Friday, April 8, 2016

Dipping a Toe into the TV-Movie Time Tunnel!

Thanks to the prompting from a recent comment by a visitor to The Underworld, I did something that I haven't done in a little while. I ventured close to the vortex of 1970s made-for-TV-movies and fell in again briefly! You might recall previous trips that I took here, here and here. This time, it began with my wanting to take a look at the recently departed Patty Duke in one of her many teleflicks, She Waits (1972.)

Like many others of its time, the story is compact and told in 74 minutes (which equated to a 90-minute time slot with commer- cials.) The story begins with Dorothy McGuire being awakened in her large house by what seems to be the ghost of someone called Elaine. McGuire is halted in her late-night quest by her longtime housekeeper and companion Beulah Bondi. Classic movie fans will recall that these two appeared together earlier in the scenic melodrama A Summer Place (1959.)

Next we meet newlyweds David McCallum and Patty Duke, who have just arrived at McGuire's house. He is her son (though why he has a British accent and she doesn't is never elaborated upon!) Even though he made hotel reservations, he's opted instead to come to his old house, though his mother preferred that he didn't for some reason. Before long, we find that Elaine was his first wife, now deceased. The movie has faint echoes of Rebecca (1939), though this time the housekeeper (Bondi) is generally good-natured and friendly while McGuire is the one who is less-welcoming.
Duke tries to remain upbeat about the situation while also being more than a bit confused by all the mystery. Tight-lipped (and tight-faced) McCallum doesn't offer much beyond telling Duke that after this first day they will be able to spend more time together and also that, aside from a brief introduction between the two, he'd like her to avoid being around his mother. When McGuire and Duke do meet, it's amiably, though McGuire still wishes that the couple hadn't stayed in the house against her better judgment.

Duke experiences a variety of strange happenings. She hears voices, such as a woman on the telephone, yet when she enters the room there is no woman there and the phone isn't even connected! There are also regular opportunities for the wind to suddenly blow into a room, making the sheers billow. (ALL of the houses in these old movies have sheers hanging in the windows! How can we even tell nowadays, that those are sort of "out," that we may have a ghost wafting around?!) Duke also keeps hearing a haunting melody from a music box that was Elaine's.

Amazingly, while she is out wandering around the neighbor- hood, she spies the very same music box in a store window and steps in to examine it further. It plays a different melody, which the shop owner explains is due to the two having once been a set, with one happy tune and one melancholy. He also claims that he hadn't had the box for sale until just a few minutes before she walked by and saw it! (The tune she keeps hearing "Elaine's Theme" was composed by Morton Stevens and it must be said that his surprisingly rich score to this movie is one of its chief assets!)

Duke continues to be disturbed by voices and happenings within the house until finally she has something of a breakdown and is looked over by McGuire's doctor, played by movie veteran Lew Ayres. Why is Duke, who ultimately becomes practically possessed by the spirit of Elaine, being targeted this way and what is the goal of the ghost, if there is one? Well, you'll just have see for yourself if you're interested!

Also popping up a couple of times in She Waits is James T. Callahan, a frequent television series guest from the 1960s on and a regular member of the cast of Charles in Charge (1987-1990), albeit with white hair. The Golden Girls fans will also recall him as the former teacher of Dorothy's, Mr. Gordon, who she harbored a longstanding crush on and who exploited her services as a result. Ayres, a movie star of the 1930s & early-'40s whose career lapsed when he took a conscientious observer stance during WWII, was finding himself in demand as a character actor in both TV programs and the occasional feature. It should be noted that Mr. Ayres did serve in WWII as a medic in the line of fire. He simply didn't have the capacity to kill after having starred in All Quiet on the Western Front in 1930.

These TV-movies were a great haven (and source of income) for stars like McGuire and Bondi and gave viewers an opportunity to see them once their time in the spotlight had shifted. McGuire had not acted on television for fourteen years (having, in fact, done anything on-screen but one movie since playing the world's oldest Mary in The Greatest Story Ever Told in 1965! In that one, she was a nearly "Fifty Year-Old Virgin!!") Soon, she would be taking part in Rich Man, Poor Man (1976) and a 1978 rendition of Little Women. Bondi, a highly-dependable character actress, was twice nominated for an Oscar. There was The Gorgeous Hussey (1936) which went to Gale Sondergaard in Anthony Adverse and Of Human Hearts (1938) which went to Fay Bainter in Jezebel. This was close to her last acting role, but she did make two appearances on The Waltons between 1974 and 1976 and took home an Emmy for her trouble.

