Wednesday, July 17, 2019

TV Movie Time Tunnel: I Really Have to "Run!"

Our latest foray into the abyss of long-gone telefilms resulted in a viewing of See The Man Run, a 1971 ABC movie of the week that ran 90 minutes (with commercials) and left a lasting impression on many people who saw it back in the day. (As a mere child of four at the time, I had to wait until a couple of days ago to have my turn!) At the end of this post, should you wish to see it yourself, I will include a link. This example from the glory days of the TV-movie starts off with a phone call. A close-up of a pay phone is shown with fingers inserting money and dialing a number.

We soon discover that the man being called is Robert Culp. Groggy, tired and more than a little hungover, Culp wanders about his shabby home unable to even locate the ringing phone. He follows the cord around, hardly able to stay upright, until he locates it under some debris.

Wearily listening to the caller, he is informed by a male voice that his daughter has been kidnapped. If he wants to see her alive again, he needs to come up with $50,000! Thing is, Culp isn't the right party. He doesn't even have a daughter, much less $50K...! He hangs up on the caller and traipses back to bed.

We soon find out that Culp's bed isn't empty! Lying beside him is a rumpled and rather agitated Angie Dickinson. He is an out-of-work actor, down on his luck, and they've been up the night before drinking their troubles away.

As he tosses and turns in their bed and rolls around trying to find an unsmoked cigarette on the floor, she begins to lose all patience with him. She's also not very interested when he begins to relay the information about that strange phone call to her. But he's starting to think it was really legit!

He decides that he needs to call the real man - a Dr. Thomas Spencer - that the voice was asking for and have him check to make sure his daughter is okay.

Next we find the doctor, played by Eddie Albert, asleep in his own bed. It's a nicer bed, with a nicer phone beside it, he's in nicer pajamas, though I cannot say his wife June Allyson is any improvement on Ms. Dickinson!
A study in contrasts.
Albert cannot believe what he's hearing when Culp calls him to say that his daughter has been kidnapped. He mistakenly thinks that Culp is the kidnapper, calling to insist upon a ransom! After checking the girl's room and finding it in disarray, he begins shouting at Culp. Allyson gets in on the action and before it's all over, the phone falls to the floor and disconnects.

Culp and Dickinson discuss the crazy situation and he recalls the plot of one of his old projects in which a man pretended to be a kidnapper in order to secure some money for himself. This gets her to thinking and she decides that he ought to work it out and do this in real life!

The kidnapper calls back and demands $50,000 again and this time Culp doesn't let on that he is the wrong man. He accepts the situation as if he is the rich doctor with the stolen daughter. He feels rotten and unsure about the whole scheme, but it's such a rare opportunity to get out of their rut.

Dickinson has HAD IT with their life, always moving from place to place to stay ahead of rent collectors, living in squalor (she's recently spotted a cockroach!) and just generally scraping bottom. Even their power is about to be turned off in this latest place. She implores him to go through with the plan.

In contrast, Allyson and Albert have a maid to wait on them hand and foot in their elegant surround- ings. (When I was a kid, this type of gilded phone seemed to be THE signifier of an upscale home! LOLOL)

Culp and Dickinson have decided to go for it. They are going to pretend to the kidnappers that Culp is the doctor while pretending to Albert that Culp is the kidnapper! They decide to ask for $150,000 in ransom money (which, trust me went a long way in 1971) so that they can pocket the $100,000 difference themselves!

Culp calls the distraught Albert back and makes his $150K demand. It's a lot of money and Albert is staggered by it, but he agrees to pay it. He also agrees that there will be no police involvement.

Allyson is virtually in a state of shock over the whole thing while Albert is in a perpetual state of fretfulness. At the time of this movie, Albert was just coming off a long run on the corny sitcom Green Acres and surely welcomed the chance for another dramatic role. Allyson had scarcely worked at all for several years and likewise was probably glad to get her gears going once more. They are both excellent, though Albert rises the highest.
After Albert heads off to the bank, insisting that she stay by the phone, Allyson hits the bottle. (This is an interesting moment as she was battling an alcohol addiction in real life at this time. She eventually got sober in the mid-'70s.) Suddenly, there's a visitor at the door. Her next-door neighbor and friend Antoinette Bower is there to find out why she's not ready for their scheduled engagement.
"Why, yes, I am going to lend this wig to Victoria Principal for Earthquake."
Bower presses and presses Allyson about it until finally she breaks down and admits that her daughter has been snatched from their home and she doesn't know what to do about it. Bower immediately calls for her husband, who is also Albert's lawyer, to come in and help.

