story. 

I had des- perately awaited this next tale – “Sodom and Gomorrah” – because I figured it would be chock full of deliciously bad depictions of sex and debauchery. No such luck. It, in fact, is one of the driest episodes in the entire 15-part series! Singer-actor Ed Ames plays Lot, a man who takes his people to a riverbank just outside the twin sin cities in question in order to establish a new home. Gene Barry (of Bat Masterson, 1958-1961, and Burke's Law, 1963-1966) is Abraham, whose settlement had proven to not have "enough grass" to support two tribes. (Make of that what you wish!)

Peter Mark Richman (Blake's faithful attorney on Dynasty from 1981- 1984) plays the king of the sordid cities, with Rick Jason (of Combat!, 1962-1967) as his right hand man/henchman. On the outside looking in is ubiquitous character actor David Opatoshu as a rival invader who wants to claim Sodom and Gomorrah as his own and is just waiting for the first good opportunity to do so.

What promises to be a hooty casting coup is (suddenly brunette!) Dorothy Malone as Lot's wife, but nothing comes of it. Malone won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as a sexually voracious man-eating bitch in Written on the Wind (1956) and headlined the very first prime-time soap Peyton Place (1964-1968), but is relegated in this to just a couple of negligible scenes with precious little flavor to them. More like a pinch of salt! LOL

The very least I expect when we're dealing with Sodomites is a shadowy depiction of oily- looking men wearing kohl eyeliner sort of languidly hanging on one another in the background. No such luck here as the narrator focuses more on the criminal element, slavery and overall murderous corruption of the cities. I guess I ought to be glad that there isn't a heap of gay defamation involved, but instead I was mostly bored.

There is at least some decent Arizona scenery every once in a while, just like most of the rest of the miniseries. 

King Richman (in a fun crown) wants to absorb wide-eyed Ames and his tribe into his circle in order to glean 10% of his harvest as well as increase his manpower against a certain, eventual attack from  Opatoshu. 

Scar-faced Jason helps to some degree yet also strikes out on his own, to Richman's frustration. When Ames proves to be too successful as a farmer and begins to make more money that Richman or anyone else, he enlists two henchmen to head off to Ames' camp and slaughter him! They fail, which leads Ames to want to break off his heretofore reasonable relationship with Richman.

There's also a mostly un- explored subplot concerning Ames' daughters falling in love with two men of the city, but all four actors involved in this make little-to-no impact at all and are handed nothing to work with in any case.

We do find that Ames' wife Malone has begun to take a fancy to city life and is unhappy when Ames informs her that he doesn't want her coming into the area to shop and experience all the place's wonders.

Things get messy when Opatoshu decides to eliminate Richman during an outing in the hills, with Ames assisting Richman. In the end, Ames is captured by Opatoshu and held hostage for a lengthy period while the escaped Richman proceeds to move all the Hebrews, including Malone and her daughters, into the walled cities, where most of Ames' followers become corrupted. Barry ultimately comes to Ames' rescue.

Later, Barry gets a visit from two of God's angels. (There used to be three if you saw “Abraham's Sacrifice” but the very cutest one is now gone for some reason!) who inform him that the evil place is destined to be destroyed. He pleads that not every inhabitant should be slain until the angels decide to visit the place themselves to see if they can find even ten or twenty men worth saving.

When Ames sees these two white-clad innocents walking along the crime-ridden streets of Sodom & Gommorah, he implores them to come and stay at his home (now within the city.) Jason, however, begins to pound on the door to capture them. 
They use their powers to blind Jason and his guards! Special effects, y'all! 
The angels then lead Ames and Co. out of the city so that they can use their powers (this time flaming swords) to decimate it, but – as the story goes – one of the rescued party cannot resist looking back (against orders) at the destruction of the place and soon regrets it. Opatoshu doggedly pursues Richman through the catacombs of the city in order to avenge the death of his son, killed earlier by the evil monarch.

Practically all of the destruction scenes are lifted from a 1960s Italian peplum epic with just an occasional moment with actors from this project dodging some dust and styrofoam debris as hte camera shakes. It winds up being a bunch of slapped-together hogwash that is poorly matched up together. At least the fairly decent set for the catacombs is unique to this production.

“Jacob's Challenge” is the third story on this disc. Stephen Elliott is tribal leader Isaac who is the father of twin sons. The eldest by a few moments is Peter Fox (as Esau), who as such is entitled to both Elliott's birthright and his blessing. He is his father's favorite though his mother (June Lockhart) leans more towards the other son Jacob. Bruce Fairbairn is a member of a neighboring tribe with whom Elliott enjoys an uneasy alliance. (Fairbairn is the little-known replacement for Michael Ontkean on the last two seasons of The Rookies, 1974-1976, after Ontkean departed the show after two years.)