Following the cancellation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964- 1968), with which he will forever be identified, McCallum enjoyed a brief spate of feature film movie roles, but by 1971 he was almost exclusively back to television be it in TV movies, guest roles or series (like the acclaimed Colditz, 1972-1974, or the not-so-acclaimed The Invisible Man, 1975-1976.) As of late, McCallum has found a recurring home on NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans. In this (and in several other things in which he's appeared) he so often seems to be either looking down or facing away from the camera, almost to a distracting degree.

Ms. Duke was capable of a wide array of emotions and in She Waits, we see her play everything from happy to romantic to terrified to assertive and even dangerous. For someone that petite (5' even), she could pack some very commandeering punch into her small frame. This minor thriller is but a blip on her resume, but allowed viewers to see a name cast go through the machinations of a mystery thriller.

Watching the first movie inevitably led me to click on another one. You'll Never See Me Again (1973) centered on a missing person case with confounding mystery elements. The thread of someone vanishing into virtual thin air without explanation has been the subject of many a TV show and movie over the years.

We are introduced to a loving pair of newlyweds, David Hartman and Jess Walton, enjoying one of those idyllic, grassy knoll picnics that seemed to pop up consistently during the 1960s and '70s. They are happy as clams until they arrive home later that evening.

Once back to their house, Walton finds a letter in the mailbox from her mother and step-father about how they will be heading out of town soon. As Walton has been estranged from them for a little while, she tries to call them, to no avail. She then gets it in her head to drive to their home in another town right there and then in order to see them before they depart on their trip. Hartman, an architect who has to work the next day, is adamantly against this.

He finally relents to accompany her, but by now she's all fired up and doesn't want him to go. They argue heatedly until she bites his hand and he reflexively slaps her face, which sends her to the floor. She angrily leaves the house, proclaiming, "You'll never see me again!" In her haste, she's left her luggage and even her wallet behind. Seeing this, Hartman expects that she'll be returning before long.

The next day he reports to a job site and relays to his coworker Colby Chester that Walton never came home. Chester jokingly tells him that she spent the night at his place, but the joke fizzles for the dejected Hartman. (Macho man clone Chester, by the way, is a member of the Disaster Movie Club for his appearance in 1975's The Hindenburg.)

When Walton is STILL missing that evening, Hartman begins to become unglued with concern. He heads to the bus terminal where the clerk reports having seen her, but because she had no money, watched her attempt to hitchhike to her destination. He later heads to the police station to file a missing persons report, but they are little to no help.

Next Hartman begins to wonder just how much kidding was going on with ladies' man Chester. He calls him and can hear a female voice in the background, though Chester claims to be alone! Hartman goes there to confront Chester, who acts extremely evasive and doesn't want to let him in the door.

Finally, Hartman opts to drive to Walton's parents' house and see if they know anything (though he'd called there earlier and been told that his wife had never arrived. On the way, he stops for gasoline and gets a weird vibe from the filling station attendant (Bo Svenson.) Svenson denies having seen her, as does the mechanic on site, but still something seems off.

Now at Walton's mother's home, Hartman meets her step-father Ralph Meeker and her mother Jane Wyatt. Meeker suggests that Walton will turn up and is just blowing off some steam after their disagreement while Wyatt is understandably fretful about her whereabouts.

Still getting nowhere, Hartman returns home, dejected and depressed about the entire situation only to find out that the police (led by detective Joseph Campanella) are now considering him a suspect in Walton's disappearance and possible murder! The beige turtleneck dress that she was last wearing has been found with blood stains on it in his car! Hartman has to fight off Campanella and the police in order to remain free enough to track Walton down and find out for certain what has happened to her. You can find out, too, right here.

It's interesting to witness Hartman (who was later paid to be amiably low-key as the host of Good Morning America from 1975-1987) go through the gamut of emotions from anger to despair, becoming more and more desperate and disheveled with each new development. Never the most expressive or engrossing (or I dare say handsome) of actors, this does serve as a showcase for his range (but few actors ever ran in such a funny, off-kilter, side-to-side way!)
Walton was a burgeoning starlet at the time of this telefilm, having had a couple of bits in feature films and some TV guest work from 1969 on, but in 1988 took on the role of Jill Foster Abbott on The Young and the Restless, eventually becoming one of the last-standing daytime divas in a genre that is in constant threat of extinction.