Meanwhile, Culp and Dickinson are trying to give the impression that all is normal with their lives. She goes off to work and he runs into a fellow actor friend who has a hot lead on some much-needed work. Thing is, Culp would have to report there immediately. He can't tell the friend (Michael Ball) that he needs the day free to stage a ransom exchange...!

At the bank, Albert is horrified to discover that this lawyer (Ross Elliott) has gone to the police and brought a detective, Charles Cioffi, with him there. They all insist that the only way to go is through the police's procedures, which will involve phone-tapping and undercover officers at the exchange point.

Culp's problems are far from over, too. His agent is calling him from the movie set demanding that he show up there as soon as he can for legitimate acting work. (Little does the agent know that Culp is giving the performance of a lifetime already to some kidnappers and their victim's father!) Culp hasn't got two dimes to rub together so the agent cannot understand how he can pass up work.

Culp is faltering now in his commit- ment to the scheme and wants to back out. Dickinson continues to press him and when he decides he cannot go through with it, she starts to walk out on him, grabbing her suitcase from the bedroom.

He won't let her go and the heat of the squabble mixed with the excitement of the prospect gets them all jazzed up on the bed. But just then the phone rings! It's the kidnappers wanting to set up the meeting right now.

After hearing from the kidnappers, Culp calls Albert again with the details. I had to chuckle at this framing of the parents and their friends. Would anyone really stand clumped this way in the situation if it were real life? Would no one be around in front of Albert, facing him head on??
Albert and Allyson on the set between scenes.
Anyway, Culp tells Albert to head to a local park. He is being blinded by sun reflected off a hand-held mirror. Things are looking good as Albert tentatively heads to the shrubbery where Culp is waiting to take the money.

Unfortunately, just then, a group of unruly youth comes into the park, loudly bellowing all sorts of things and preparing to have a picnic/party right in that spot! The police begin to intervene, Albert panics and the suitcase winds up blasting apart, with money flying everywhere (and being insanely hurled all over by this gaggle of young people.)

Culp slips into a hatch that leads below the sidewalk and has to scamper for his life through a series of under- ground pipes, crevices and vents! The police are in hot pursuit and he runs, scuffs and crawls his way out of the maze of pipes and machinery.

Back at their place, Dickinson is agog over all the drama and danger, even though they got away without a single dollar! She feels that Albert will still pay to get his daughter back and thinks that this time there won't be any police since it got fouled up the last time.

She's right. At Albert's place, Allyson makes a grand entrance to the living room and orders everyone but her husband out. She declares that they will take care of the situation alone with no friends, no lawyers and no police.

Now freshly changed after his brush with capture, Culp coordinates yet another series of pick-ups and drop-offs with the ransom. He has become visibly more vitalized as this scheme has worn on and his wife certainly has a renewed interest in him as well.

This time the scenario is even more elaborate. Dickinson drives Culp to a dark, remote locale where he intends to collect the money from Albert and he's decked out in a heavy, Manson-like, disguise!
I mean, are ya GETTIN' this???
Albert shows up with the money, demanding to know where his daughter is, but Culp won't say. (He doesn't even know!)

The money now retrieved, Culp has to shave off the $100K he and Dickinson want for themselves and take the remaining $50K to the real kidnappers! For this, he dons a completely different disguise.
Again the thrill of it all brings out the passion in our couple. Before he heads to the rendezvous point to try to retrieve the kidnapped girl, he plants a kiss on his wife.

Now coming face to face with the actual kidnappers, who he presumes - correctly or not - have never seen what Albert looks like, he is about to either become one very rich man or perhaps a dead one before it's all over. You know I would never spoil the end of a story line. So if you want to see this, here is the link. It's a twisty tale that I thought I had figured out, but actually didn't, which made the denouement fun! It's positively criminal that the scads of these movies are generally unavailable and when they are they are often in shitty condition visually.

I've alluded to the almost kinky aspect of how danger gets Culp and Dickinson revved up during the movie. This 72-minute classic was capably directed by former actor Corey Allen, who often brought a sensuous or somewhat perverse quality to his roles. You may recall him as the reigning gang leader in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) prior to James Dean's arrival or as the slimy lover of Claire Bloom in The Chapman Report (1962.) He went on to a prolific and distinguished TV directing career, winning an Emmy for a Hill St. Blues episode he helmed. He also directed six episodes of Police Woman with Angie Dickinson, acting in a seventh one as well. He passed away of Parkinson's disease in 2010 at age seventy-five, having retired in the mid-1990s.