The principle role of Jacob, in one more hooty instance of casting, is portrayed by The Brady Bunch's (1969- 1974) Barry Williams! Williams is the less-athletic and less-competitive brother, leading to a certain amount of chiding from his own tribesmen as well as the neighboring Hittites.

Another casting highlight, however, comes in the form of Fox's Hittite girlfriend played by Tanya Roberts! Roberts had not yet made her splashy debut on the final season of Charlie's Angels (1980-1981), but was instead getting noticed for sexy roles in movies like Forced Entry (1975), The Yum Yum Girls (1976) and bikini-clad TV-movies such as Zuma Beach (1978) and Pleasure Cove (1979.)

Fox (who had played a recurring role on The Waltons, 1977- 1978, and was then costarring in Delta House, 1979) enjoys the adoration of his father Elliott. (Note the hairy shoulders on Fox as he wrestles a challenger.) He is free to play games, hunt, gamble and carouse to his heart's content. He even weds the undesirable Roberts, much to his mother's annoyance.

Meanwhile, Williams, who is the more devout, devoted and level-headed son, is regarded as a mama's boy and a failure at various manly pursuits. Still, all is not lost for him as his mother is continually trying to come up with ways to make him emerge as the favored of her boys. (While Lockhart is far from a monster, this is probably one of the more driven and duplicitous sort of roles than the usually cheery actress played.)

Williams (who, it must be said, has beautiful eyes through- out the episode, though most of his acting is not much beyond his "Greg Brady") interrupts some of Fox's carefree shenan- igans to impress upon him that he, not Fox, ought to be the one chosen to lead the people. Fox doesn't even care much about it and sets out on a hunt for venison. The unsuccessful Fox straggles in to Williams tent the next morning and Williams manages to trade a freshly-made bowl of lamb stew to a very hungry and fatigued Fox in exchange for the birthright!

When two other brothers, Hittites, hear that Williams now has the birthright, they plot to spoil William's reputation by arranging for him to be caught in a clinch with their sister, Fox's sultry wife Roberts! (The brother shown here, played by William Dovey, actually has a bigger role than top-billed Fairbairn yet isn't even listed on!)
While on a hunt with fox, they goad him into returning home early, knowing that their steamy sibling will by then have lured Williams into her tent for a serious talk about religion, even though she's decked out in various baubles and flimsy clothes. She keeps edging closer and losing bits of her outfit until Fox bursts in and "surprises" her with Williams.

Fox is ready to kill his brother over this, but ultimately comes to his senses. Besides, he knows that despite having willingly given up his birthright, he still has his father's all-important blessing.

But does he? When the time does come for the blessing, recently-blinded Elliott falls for a scheme of Lockhart's in which Williams wears one of his brother's gamy coats and applies fur to his arms and neck (!) in order to imitate his brother and receive his dying father's blessing.

When a furious Fox discovers what Williams has done from an apoplectic Elliott, he again wants to kill Williams! Lockhart sends her favorite boy into hiding while also feeling repentant for the deception she concocted. Williams successfully flees to the hills.

Fairbairn and his brother, now at Roberts' urging, next decide to kill Williams them- selves and make it all look like an animal attack so that she and Fox will inherit everything, but a local worker, loyal to Williams, finds out about it and intercedes. 

Williams, now unsure of how to proceed and feeling guilty about his deception in achieving the inheritance of his father, is visited in his sleep by The Almighty and shown the way. This is the legendary Jacob's Ladder, here represented by a large beam of light...

The final story on this disc (and, in fact, of this three-part “tribute!”) is “Joseph in Egypt.” Sam Bottoms (for whom??) plays the title figure, favored son of Jacob (Walter Brooke.)

Other principle roles are filled by Harvey Jason as one of Bottoms' brothers, Barry Nelson (of Airport, 1970) as Pharaoh, The Love Boat's Bernie Kopell (!) as the wealthy Potiphar and Carol Rossen (at the time Hal Holbrook's wife) as his love-starved spouse. Also on board is Albert Salmi as a one-eyed jailor.

Unbilled are two soon-to-be household names in television. Skinny John Larroquette plays another one of Bottoms' many brothers (who would later enact Dan Fielding on Night Court from 1984-1992 and win four Emmys for his trouble!) and Sorrell Booke is a slave trader (who would costar in The Dukes of Hazzard, 1979-1985, as Boss Hogg.)

Bottoms is given the famous “coat of many colors” by his father, causing most of his eleven brothers to seethe with jealousy. 
After he has related a dream to them in which they bow before him, they've really had their fill and decide to throw him down a dry well until the time comes when they can give him away to slave trader Booke. They take his fabled coat, covered in goat's blood, back to Brooke as “proof” that he's dead.

Bottoms has been part of Booke's assemblage, winning favor by working hard despite his enslavement, when Kopell and Rossen happen by on their chariot and the sultry, deceptive wife spots him, making up a reason for Kopell to buy him for her.