As mentioned earlier, one of the great joys of these TV-movies is getting to see former stars trucked out for another go 'round. Meeker turned Broadway success into an active film career, but, though busy for many years and effective in quite a few projects, never really got the attention he deserved. Wyatt, who was ten years Meeker's senior, had begun film work in the mid-1930s and starred in the classic Lost Horizon (1937) before later making a name for herself on Father Knows Best (1954-1960.)
Campanella was an astonishingly busy character actor from the 1950s on. Though he and Hartman were in separate segments, they costarred in the series The Bold Ones (1969-1972) and Campanella was a memorable guest on The Golden Girls (alongside George Clooney) as a policeman who falls for Dorothy. He earned his Disaster Movie Club stripes with 1979's Meteor.

Svenson had been working steadily in TV projects since the mid-'60s and even had a recurring role on Here Come the Brides (1968-1969), but couldn't even rate billing for his vaguely sinister turn here. Later he rose to a certain level of fame as inheritor of the Walking Tall sequels (1975 & 1977) and brief television series based upon it (1981.) He still works steadily today and even had a small part in 2009's Inglourious Basterds, having first done the original The Inglorious Bastards in 1978.

The third and last of our telefilms is called The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver (1977.) It kicks off with images of a rip-snorting house fire followed by dreamy, gauzy images of a couple on their way to a bizarre funeral. The couple, Karen Black and George Hamilton, approach the casket only to find out that the body in it is Black's!
Turns out the whole thing was just a nightmare, but mousy Ms. Black's real-life existence isn't a great deal more happy. The twenty-six year-old (ahem... Black was thirty-eight in real life!) wife of wealthy Hamilton feels suffocated, bored and oppressed by her mundane daily routine. Hamilton, a real gem, wants her to stay home practically all the time and is highly insistent upon them having a baby as soon as possible.

One day while shopping at the mall, Black is drawn to the store window of a Frederick's of Hollywood (at one time THE place to locate tawdry, figure-hugging, figure-enhancing duds and accessories.) The dowdy woman stares at one of the scantily-clad, party-loving mannequins and is compelled to step inside.

Once there, she selects a low-cut red top and tries it on, at once stunned by her curvaceous appearance, yet repulsed by the notion of it.

Next, she heads over to the wig counter (!) and selects a voluminous, long blonde one. Trying it on, she is fixated by her own image. (Black does a lot of staring into the mirror in this movie and is granted countless close-ups, always with a fascinating expression to go with.)

The clerk tells her that she looks incredible - a new woman - and encourages her to purchase the wig and the top. A close look at the saleslady (portrayed by Gloria LeRoy, a burlesque performer turned busy character actress) reveals why she thinks the look is just right for her. (And though I usually do not prefer Black as a blonde, I have to say she does look great in this guise, but maybe it's because the brunette frump look is so awful!)

Black purchases only the blouse and leaves in a bit of a tizzy. However, after another evening of dealing with the downbeat, inattentive Hamilton, she heads back to the store and this time buys not only the wig, but some red lipstick and set of sexy hoop earrings!

She decides to surprise Hamilton with this new image and comes slinking down the steps of their mansion. His reaction, however, is far from thrilled and sends her careening into the bathroom to take everything off. It is then revealed that Black has been taking birth control pills all along while Hamilton has been urging her to get pregnant! He urges her to see a doctor about her recent series of mental issues, but she cannot proceed with the appointment.

Instead, while hubby is out of town for the night, she decks herself out in her new trappings and heads to the beach where she's rented a little cottage along the shore (for $290/ month!) She meets a dog who is only too happy to tag along with her on her new adventures.

Now feeling free and thrilled with herself, she heads to a local dive bar and, taking a cue from the place's name, calls herself Sandy. Things get weird, though, when the bartender addresses her as Sandy even though she never told him that was her name! Then she proceeds to order a drink that he says Sandy always ordered!

She is confronted by a man who claims to know her, though she protests that she is not the lady he believes her to be. She is next asked to dance by a hunky young stud in a tank top (played by Asher Brauner.) Brauner would soon be part of the hysteria of General Hospital when he played mobster Roy DiLucca, one of Bobbie Spencer's lovers, from 1978-1979.)