Culp was never conventionally handsome to me, but he did possess a certain acting charisma. He is wonderful in this telefilm. It's a multidimensional role with an arc and he rises to the occasion. Fans of his can't afford to miss it as it's 10 minutes into the 72 minute film before he puts anything on his top-half. Having toiled on TV from the early-1950s, he became a household name with I Spy in 1965, then scored a hit with Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice in 1969. He balanced feature films and television thereafter, later working on The Greatest American Hero in the 1980s. He continued working until 2010 when a heart attack felled him at age seventy-nine.

While I don't dislike Dickinson, she is an actress that has never grabbed me the way she has so many other fans. There's a sort of blase remoteness to her in many of her parts, but here I thought she was exceptional. She really gave this little project her all. She had also worked on television from the mid-'50s, but began to break out in films by 1959's Rio Bravo, then playing opposite Richard Burton in The Bramble Bush (1960) as well as memorably portraying Troy Donahue's saucy ex in Rome Adventure (1962.) Quite a few other films followed, including several westerns, until she starred in Police Woman, a big hit. Eighty-seven today, she retired around 2009.

Culp and Dickinson worked very well together (they'd both done an episode of Dr. Kildare in 1965) and were later reunited in the tawdry Big Bad Mama II (1987), a belated sequel to her drive-in hit Big Bad Mama (1974.)

Albert, who, as I said, had recently been freed from Green Acres, is terrific here. He is all in as the worried father who scarcely has a moment of peace from that initial phone call. He was so charming in comedy roles that sometimes we forget how threatening or jerky he could be in others. We also tend to forget that he'd twice been nominated for an Oscar: for Roman Holiday (1953) and The Heartbreak Kid (1972.) They went to Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity and Joel Grey in Cabaret, both hard to argue with. In films from the mid-1930s on, he enjoyed small screen success, too, including the series Switch, on which June Allyson guested once in 1977. He died in 2005 of pneumonia at age ninety-nine, having retired about six years prior.
These wondrous old telefilms let us see some old faces that we have missed, though in the case of Allyson, she might be sporting a newer, more freshly-taut face!
Allyson had been a musical performer on Broadway who was brought to Hollywood to repeat her success in Best Foot Forward (1943.) She then went on to play many supportive wives, memorably to James Stewart in three films, and plucky heroines such as Jo in Little Women (1949.) She was a viable and popular leading lady in films up to about 1959 when she retreated from view to care for her ill husband Dick Powell, occasionally taking a TV role. The year after this movie, she returned to the big screen after thirteen years in They Only Kill Their Masters (1972), playing a wildly unlikely role. Sporadic TV appearances (and a lucrative commercial deal with Depend undergarments!) kept her active until her death in 2006 at age eighty-eight from bronchitis.

1971 was quite a year for character actor Cioffi. He debuted in films with roles in both Klute and Shaft while also making this TV-movie and one other. He proceeded to balance occasional films (like Gray Lady Down, 1978) with a slew of TV work (including the failed series Get Christie Love!) He also did time on Another World, Ryan's Hope and most memorably Days of Our Lives as Ernesto Toscano, though he continued to appear on such prime time series as The X-Files and The Practice as well. He is still with us today at age eighty-three, but quit acting around 2008.

Bower was a prolific TV actress of the 1960s, appearing on virtually every series of note at that time. She had a gift for playing cool evil, such as in the Star Trek episode Catspaw, but could also demonstrate great vulnerability. Her acting career extended to the early-1990s when she retired, but she is still alive today at eighty-six.

Bower's husband in this, Elliott, was an insanely busy actor from 1940s films to 1950s & '60s television and beyond. He landed a long recurring role on The Virginian as the sheriff while essaying countless parts on many other shows. An occasional small movie role came along such as in The Towering Inferno (1974) or Gable and Lombard (1976.) One career regret was angrily departing his role of Lee Baldwin of General Hospital in 1965, a part his replacement played with varying steadiness until 2004! Elliott retired in 1986 and died of cancer in 1999 at age eighty-two.

Lastly, Bell, as Culp's fellow actor friend, was another prolific TV performer with the occasional big screen credit. (He had small roles in Airport, 1970, and Rollercoaster, 1977, allowing him into the "Disaster Movie Club.") He also played Kate Jackson's ex-husband on two early episodes of Charlie's Angels (yes!), but his biggest claim to fame came later. He began voice-acting for many, many animated projects and, in fact, was the voice of Zan (of Zan and Jayna, The Wonder Twins) as well as Gleek on the long-running Saturday morning carton The Super Friends! He was already pushing forty when he began playing the "teen" hero! Bell is alive today at age eighty and still utilizes his versatile voice.
"Wonder Twin powers... ACTIVATE!"