Kopell is proud of his new slave, who helps him greatly with finances and the running of the household, and trusts him. He ultimately promotes him to head servant, removing his slave collar and making him the number two man of the estate.

Unfortunately, he hasn't counted on his wife Rossen, resembling the love child of Cher and Roseanne Roseannadanna. She (in a wondrously delicious and loony performance) dolls herself up while Kopell is out hunting and sends for Bottoms, hoping to finally have him to herself in bed (her chief goal all along) at last.

Bottoms protests, of course, but she isn't quelled. Later, she has sexy garments made especially for him (which he refuses to don) and makes another play. Here, her chicken cutlets nearly fall out of their packaging as she clutches for him to join her in bed! When she's rebuffed yet again, she calls for a guard and cries attempted rape.

Upon his return, Kopell is enraged over the incident and sends him to a harsh prison. There, one-eyed warden Salmi has his turn at mistreating the young man for two years until a plague hits the place. 

Bottoms is able to help out both the prisoners and the guards and eventually wins the sick Salmi over, too. In the meantime, though, he has grown hilarious long hair and a thick beard!

Bottoms shares his gift for dream interpretation and prophecy with a fellow prisoner (Joshua Bryant) who had fallen out of favor with Pharaoh. He predicts that Bryant will one day be back at the palace and, sure enough, he soon is. 
Next, at Bryant's urging, Bottoms is summoned by Pharaoh Nelson in order to help with the ruler's fitful, dream-heavy sleep and resulting tormented days. He interprets the dream in such a way that a severe oncoming famine is avoided, making him once again the favorite of his owner. He is given a place of honor second only to Nelson.

Then Bottoms' brothers have come to the city in order to purchase much-needed grain. They haven't counted on a vengeful, yet unrecognizable, Bottoms, though, who intends to make them pay for their cruel treatment of him years before. He threatens to hold one of them, the cherished youngest one, as punishment, but eventually acquiesces when he sees that his brothers are filled with remorse over what they did to him long ago. It all leads to a happy ending, just as this post (which is close to as long as The Bible itself by now!) hopefully will.

I'm nearly done here, but I couldn't resist a little bonus material. First, the three-part DVD release of this project leaves out three stories. (Why??) Though I don't know if they'll ever see the light of day, the opening credits do at least give us a brief glimpse of some of the stars involved (who probably were quite grateful not to have their work in this unearthed!) Robert Vaughn (left) and David Birney (below) starred in "Daniel and the Lion's Den" (with forty year-old Birney as Daniel!) 
Then John Saxon, shown here, starred in "The Judgement of Solomon" with Tom Hallick as Solomon and Carol Lawrence (!) as Bathsheba. Kevin Dobson and Tyne Daly also appeared in that one. No one from the final unrepresented tale "Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar" was shown. That one starred Donnie Most (!) of Happy Days, Hans Conried, David Hedison and Vic Morrow.

Finally, in "The Tower of Babel," there is an actor who portrays one of the resistance fighters. He tries to substitute shoddy, unbaked bricks for the tower and cuts one of the support lines to a scaffold, anything to halt its progress. He's shown here. Anyone recognize him? You can be forgiven if you don't for the tan, manly performer (albeit sporting fluffy highlighted hair) is really best known (and that is in itself a stretch) for playing a key role while dressed as a woman!

This is John Hansen who, nine years prior, enacted the leading role in the notor- iously bad biopic The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970)! Christine Jorgensen was the first widely-known (i.e. - celebrity) transgender personality, having had her surgery in the early 1950s. I recall Leonard Maltin's movie guide saying something about how he looked more feminine as a man in the movie than after the transition!
Though quite daring for its time, especially for a mainstream film, it was pretty heavily derided and was not well-attended enough to become a hit. 
This is the real Christine Jorgensen later in lifer (She died of cancer in 1989 at age sixty-two.)
Hansen, who first role in a movie this was, suffered career trauma from the stigma of being a man as a woman kissing a man, not working again (except for an appearance on Hawaii 5-O) for seven years. When he did work again, it was a supporting role in a TV-movie and that's where he remained. His final stab at acting professionally came in 1983. Naturally, we have to close with the one lobby card that showed his chest! Ha! (The men in this scene were supposed to be "nude" in an army shower, but they didn't crop the photo correctly...)

Thus ends this testament to crazed casting! I hope you got a kick out of this and that you some day get to check out this miniseries (and, if you haven't, The Christine Jorgensen Story!) firsthand. Amen.

Editor's Note:  Are you ready for this? After having purchased these three separate DVDs a few months ago and painstakingly profiled them for your reading and viewing pleasure, I was JUST ABOUT to finish this post and submit it for your perusal when I was passing through a large member's only store and saw that, at last, the entire 15-episode miniseries is now available in one package, in its entirety, for under $20.00.... As Ava Garder said at the start of Earthquake (1974) "Goddammit!"