After catching the other man (Robert F. Lyons) rooting through her purse, she leaves in a flurry, but later, back at the cottage, she and her new canine companion feel threatened. She crouches in fear as someone seems to be trying the door on her new place. I wouldn't dare reveal the secret of this story or tell how it ends. You can find out here. Lyons may be a familiar face thanks to countless TV and film appearances, though he really was never associated with one particular show or role.
Two other folks making an appearance are Jean Allison and Lucille Benson, as residents of a house near Black's beachfront cottage. Allison was a busy, all-purpose TV actress from the mid-'50s to the mid-'80s. Benson's career covered the same time frame, though she is more well-known thanks to her wondrously distinctive way of looking and, especially, speaking.

Hamilton isn't given a great deal to do in this one beyond disapproving of most anything Black wants to do or say. One of the film's mysteries is why his rich, handsome character was drawn to a wife who (heretofore) insists on making herself look as dreary as she possibly can! He's obviously into her, though, since he dislikes the remade version and is forever trying to get Black impregnated.

Anyone who is even a moderate fan of Karen Black needs to sit down and watch this not-very-long movie. She IS the movie and offers up the many and varied lunatic expressions which have endeared her to so many fans. Shot after shot closes in on her face as she works through the details of this personality overhaul/ possession. Needless to say, Black is a Hall of Famer in the Disaster Movie Club thanks to her role as stewardess in distress Nancy Pryor in Airport 1975 (1974.) During this time period, she was working in many high-profile films while also enjoying TV-movie showcases like this and the more celebrated Trilogy of Terror (1975.) We'll likely be returning to the tunnel for more TV-movie fun thanks to the generous souls of who allow us to see them (albeit often in a less than pristine state.)


Gingerguy said...

That's a tunnel of love for me Poseidon, when it comes to Miss Karen Black. I will definitely look that one up. There is a split personality story in "Trilogy Of Terror" that I love ("Therese is a slut!") so this sounds up my alley. I didn't know there were Frederick's retail stores, we only had the catalogs. Pretty delicious, hooker clothes for housewives, and another reason to see this. TV movies really are a time warp, as they must have been on every week but I just remember fragments. There was one that tormented me for years because I only remembered a few scenes but finally figured out it was "Black Noon" with Yvette Mimieux. This weekly stuff was really good trash and nothing today comes close ("Satan's School for Girls"). Thanks for the memories.

A said...

Just watched "The Possession of Mrs. Oliver and I was surprised how watchable it was. I loved it. Nobody does unhinged better than Karen Black. I also loved the huge cars, especially the Mercury station wagon she drove. Odd soundtrack - various arrangements of Venus? Anyway, thanks Poseidon!

Poseidon3 said...

Believe it or not, Gingerguy, I have YET to get around to watching "Trilogy of Terror," legendary as it is! Some day... I used to see Fredick's ads in all the tabloid rags of the '70s and I somehow knew that there were stores somewhere, though I certainly never ran into on in Cincinnati! LOL But apparently, there were 200 locations across the U.S. at one time! Right next to See's Candies and Wild Pair footwear stores in malls!

A, my friend, thank you for checking out the Karen Black movie and becoming a believer in the process! :-) It certainly helps that there are no dreary commercial interruptions so that the storyline and mood can proceed full steam ahead. I agree with you also about Black's adeptness at playing cuckoo! Glad you enjoyed the movie.

SonofaBuck said...

Thanks for sharing some made-for-television movie love, Poseidon. Coincidentally, I too viewed "She Waits" after reading your prior blog tribute to Ms. Patty Duke. Now I have two more intriguing thrillers to add to my nostalgia-fueled viewing (despite how unappealing I've always found David Hartman to be). Seeing Jess Walton (at the start of her career) and the formidable Karen Black is sufficient motivation, right?

I do encourage you to seek out "Trilogy of Terror," if only to see Karen Black make lemonade out of some oh-so-out-there storyline lemons. Be warned, however, that like its sequel, the third story in TOT is truly spine-tingling: I recall being quite freaked out by both long after viewing them in my youth.

Another wonderful post...truly grateful for your ability to convey the perfect mix of plot points, visuals, and movie/cast backgrounds for your posts!

Gingerguy said...

I would love to be a fly on the wall when you finally get to see "Trilogy"

Poseidon3 said...

Sonofabuck, thanks much for your comments and compliments! I'm glad you like the blend of data in these posts. :-) I never minded Hartman as an informational TV personality (though I was young when he was on and barely paid attention), but, yes, as an actor he really held no appeal for me either. He DID star in one of my favorite adventure films when I was a child, though it was made no better by his presence in it! Island at the Top of the World (1974.) I adored that movie.